The final “Oprah Winfrey Show” Wednesday consisted of little more than Oprah standing on her stage and talking.
For her millions of loyal fans, this must have been heavenly. For the rest of us, who tuned in to her final show (the 4,561st, as Oprah herself pointed out) expecting a bit more excitement — perhaps some fireworks, a big cake, a brass band — the show was a bit of a letdown.
On the other hand, as Oprah said repeatedly, this particular show wasn’t really for those of us who didn’t regularly ride the Oprah train to inspiration, validation and self-fulfillment over the last 25 years. This show was for those who did ride along with Oprah on this “journey” (her word) that began back in 1986.
With the Paul Simon song “10 Years” (the one he converted to “25 Years” in her honor earlier this season) playing as a theme in and out of the show’s commercial breaks, Oprah took her stage at Harpo Studios in Chicago for the last time. Dressed in a simple pink dress, she stood for the whole hour (though a white chair was there in case she needed it) and spoke to the audience.
“This last hour is really about me saying thank you,” she said when she took the stage. “It is my love letter to you.”
“I wanted to spend this last hour telling you what you’ve meant to me,” she said, one of many times she would thank her viewers in the course of this hour-long speech (some might call it a sermon), in which she shared details from her life story (as she’s done many times before), imparted various life lessons, and even preached about the meaning of God. “God is love and God is life!” she exclaimed, “and your life is always speaking to you, first in whispers . . .”
And so it went. There were no celebrity guests, though Tyler Perry was recognized from his seat in the audience because of his participation in a show earlier this season about men who had been sexually abused in boyhood. Oprah’s fourth-grade teacher was in the audience too — the one who Oprah still calls “Mrs. Duncan” — and who apparently had a profound impact on the young Oprah.
If there was any central theme to this show, it was nothing less than the meaning of life, which is a lot for any one person to take on. And yet, Oprah doesn’t shy away from such challenges. She advised her viewers to “use your life to serve the world.” She talked about the Golden Rule and the importance of “validation.”
“There is a common thread that runs through all our pain and suffering and that is unworthiness,” she preached, advising viewers to “validate” the ones they love. Tell them: “What you say matters to me!” Oprah beseeched.
Toward the end of the hour, the commercial breaks came more frequently. After all, television is a business and the breaks near the end of this particular show were valuable indeed. Finally, after one last break, the end was near and Oprah said her final words.
“I thank you for sharing this yellow brick road of blessings,” she said. “I thank you for tuning in everyday . . . I thank you for being as much of a sweet inspiration for me as I’ve tried to be for you. I won’t say good-bye. I’ll just say, Until we meet again. To God be the glory.”
She then strolled out of the studio, stopping briefly for a few hugs and greetings, then continued walking down a narrow corridor lined with members of her staff. At the end of this gauntlet, she encountered her small dog Sadie. Lifting the dog into the air, Oprah declared: “Sadie, we did it! We did it, Sade! We did it!”
And then Oprah, with Sadie under her right arm, disappeared behind a pillar and was gone.