Oprah Winfrey bows out with simplicity, gratitude

CHICAGO Thu May 26, 2011 4:34pm EDT

1 of 15. Talk show host Oprah Winfrey waves during 'The Oprah Winfrey Show Finale' during a taping at Harpo Studios in Chicago May 24, 2011. The show was telecast on May 25. Picture taken May 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/George Burns/(C) 2011 Harpo, Inc. All Rights Reserved/Handout

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - No guests, no makeovers, no giveaways.

Oprah Winfrey kicked off her last-ever original episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" by telling a studio audience that the broadcast would be a simple, celebrity-free affair focused on what her audience has meant to her.

"You and this show have been the great love of my life," a tearful Winfrey told viewers in "The Oprah Winfrey Finale," taped before a studio audience of 400 on Tuesday afternoon and broadcast on Wednesday morning.

"This last show is really about me saying thank you," she said. "It is my love letter to you."

Wearing a simple pink dress, Winfrey took the stage to a standing ovation and showed clips from some of her earliest broadcasts while sharing her gratitude and life lessons with viewers.

"Thank you, America. There are no words to match this moment."

Winfrey, 57, was a pioneer in the art of confessional television and in promoting discussion of formerly taboo subjects including incest, rape, sexual abuse and depression.

"The Oprah Winfrey Show" also became the go-to place for celebrities and politicians to promote new ventures and to apologize publicly for their indiscretions.

The Oprah Book Club, started 15 years ago, championed 65 titles and has almost 2 million members. In one memorable 2004 show, Winfrey gave all 276 audience members a new car.

Winfrey announced in November 2009 that she would end her popular talk show after 25 years. She is expected to focus in the next few years on her cable channel OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), which launched in January 2011.

In contrast to the glitzy "surprise spectacular" featuring Beyonce, Madonna and Tom Hanks, taped in a basketball arena and which aired on Monday and Tuesday, the final broadcast was a humble recap of the values Winfrey believed in.

At one point the host introduced from the audience her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan, whom she praised as an early "liberator" who made her feel valued.

Winfrey urged viewers to find their calling, make the world a better place and take control of their lives. One of her most cherished tributes, she said, was a letter from a viewer who said, "Oprah, watching you be yourself makes me want to be more myself."

Near the end of the hour-long broadcast, Winfrey spoke of her roots in rural Mississippi. "It is no coincidence a lonely little girl who felt not a lot of love, even though my parents and grandparents did the best they could ... It is no coincidence that I grew up to feel the genuine kindness, affection, trust, and validation from millions of you, all over the world.

"From you, whose names I will never know, I learned what love is. You and this show have been the great love of my life."

Winfrey gave no hint of her future plans but urged viewers to keep in touch at her email address, oprah@oprah.com

(Reporting by Matthew Lewis, Chicago newsroom, editing by xxx)