Oprah Winfrey wiped away tears as celebrity after celebrity surprised her during a farewell double-episode taping of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that will precede her finale.
“Thank you is not enough, but thank you,” Winfrey told the crowd of 13,000 gathered at Chicago’s United Center on Tuesday night for “Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular.” “For your love and your support, thank you.”
The crowd gave Winfrey a standing ovation when she first walked on the stage. Then the stars came out, with Winfrey’s producers making good on their promise of the biggest celebrities of movies, music and television.
Aretha Franklin sang “Amazing Grace.” Tom Hanks acted as host for the evening. Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA championships during the 1990s, told Winfrey she inspires him. Tom Cruise, famous for his couch jumping on Winfrey’s show, was there. Jerry Seinfeld wore a tuxedo to give a comedy routine. And Madonna said she is among the millions of people who are inspired by Winfrey.
“She fights for things she believes in, even if it makes her unpopular,” Madonna said.
Maria Shriver, the TV journalist and Kennedy heiress, appeared on the same day it was revealed her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, fathered a child with a woman on his household staff more than a decade ago. Shriver did not mention her husband during the taping.
“You have given me love, support, wisdom and most of all the truth,” Shriver told Winfrey. “And I know I’m not alone in receiving those gifts from you.”
The taping of the second show began with Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, who thanked Winfrey and told her she mothered millions and “that puts you in the status of a goddess.”
Actresses Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Katie Holmes and Dakota Fanning all appeared, along with newswoman Diane Sawyer.
Beyonce sang her song “Run the World (Girls)” backed by dozens of dancers. Rascal Flatts performed too.
“Oprah Winfrey, because of you women everywhere have graduated to a new level of understanding of who we are, of what we are and most of all who we can be,” Beyonce said.
The stadium was decorated with pictures of Winfrey at seminal moments over the course of her talk show. Boxes of tissues were on scattered seats throughout the audience.
Harpo Productions received more than 154,000 ticket requests for seats to Tuesday’s event. Tickets were free and distributed to fans through a lottery.
Winfrey also received messages from some less-famous admirers. Female American soldiers gave a taped message from Iraq and three female fans from countries around the world came on stage. The show was interspersed with clips of Winfrey’s fans and flashbacks of previous episodes.
How did all of these celebrities go unnoticed in Chicago? 312 Dining Diva and HuffPost blogger Audarshia Townsend reports that all of the celebrity guests stayed at Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel under aliases–all except former “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell.
Celebrities such as Lisa Ling, Carson Kressley, Jessica Seinfeld, Ally Wentworth, Bob Greene and former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley sat in the audience.