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updated: 5/18/2011 2:00 PM

Suburban fans see star after star at Oprah sendoff

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  • Oprah Winfrey speaks as she is surrounded by, from left, Patti LaBelle, BeyoncÈ, Madonna, Dakota Fanning and Halle Berry.

      Oprah Winfrey speaks as she is surrounded by, from left, Patti LaBelle, BeyoncÈ, Madonna, Dakota Fanning and Halle Berry.
    Associated Press

  • Tom Cruise, right, appears with Oprah Winfrey.

      Tom Cruise, right, appears with Oprah Winfrey.
    Associated Press

  • Oprah Winfrey reacts as she is surrounded by Will Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and Michael Jordan, right.

      Oprah Winfrey reacts as she is surrounded by Will Smith, his wife Jada Pinkett Smith and Michael Jordan, right.
    Associated Press


The whole day centered around Oprah for Barbara Watts of Arlington Heights, who watched her television show in the morning, shopped with friends at the Oprah store in the afternoon, and then came to the United Center for the "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular" Tuesday night.

Watts was one of thousands of suburban Oprah Winfrey fans to score the hard-to-get tickets for the historic television event that featured dozens of A-list celebrities, tear-jerking fan stories, clips of famous episodes, and impressive special effects to mark the end of the Chicago-based show's 25-year run.

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"This is the first time I've seen her. I'm so excited. This was on my bucket list," she said.

"I grew up with her ... and this is a part of history," said fan Donna Rybinski of Sugar Grove.

The first of the two shows, whose tapings forced the Chicago Bulls to rearrange their playoff schedule, focused on girl power, and the second on male fans.

Oprah didn't know what the producers planned and doesn't like surprises, but the first show's emcee, Tom Hanks, told her the best surprise is realizing you're loved.

A succession of surprises and stars followed, including Tom Cruise, Madonna, Diane Sawyer, Michael Jordan, Maria Shriver, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Seinfeld and Rosie O'Donnell.

"It was the most amazing experience of my life. I've never been to an Oprah show, so to be at the last two tapings? My grandchildren will hear about this," said Carolyn Wilson, 53, of Villa Park. "I'm sad to see her go, but this was an opportunity to celebrate her."

The shows taped Tuesday night are not quite the final shows. They will air Monday and Tuesday on ABC 7 Chicago at 9 a.m. and 11:05 p.m., while the as-yet-secret final installment of the show's 25-year run will be taped early next week and air Wednesday.

Nevertheless, the Tuesday tapings were a celebration. They included a ballad by Rascal Flatts and an orchestra-backed serenade of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Josh Groban and Patti LaBelle -- a nod to Oprah's love of the "Wizard of Oz" quote, "You always had the power."

A crowd favorite was Beyoncé, wearing a tuxedo leotard and backed by a huge entourage of dancers, who rocked with a performance of "Girls (Who Runs the World)." In the darkened stadium, the entire United Center crowd waved white LED lights.

People whose lives were changed by the show were singled out in the audience, and actress Dakota Fanning introduced "The Oprah Show Babies," a group of young Oprah fans. Each came forward and shared a one-sentence summary of how the Oprah show changed their lives by encouraging them to read, dream big or believe in themselves.

To celebrate the success of Oprah's Book Club, Target surprised Oprah by announcing it's rebuilding 25 school libraries around the country, fans purchased thousands of books for them, and Sawyer said they'll plant 25,000 oak "Oprah" trees by those libraries.

Later, Aretha Franklin appeared to sing "Amazing Grace."

The audience was asked to stay in their seats for the entire four-hour taping, but no one was complaining. Between segments, members of the dressed-up, predominantly female audience yelled out, "I love you Oprah!" and the raspy-voiced Oprah told everyone she was having fun.

"I'd just like to buy everybody a drink. You get to drink! And you get to drink! Everybody gets to drink!" she said, mocking her famous car-giveaway episode.

Bartlett mom Sue Witte, 48, said, "It was one of the best events I've ever been to."

To end the first show, an emotional Oprah said, "Your presence in front of the television set, and your presence here tonight, honors me very much. And I feel the love."

The second show opened with Will Smith & Jada Pinkett Smith, Michael Jordan, and Jamie Foxx and Stevie Wonder singing "Isn't She Lovely" to Oprah, who spent most of the show sitting with the audience. Wonder sang a second song he wrote especially for her.

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