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updated: 5/25/2011 11:33 AM

An Oprah column for the silent majority in the middle

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  • Even when she leaves, Oprah Winfrey won't be gone. In one of his last acts before leaving office, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley presented the TV talk-show host a sign after a street was named in her honor outside her Harpo Studios.

      Even when she leaves, Oprah Winfrey won't be gone. In one of his last acts before leaving office, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley presented the TV talk-show host a sign after a street was named in her honor outside her Harpo Studios.
    AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

  • During a 2005 visit to hawk his basketball shoes at the Meijer Superstore in Elgin, NBA legend Magic Johnson makes an impression on 4-year-old Patrick Stephen. Shortly after being diagnosed with HIV, the likable superstar brought his fame and his message to The Oprah Show.

      During a 2005 visit to hawk his basketball shoes at the Meijer Superstore in Elgin, NBA legend Magic Johnson makes an impression on 4-year-old Patrick Stephen. Shortly after being diagnosed with HIV, the likable superstar brought his fame and his message to The Oprah Show.
    Daily Herald File Photo

  • By giving Earvin "Magic" Johnson a forum to discuss AIDs on her show shortly after he shocked the world with the announcement he had contracted HIV, Oprah helped establish the NBA superstar and his wife, Cookie Johnson, as leaders in the fight against AIDs.

      By giving Earvin "Magic" Johnson a forum to discuss AIDs on her show shortly after he shocked the world with the announcement he had contracted HIV, Oprah helped establish the NBA superstar and his wife, Cookie Johnson, as leaders in the fight against AIDs.
    AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

 
 

In what has to be some sort of Oprahology record, I believe I am the only person on the planet who has logged more time as an Oprah audience member than I have spent actually watching her TV show. With the publishing of this column, I've now also written more words about Oprah than I've read about her.

"That," as Oprah remora Dr. Phil might say (according to my 15 seconds of Google research on Dr. Phil), "is workin' for me."

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Just as older Baby Boomers recall where they were when Kennedy got shot, legions of faithful Oprah fans will remember where they were when Oprah ended her 25-year reign Wednesday as the queen of daytime television. They were bawling their eyes out in front of a TV set.

While that fanatical devotion to Oprah seems cultish and odd behavior to some folks, I understand how an obsessed Oprah fan can become completely invested in something that draws a yawn or a raised eyebrow from the majority of Americans. I am Cubs fan who has to compose himself before talking about how I was at Wrigley Field on June 23, 1984, when Ryne Sandberg hit those two home runs off Bruce Sutter, or that Oct. 14, 2003, playoff game when I had just reserved my World Series hotel room moments before a foul ball down the left-field line led to a change of plans. (Give me a second here to compose myself.)

Just because a person doesn't understand an obsession, or have any desire to understand it, doesn't mean he has to mock those who do. I don't understand the haters who hate all things Oprah. Type "hate" and "Oprah" into a search engine and you get 12,900,000 hits.

Just as it's easy to stereotype Oprah fans as middle-age women who love to be told they aren't fat, can change their lives by reading a book and will find happiness by following Oprah's suggestions for them, it's also easy to stereotype Oprah haters as those same middle-age men who used to be threatened because America thought Roseanne was a strong and funny woman.

Oprah is like the elephant in that story about the blind men describing the beast by touching only a small part of it. From what I've gathered from watching David Letterman and seeing parodies of Oprah on "Mad TV" and "The Simpsons," Oprah has an ego that makes Donald Trump sound like Derrick Rose. But I also know from years of scanning headlines that Oprah has spearheaded a lot of life-changing, even world-changing, movements for the better. I was there to witness one of those moments.

I attended an Oprah show back in the early 1990s as a guest of the suburban woman who was co-chair for the AIDs Walk. Oprah's guest was Magic Johnson, the NBA superstar who had just been diagnosed with HIV. I searched our archives and found no evidence that I wrote a column about the experience. I think we got to shake hands with Oprah and Magic, but I'm not even positive about that.

I do know, however, that Oprah tapped into something powerful with that show. She not only made people in her audience feel better, she made us feel as if we had the power to do good. Oprah is good at that. Oprah probably has been better than any other celebrity at using her clout to educate people about AIDs and make things better for people with that disease and their loved ones. It doesn't matter whether Oprah did that because she truly wanted to do something good in the world or because she needed to feed her ego. The motive pales compared to the result.

You don't have to be an Oprah fan to appreciate that.

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