Self-help goddess Oprah Winfrey does it best
Famed interviewer speaks in Calgary on Tuesday
Oprah Winfrey has become as famous as the celebrities she often interviews. But this week the shoe will be on the other foot, as she will be interviewed by CBC host George Stroumboupoulos at shows in Western Canada this week.
Photograph by: Michael Conroy, AP
CALGARY — So many thought it would never happen: seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, one of the sporting world’s biggest heroes and now its most infamous cheat, confessing to a multitude of sins.
It was a TV train wreck, to be certain, even if the steely jawed multimillionaire cyclist shed nary a tear as he admitted to lie after lie after lie, to bullying and even ruining the lives of those who dared to tell the truth about his years of doping.
The two-part interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey this week will likely be studied by forensic psychologists for decades to come, as many try to come to terms with the fall of a self-described “deeply flawed” man — a man once hailed as a mythic athlete and heroic advocate for those with cancer.
All of that, for you uninitiated types, is vintage Oprah Winfrey. Whether you’re looking for Shakespearean comedy or tragedy, Winfrey has been serving it up like no one else for more than a quarter of a century.
And while her fans might be loathe to admit it — full disclosure: I’m a fan but I’d stop short of bursting into tears if we met — it’s one of the things she’ll be best known for when TV clips of her interviews are replayed a century from now.
Those viewers who didn’t spend the past quarter-century religiously tuning in to Winfrey — who graces the Saddledome Tuesday with her sold-out Evening with Oprah — just discovered what so many of us already know: when it comes to providing a forum for the most public of meltdowns, no one does it better than the gal from Kosciusko, Miss.
Yes, I know, Winfrey has done more in the worlds of popular culture, self-help, health and all-around “do-goodness” than just about any other entertainer on the planet. She got millions of viewers off the couch with the help of Dr. Oz, one of many now-famous folks whose television careers she launched; her book club was a tour de force literacy movement that also gave a huge boost to those lucky authors chosen; and with the help of Dr. Phil, she gave a voice to those suffering from just about every imaginable disorder and malady in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
Let’s not forget, too, the gal puts her money where her mouth is, starting her own orphanage and providing scholarships and other forms of support around the world through her private charity, the Oprah Winfrey Foundation.
She also brought brilliant flashes of substance to the flimsy world of daytime television, with stirring moments provided by people like famed Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, Nelson Mandela and her personal mentor, author Maya Angelou.
They were joined by fascinating glimpses into lives rarely seen: the elusive J.K. Rowling in the flesh, getting choked up as she talked about her sadness over the end of the Harry Potter series; Michael Jackson showing her around his spooky Neverland Ranch, just weeks before police opened an investigation into allegations of child abuse; and most recently David Letterman, talking about his wandering ways and longtime supposed feud with the Divine Ms. W.
Of course, there’s my personal favourite, the 2004 car giveaway episode, where Winfrey does her best Howard Dean impression as she screams, “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!” to nearly every one of the 276 audience members. Man, I wished I’d been there.
When it comes to what grabs the attention of far too many of us deeply flawed humans, however, is good old schadenfraude. Yes, there’s nothing more exciting than those can’t-look-away train wreck moments, the celebrity meltdowns. Winfrey, who has done such a great job all these years of keepin’ it real with her own life — making us feel like if only for the right opportunity, we could replace Gayle King as her bestie — has also let us see into the human fallibility of the exalted celebrity.
For that, Armstrong will go down in the annals of Winfrey interview history as the all-time celebrity comeuppance. Tom Cruise must have been thrilled to see someone finally outdo him, he of the maniacal couch-jumping scandal of 2005.
When the practitioner of Scientology pulled his stunt to proclaim his love for then-fiancee/now-ex Katie Holmes, we winced, we shrieked and we watched the YouTube reloops endlessly.
The diminutive actor’s unhinged version of a man in love had many predicting his ultimate banishment from Hollywood. But oh, no: last year, Cruise’s take-home pay of $75 million made him No. 1 on Forbes’ list of highest-paid actors.
While author James Frey couldn’t hold a candle to Cruise’s fame, in 2006 he too earned his rightful place on Winfrey’s Wall of Infamy. Having helped his memoir A Million Little Pieces become a bestseller, Winfrey saw red when she and the rest of the world learned he had fabricated some of the experiences in the so-called work of non-fiction.
Armstrong should thank Frey for coming before him — Winfrey later regretted how much she raked Frey over the coals in an episode the disgraced author would later describe as “my personal car crash.”
Over the years, on both the 1986-2011 Oprah Winfrey Show and now on the specials she airs on her TV network OWN, Winfrey has served up other seat-squirmers, like Whitney Houston’s 2009 exhaustive detailing of how to pair marijuana and crack cocaine; actress Mackenzie Phillips’ tearful relating of her incestuous affair with her father, John Phillips of the ’60s group The Mamas and the Papas; and the Duchess of York begging forgiveness after getting caught on tape accepting a bribe (Winfrey later gave Fergie her own reality TV series on OWN, the proceeds of which got her out of debt).
The duchess and Cruise learned one thing that helps us understand just why celebrities are all too willing to bare their souls — sometimes, that train wreck turns into a high-powered locomotive to even greater success. If you’re going to push yourself off your pedestal, you might as well get maximum impact.
Many have speculated that’s at the heart of Armstrong’s qualified confessional last week. Will it work for him as it did for others? So far, it’s not looking so good as just about anyone who’s ever known him has dug deep into their thesaurus to find new ways to describe a villain.
But anything can happen in the world of celebrity meltdowns — I’d be staying tuned for this one.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald