She is, arguably, one of the most influential pop culture prophets of our times, a beloved oracle who has guided a generation of women (and not a few men) through the social, spiritual and psychological morass of modern life.
So when the 58-year-old Oprah Winfrey walked away from her network television talk show last year, after a quarter of a century as the doyenne of daytime, to head over to cable and start her own network, there was worry that her legendary influence would be greatly muted.
And while her Oprah Winfrey Network has struggled to find an audience, and while she has been off the onscreen radar for what seems like forever, Winfrey is hardly the type to fade into the wings.
Which is why you can expect tickets for her first official appearance in Vancouver on Jan. 24, which go on sale this Saturday, are likely to disappear faster than you can say Tom Cruise is tough on couch springs.
Billed as an “inspirational evening,” the 7 p.m. event at Rogers Arena is the second stop of a two-city whirlwind Canadian visit. Winfrey will be in Calgary two days prior, and although it’s not her first time north of border — she did a motivational “Lifeclass” that was filmed for OWN in Toronto this past April — it is her inaugural Vancouver appearance.
The show’s format will have Winfrey sharing stories, both personal and professional, from her early impoverished years in rural Mississippi to her famous reign as a powerful black woman running a billion-dollar media empire.
Known for both her candour and command of a stage, Winfrey’s message will undoubtedly be more of the same tough love, self-improvement, common-sense coaching that made her talk show a 47-Emmy-winning communal therapy session for millions of viewers.
For 25 years, Winfrey renovated our houses and our psyches, made over our bodies and lifted our spirits. She took on politicians, ex-cons, pedophiles, homophobes and racists. She reinvigorated our love of reading and the North American publishing industry with her Oprah’s Book Club. She encouraged philanthropy by building houses for the poor through Oprah’s Angel Network, and by educating young girls in South Africa. She introduced us to new-age spirituality, chatted with Nelson Mandela, and titillated our celebrity senses by dancing with Tina Turner and escorting us to the Oscars to meet the most starlit of celebrities.
She was, and is, the distaff Dalai Lama without the celestial baggage, a generational doppelgänger whose public confessionals endeared her to us: we know intimately of her hard-knock upbringing, her sexual abuse as a young girl, her teenage promiscuity, the newborn baby boy she lost at the age of 14, her weight struggles, the half-sister she recently discovered, the handsome longtime boyfriend she chooses not to marry, and the BFF whose loyalty has never wavered.
We followed Winfrey as she campaigned for the first black U.S. president and cried over the death of her cherished cocker spaniel Sophie. We revelled in her gleeful generosity as she gave away money, houses, cars and, notably, her favourite things, and we even forgave her audaciousness for putting a photo of herself on every cover of her O magazine since its newsstand debut in 2000.
In looking inward and reflecting outward, she has taught us about health and fitness, and about taking personal responsibility. She turned dysfunction into the topic du jour, examining issues such as addiction, child abuse, infidelity, bullying and gender identity, asking the tough questions on our behalf while ripping off the scabs of mankind’s dirty secrets.
For 4,500 television episodes, we worshipped her, warts and all, and have been both charmed and mesmerized by her ability to be, in a single turn, both self-aggrandizing and self-deprecating, razor sharp and dumbfounded, confident and reverential — our devotion perhaps speaking as much to our thirst for guidance and perspective as to her deft ability to quench that need.
In filling that societal vacuum, in putting her world and her audience under the microscope, Oprah Winfrey taught us much about ourselves and the world we live in and, along the way, became a rich and powerful woman, overseeing a Fortune 500 company that today includes movies, Broadway plays, books, documentaries, magazines, talk radio, philanthropic ventures and spinoff shows for acolytes such as Suzie Orman, Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz.
It may be that Oprah was, and is, of a time, a time when we needed to create a 21st-century amalgam of Emily Post and Gloria Steinem, of Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou, someone whose trusty tutelage kept us not only in the know, but on our toes.
Today in her absence, at least on daytime television, the hole is gaping.
Winfrey has been replaced by Jeff Probst and Ricki Lake, whose talk shows hearken to the breezy days of Phil Donahue and Sally Jesse Raphael. It’s not that the new kids on the block aren’t engaging, it’s just that their Why men cheat! Why fat is the new fit! Why Bieber wears overalls! ouevre falls short of must-watch status.
Christian Darbyshire of tinePublic Inc., the producers of Winfrey’s Vancouver and Calgary events, knows that the Oprah effect is immutable — tickets for her Jan. 22 Calgary appearance sold out in 10 minutes — and he says it wasn’t difficult to talk the Winfrey camp into heading to Vancouver two days after her Alberta turn. “It wasn’t,” he laughs, “a hard sell.”
For Oprah fans, and they remain legion, just breathing the same air as their muse will be inspiration enough. Darbyshire says that in the honoured tradition of her “living your best life” legacy, Winfrey will not only use her own story to give us guidance, but she will also be taking questions from the audience through a moderator.
One thing is for sure. You can count on it being just like old times, when the gospel according to Oprah held us rapt.
Tickets for An Inspirational Evening with Oprah Winfrey at Rogers Arena on Jan. 24, 2013 go on sale Dec. 1 and are available through Ticketmaster. Prices range from $79 to $369. To purchase tickets, phone 1-855-985-5000 or visit www.ticketmaster.ca
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