Everything You Never Knew About Oprah Winfrey
November 10, 2005
You may have thought you knew everything about Oprah Winfrey, but in a surprisingly candid interview with our Jon Kelley, the queen of talk told all about everything from marriage to Tom Cruise's infamous couch-jumping incident.
Jon Kelley: Are there any questions that are off limits?
Oprah Winfrey: No, I don't do off limits. I can take it all!
JK: I want to run down a few people, and you tell me what they mean in your life.
JK: Your mother.
(Oprah's mother, Vernita Lee, and her father, Vernon Winfrey, were never married).
OW: At a time when it was a really difficult decision, my mother chose to have me. I respect her for making that choice when she was unwed and didn't have a lot of resources.
JK: Okay, your father.
OW: Well, I wouldn't be sitting here if it weren't for my father because being sent to live with my father at such an early age changed the trajectory of my life. He laid down the law. He said, "Those C's you've been getting, you will not bring another C into this house and live in this house." So I owe my work ethic to him. I owe my generous spirit to him because I watched him for years in the barber shop give, literally, the shirt off his back.
JK: The other man in your life, Stedman.
OW: Yeah, it's not been easy standing in the shadow of this, and he has been steady. He has been there. He has wanted me to be as much as I wanted to be. If he had been the kind of man that was after my money, it would never have worked. This is a relationship that works because both of us are independent spirits who want to stand on our own.
JK: How does it hit you when fans and people on the street say, "When is Oprah getting married?"
OW: The world is catching on to what I already know: a piece of paper does not define a life. I always knew that was not the answer for me. I was like most women though. I wanted a man who, I wanted to know he did want it. So I'm telling you, after he proposed, I was over it. I do believe that had we gotten married, we would not be together today. The traditional role of marriage would not work in this relationship.
Then there's the other rock-steady relationship in Oprah's life: her best friend Gayle King. Both Oprah and Gayle started out in TV, and both remember when the 22-year-old Oprah's salary seemed like all the money in the world.
OW: She was like, "God, you're 22 and you make $22,000. What if you're 40 and you make $40,000!"
JK: Let's talk about some of the amazing celebrities you've interviewed.
OW: In the early days, I couldn't get a good celerity unless they happened to be in Chicago. In the early days, you're like, "What's your name again?" Before you sit down you'd have to say, "Oprah, it's a hard ‘P.'"
JK: Who was the first big one, where you said, "Now I'm starting to hit my stride?"
OW: Actually, I used to be so intimidated, Jon. I used to hate celebrities. I was insecure, low self-esteem. I was like lots of people, I thought celebrities were different. I lost that early on because after awhile you realize they're just like me.
JK: And now people get nervous talking to you!
OW: Oh my God, that happened recently. Joaquin [Phoenix]. Nervous is not the word. He was a wreck. I've never seen nervous like that before. I had to go in the green room, literally said to him, "You don't have to put yourself through this." He said, "I think I'm going to throw up."
Oprah revealed that the only three interviews that really made her nervous were Sidney Poitier, Nelson Mandela and Miss Diana Ross.
JK: Miss Ross made you nervous?
OW: Not only nervous, Jon. I sat in the tub the night before she was coming on and cried myself out. I was worried that I would see her and not be able to control myself. Break down. So I had to get it out.
JK: You've interviewed so many people. If you look back, what was the toughest?
OW: Hands down Elizabeth Taylor. She later apologized to me, because she realized it was such a painful interview. She was in a lot of pain at the time, but I didn't know that. I just knew she was causing me a lot of pain. And she started off saying, "Don't ask me about my husbands or relationships."
JK: So what was going through your mind?
OW: This is a long time to talk about perfume!
JK: When you had Tom Cruise on, that became a worldwide sensation. What was your reaction when you saw his feet on your sofa?
OW: I didn't know what was happening, long before the feet came on the sofa. Tom was looking at me, and I was looking at Tom. I was like, "Something has happened to him." I didn't know what had happened to him, because I had interviewed him many times before. We'd just been together in Oslo. I'd spent time with him, lunch with him, hanging out with him. And I had never seen anything like it, still never seen anything like it.
JK: Is there one that you're still working on or that maybe got away?
OW: I don't feel that. I feel that for me the big interviews are with real people. The big lasting moments for me have never been about celebrity. The show has been and is about offering a sense of hope and possibility to people, to the real people whose names you don't read about in books and magazines and stuff.
Don't miss "Extra" on Friday, as our exclusive interview continues!