The Oprah Winfrey Show‘s legendary 25-year run brought some of the most iconic moments not just in talk show history, but television history, period. Over the years, fans tuned in every day to watch Oprah either dive into a deep subject, entertain them with one of her countless crazy stories, or loudly announce that every audience member had won an expensive gift.
The Oprah Winfrey Show premiered on September 8, 1986, and its presence in our culture has been unmistakable over the last three and a half decades. There were countless memorable moments that will stand out in our minds forever, but these 10 were truly unforgettable.
Tom Cruise jumps on Oprah’s couch
Tom Cruise’s 2005 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show changed celebrity culture forever. Cruise couldn’t contain his excitement when discussing his personal life with Winfrey. He was visibly amped up the entire interview, and was so happy about his new girlfriend Katie Holmes he quickly leapt out of his seat and on to Winfrey’s couch.
‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ visits Forsyth County, Georgia
Racism has always reared its ugly head throughout US history, and the 1987 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in Forsyth County, Georgia was a painful look at how it’s manifested in the South. No Black person had lived in Forsyth County in over 75 years, and Winfrey wanted to speak to the local residents firsthand about why they wanted to keep it that way. The show had only been on the air for five months at that point, but it was a sign that Winfrey would never be one to shy away from difficult topics.
Oprah’s wagon of fat
Oprah Winfrey made headlines in 1988 when she started a highly publicized diet, losing 67 pounds in the process. To help illustrate what that looks like, Winfrey wheeled out a wagon filled with 67 pounds of animal fat on the stage of her show.
The episode was the highest-rated Oprah episode of all time, but Winfrey regrets the move entirely, calling it a “big, big, big, big, big, big, big mistake!” and “one of the biggest ego trips” of her life.
Elizabeth Taylor keeps quiet
Landing a legendary Hollywood actress as an interviewee is a big deal, and Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Elizabeth Taylor in 1988 stands out — though not for all the right reasons.
Taylor was famously stiff and gave short answers throughout the interview. She even avoided Oprah’s questions about her love life, which many fans were curious about given Taylor had been married seven times. Taylor revealed that she was in lots of hip and back pain that day, and eventually returned for a much friendlier interview a few years later.
‘You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!’
Audience members at The Oprah Winfrey Show were often surprised with lavish gifts. In 2004, Winfrey famously surprised each audience member with a brand new Pontiac G6, spawning the now famous “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!” meme.
She did the same thing a few years later and gave away Volkswagen Beetles to everyone in the audience for her final edition of “Oprah’s Favorite Things.”
Oprah visits Michael Jackson in Neverland
Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Michael Jackson came at a time when the King of Pop was facing criticism for his changing skin tone and just months before he faced child sexual abuse charges. It was Jackson’s first interview in 14 years, and Winfrey regarded it as “the most exciting interview [she’d] ever done.” The episode drew 90 million viewers.
Last year, Winfrey faced backlash from Michael Jackson fans after interviewing two of his victims who told their stories on the HBO docuseries Leaving Neverland.
The O.J. Simpson verdict
The O.J. Simpson murder trial polarized the country in 1995. The Oprah Winfrey Show was filming an episode the day the verdict was delivered, and cameras captured the differing reactions in the studio audience. After the trial, the show dedicated four episodes to covering the case and the verdict.
Oprah’s eye color experiment
In 1992, The Oprah Winfrey Show turned one of its tapings into a controlled social experiment. Jane Elliott had become a well-known educator in the late ’60s because of her famous “blue eyes vs. brown eyes” exercise, and she brought it to Oprah to show audience members how ingrained racism and prejudice can be in our minds.
Oprah performs with Tina Turner
Oprah Winfrey followed Tina Turner on her Wildest Dreams tour in 1997, taking The Oprah Winfrey Show on the road to various tour stops. In one show, Oprah got to live out one of her own wildest dreams: perform onstage with Tina Turner herself. Winfrey joined Turner for “The Best” as the two icons commanded the stage and the entire audience.
The Whitney Houston interview
Whitney Houston had been facing a highly publicized battle with substance abuse when she sat down with Oprah Winfrey for their interview in 2009. Houston was extremely candid about what she had gone through and the trauma she experienced. It’s heartbreaking to watch with the hindsight we have today.
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