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Last week, Oprah Winfrey announced that she'll bid farewell to her talk show in 2012. After 25 years on the air, columnists suspect it's going to be a difficult goodbye for millions of Americans. But Oprah's success, they say, lies in her ability to mean many things to many people: a capitalist success story, a brilliant business woman, and a friend to the housewife. They believe her continual ability to self-reinvent makes her a star with lasting power. Some are bidding good riddance, of course. But even they expect the queen of talk shows will have a next act. Surveying the legacy of Oprah's 25 years on the air, these columnists highlight the many faces of Oprah Winfrey:

  • Our Mother Confessor At Politics Daily, Luisita Lopez Torregrosa says Oprah "bared her soul" in a way that invited more Americans to be brought into the national conversation. "She changed the conversation. She broke it open. She brought everyone in," Torregrosa writes. Of course, she was one of the most powerful women in the world, too:
Those usually snarky commentators, columnists and TV talking heads scrambled this time not for the knife in the back but for the grace note, the bon mot, the glowing remark they could rest at Oprah's feet. She was our spiritual adviser, our mother confessor. Someone said Oprah was an Alpha female, more influential than presidents of the United States. TV anchors and commentators gave us variations of "it's a seismic change in TV" and many mourned, or marked, the end of an era. Superlatives, after a while, lost their meaning. You had to take a deep breath.
  • A Capitalist Success Story At Political Byline, Patrick doesn't agree with Oprah's politics. But he says he'll give credit where credit is due. "While some of my friends to the right of me in politics might want to rip on her, I have nothing bad to say about her, because frankly, she has done very well in our open capitalistic society. Oprah started with nothing, got a very lucky break, worked her behind off, and made something out of nothing; I, as a Conservative, who believes in a free market system cannot find a gripe with that at all. She, in fact, deserves the riches she has acclaimed, as she earned it."
  • A Black Success Story She was a hit with white suburban housewives, but the editors of The Root say it was a "big deal" to see a black woman hosting a daytime talk show. They take a look back at some of Oprah's "blackest" moments. Teresa Wiltz reminisces:
My earliest memory of her was when she had a number of white supremacists on her show. One of them--a fairly swarthy-looking sort--was blathering on about white power, yada, yada, yada. Oprah stopped him mid-sentence, asking him, 'What are you doing up there with the white power people? You look like you've got some Negro blood to me.' For a long time after that, Oprah could do no wrong in my book.
  • Oprah, the Saintly Life Coach At the Chicago Sun-Times, Heather Havrilesky says women trust Oprah more than they trust themselves. Oprah, she writes, "tells us what to read," "whom to love and admire," and "delivers us from evil." Havrilesky isn't sure she'll be able to go on without her:
She tells us whom to love and admire. We don't always care what Barbra Streisand is up to, but we love seeing Babs and Opes clash and subtly try to outshine each other, like colliding stars. She feeds our souls. We never liked Dr. Phil much after he exited her sacred circle of trust, but while he was basking in her glow, he spoke to our very hearts. She delivers us from evil. When Hurricane Katrina hit, we didn't wonder what George W. Bush or the Coast Guard would do to help those people, we wondered what Winfrey would do.
  • Oprah, the Role Model for Politicians Everywhere At The New York Times, Gail Collins says politicians could learn a thing or two from the queen of talk show hosts. For starters, that it's classy and smart to quit while you're ahead. "Nowhere is the need for the graceful exit more apparent than in our politics," Collins writes. "This week Senator Robert Byrd turned 92. He has been in office for more than 50 years. That's an all-time record for Congress. In fact, it is probably a record for every deliberative body since Athens in the Age of Pericles."
Nothing becomes a politician like a timely departure. If Rudy Giuliani had quit after 2001, we'd still think of him as America's Mayor instead of the worst presidential candidate in the history of the world. Imagine how much better Joe Lieberman would look if he had called it a day after the vice presidential run. Or Ross Perot if he had stopped in 1992. Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn't even begun his controversial third term and already he seems to have shrunk to a pocketsize.

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