Maria Shriver, Aretha Franklin Appear at Oprah Winfrey's Star-Studded Send-Off

VIDEO: Madonna, Simon Cowell and others talk about Oprah Winfreys importance.
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Oprah Winfrey has made a career our of surprising people but on Tuesday night, the tables were turned as hundreds of her fans and celebrity friends surprised her to say goodbye.

FromMaria Shriver to Aretha Franklin to Tom Cruise, stars paid tribute to Winfrey during the taping of two shows leading up to the talk show queen's grand finale next week.

Shriver, the former first lady of California, didn't appear to show any evidence of her recent marital troubles.

"For more than 30 years you have bestowed upon me the most amazing friendship. You have shown love, support, wisdom, and most of all, the truth …," Shriver told Winfrey, pausing for a moment after she uttered the phrase "the truth."

Winfrey responded by squeezing Shriver's hand tight, and the audience erupted in applause.

On Tuesday, the news broke that her estranged husband, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, had fathered a child outside their marriage 10 years ago.

An estimated 13,000 Winfrey fans and supporters gathered inside Chicago's United Center - just a few block away from Winfrey's Harpo Studios - for the taping of the two shows dubbed "Surprise Oprah! A Farewell Spectacular."

The NBA Eastern Conference finals between the Bulls and the Miami Heat had to be shifted to make room for the taping.

Star-Studded Farewell

Just before 7:30 p.m. in Chicago, Winfrey took to the stage to the tune of the Black Eyed Peas' hit song, "I Gotta Feeling." What followed was a star-studded extravaganza that electrified the audience.

Winfrey was met on stage by actor Tom Hanks, who told her, "You are surrounded by nothing but love. Thank you for what The Oprah Winfrey Show has meant for our lives.

"'Now Oprah, we all know that you do not like surprises," Hanks said, to which Winfrey replied, "I'm taking it all in."

Hanks continued, "Some might say that pulling off this party is darn near a mission impossible."

At that point "Mission: Impossible" star Tom Cruise walked out onto the stage.

That set the tone for the taping of the first show.

Celebrities including Halle Berry, Madonna, Diane Sawyer, Queen Latifah and other luminaries took to the stage to pay tribute to Oprah.

There was a big production number from R&B pop superstar Beyonce – she actually had to perform it twice because of technical problems the first time around -- and a performance by country music stars Rascal Flatts.

The second show's taping began with Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett, as emcees.

The first guest they introduced was Michael Jordan, who told Winfrey that she had "done wonders" for him.

"I know you have been a fan of basketball," he said, "but I have been a fan of yours for many, many years."

Next, Smith introduced Jamie Foxx, who sang Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" -- with lyrics altered for Winfrey.

When Wonder himself appeared on the stage behind a grand piano to take over the performance of the song, the crowd went wild.

Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz also paid a quick tribute to Winfrey.

The talk show queen helped launch their television careers.

Simon Cowell also spoke, and he introduced a very svelte Rosie O'Donnell, who performed a song and dance routine accompanied by tuxedo-clad men.

Winfrey was clearly touched by the tributes, at times appearing joyful, surprised and grateful.

She appeared most affected by the many tributes that recognize her ongoing commitment to the promotion of literacy and education.

According to the show, 64,688 children attended school because of Winfrey.

Poet Maya Angelou's recitation of an original work -- a narrative of Winfrey's past -- accompanied by soft piano music from Alicia Keyes, may have been one of the most moving acknowledgements of the evening.

Winfrey listened intently, her eyes narrowed, brows knit and chin occasionally quivering.

Of Winfrey, Angelou said this "big-eyed fat girl from Mississippi decided to show the world how to look at itself… how to change itself ... ."

She concluded: "I can and I will and I shall be Oprah, Oprah, Oprah… ."

There were 13,000 boxes of Kleenex tissues in the center – one for each audience member, a spokewoman for Winfrey's show said.

Stedman Graham, Winfrey's partner, may have prompted the use of many of those tissues when he paid his own personal tribute.

"I love you for making a difference in my life," he told Winfrey, adding: "It amazes me that I get to be around a woman who changes people's lives every day and still takes her lunch to work."

Aretha Franklin's appearance on stage seemed to have shocked Winfrey the most.

The music icon sang "Amazing Grace," following it up with a rousing gospel number that had the audience surging to its feet.

Oprah thanked everyone for taking her to a place she'd never been before, saying she would "have to watch the tape and process" what had happened.

"It feels like the rapture," she said.

The second taping ended with a performance from R&B star Usher, who sang "Oh, Happy Day" with help from Franklin.

Eager fans had started lining up outside the United Center early on Tuesday to catch a glimpse of arriving celebrities and witness the end of an era.

Cathy Deters, 52, of Cincinnati, said she drove to Chicago without a ticket, but someone outside the stadium gave her one.

"I don't think anyone could replace Oprah Winfrey," Deters, an energy broker who was waiting with hundreds of other fans, told The Associated Press. "Not many people will have the chance to experience this."

In the days before the taping, Winfrey's producers were promising "the biggest names in movies, music and television."

"Celebrities from film, television and music feel a deep appreciation for the support they have received from Oprah and the show over the years," Sheri Salata, the show's executive producer, told the AP. "Oprah will be very touched by that gratitude."

The guest lineup was a surprise to Winfrey.

"As most of our viewers know, being surprised is not one of Oprah's favorite things," Salata said. "In the spirit of our farewell season, she is making a rare exception, and we intend to make the most of that opportunity. It will be something to see!"

In the moments before the taping began, producers warmed up an already energized audience.

One audience member, a man from Winnepeg, Canada, went up on the stage and proposed to his girlfriend. She said yes, and the crowd cheered wildly.

Harpo Productions got more than 154,000 ticket requests for seats to Tuesday's event. Tickets were free and winners were determined by lottery.

The two shows taped Tuesday will air May 23 and 24.

The content of the final episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which will air May 25, remains a closely guarded secret.

Winfrey announced in Nov. 2009 that she would end her popular daytime talk show after 25 years. Since then, she has pulled out all the stops.

On the final-season premiere of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Winfrey surprised her audience with the news that she was sending them all on an all-expenses-paid eight-day trip to Australia.

The supersized surprise was presented with the help of John Travolta, who stepped out of a Qantas Airlines jet mockup to help make the announcement.

Winfrey has also brought back some of her favorite guests, including Diana Ross, Chris Rock, and President and First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as some of her most controversial -- writer James Frey and Inyanla Vanzant, the show's onetime relationship expert.

"Oprah is in great spirits, energized and taking in every last bit of these final days," Salata told the AP.

"The producers are a little teary-eyed -- it's hard to say goodbye," Salata said.

Legions of loyal fans are also in a state of disbelief that the woman who has been a daytime constant through four presidents, the Sept. 11 terror attacks, two wars and several recessions will no longer be there.

"She's one of us," Marianne Douglas of Rhode Island told "Good Morning America" anchor Lara Spencer. "She's our ultimate girlfriend."

Of course, Winfrey will continue her magazine and her new television network OWN, which launched in January. But it's unlikely that there will ever be anything like "The Oprah Winfrey Show" again.

Some fun facts:

The first national episode, "How to Marry the Man/Woman of Your Choice," aired September 8, 1986.

The average number of Americans who watch "The Oprah Winfrey Show" each week is estimated at 40 million, and the show is distributed to 150 countries outside the United States.

Total number of shows, including the finale: 4,561.

Total number of guests over 25 seasons: about 30,000.

The celebrity guests who appeared most often were Celine Dion (27) and Chris Rock (26).

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