In the entertainment industry, there are relatively few instances where an entertainer or project will go out while at (or even near) the apex of success, making The Beatles odd bedfellows with Seinfeld. Oprah Winfrey, an industry unto herself, could have easily kept her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show going for many more years beyond its 2011 finale, but she chose to bow out and move onto different professional avenues. And it turns out that huge decision actually tied back to Michael Jackson's unrealistic ideals for success. Here's how she put it:
I started reading this incredible article about Michael Jackson, and one of Jackson's friends was quoted as saying, 'His number-one problem is that he never realized that Thriller was a phenomenon. And he spent the rest of his life trying to chase it.' And so, when Bad only sold---only sold---20 million albums early on, he was disappointed because it wasn't Thriller. He thought he was going to top Thriller. I went, 'Whoa. Pay attention to that.' I didn't want to be the person chasing a phenomenon. And that is what the Oprah show was. All the right elements came together at the right time. That won't happen again. People would ask me, 'Who will be the next Oprah?' And the answer is: 'There won't be.'
There's something so haunting about that story that is hard to put a (sparkly-gloved) finger on, but the message behind it is abundantly clear and poignant. Plus, it's one of those instantly humbling situations that can add easy perspective to just about anyone's life, from someone just entering the job field to someone so famous that only a first name is needed to draw instant recognition. (Oprah even brought household recognition to how her name is spelled backwards, thanks to her Harpo production company.)
As told to [Vogue], Oprah's story about Michael Jackson goes even beyond being a cautionary tale in general, as it's also a good indicator of how early fame and success can make or break an entertainer. Not that Thriller was Michael Jackson's first release or anything, as he'd been famous since his Jackson 5 days, but Thriller was his first mega-success as a solo artist. And it apparently seeped quite deep into his psyche, making it extremely hard for him to recognize just how rare Thriller's monster sales were. Considering it's still the best-selling album of all time, it's likely that no one will ever be able to equal that success. Just like there's never going to be another Oprah Winfrey.
The Oprah Winfrey Show was one of the most popular shows on TV during its 25-year run, often drawing numbers that rivaled those of primetime series. (And they would flat-out beating the viewerships for many of today's primetime network shows.) The series offered up plenty of moments that still live on in pop culture, such as Manic Tom Cruise and "You get a car!", and it was indeed shocking when she decided to hang up her hat. So now that part of her state of mind at the time has been revealed, it's far easier to understand. It's kind of frightening to think about being held captive to one's understanding of success.
Of course, Oprah Winfrey's career didn't stop when her talk show ended, much as Michael Jackson's didn't stop after Bad only sold that paltry 20 million+ copies. With the founding of the network OWN, Oprah continues to interview others and share inspirational (and sometimes challenging) stories with her fans, and she's been as busy in front of the camera as ever. (That Wrinkle in Time trailer, guys.) In fact, she'll actually be joining 60 Minutes this fall as a special contributor. And we're pretty sure she won't let any that success go to her head, either.
To see what else is hitting the small screen later this year, head to our fall TV schedule.