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Oprah Winfrey Remembers Joan Rivers Calling Her Fat on Television and the Profound Affect It Had on Her

Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images and Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images and Ron Galella, Ltd. / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey’s journey to stardom is filled with remarkable moments of resilience and triumph. One of the most pivotal experiences in her early career was her first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1985, where a conversation with guest host Joan Rivers took an unexpected turn. This encounter not only highlighted the harsh scrutiny of public figures but also led to a transformative period in Winfrey’s life. This single interview shaped Winfrey’s perspective on self-acceptance, her subsequent struggles and successes, and the life lessons she carried forward.

Oprah Winfrey’s first appearance on The Tonight Show

Oprah Winfrey sitting beside Joan Rivers sitting behind a desk.
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey during an interview with guest host Joan Rivers on January 27, 1986. (Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal / Getty Images)

Oprah Winfrey, reflecting on her first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1985, recalls the shocking remarks made by guest host Joan Rivers about her weight. Winfrey, who was then promoting her successful TV show A.M. Chicago, shared her experience on The Jamie Kern Lima Show podcast. During the interview, Winfrey remembered Rivers bluntly asking, “Tell me, why are you so fat?” on national television. Winfrey, now 70, responded with humor at the time, saying, “Oh, I just love potato chips, Joan.”

The impact of Rivers’ comments

Headshot of Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah Winfrey circa 1986. (Photo Credit: Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection / Getty Images)

The encounter left a lasting impression on Winfrey. Rivers, who passed away in 2014, went on to say, “shame on you” and suggested Winfrey could return to the show if she lost 15 pounds. Reflecting on the moment, Winfrey shared, “I accepted that I should be shamed because how dare me, be sitting up here on The Tonight Show.” Despite their agreement that Winfrey would lose weight, she admitted, “I went and ate my way to another 10 pounds.”

The experience was a turning point and a life lesson

Oprah Winfrey in 'The Color Purple.'
Oprah Winfrey on the set of “The Color Purple.” (Photo Credit: Sunset Boulevard / Corbis / Getty Images)

During this challenging period, Winfrey attended a health retreat, often referred to as a “fat farm” at the time. While there, she struggled with the belief that her weight had cost her a role in The Color Purple. In a twist of fate, producer Steven Spielberg called her, saying, “I hear you’re at a fat farm. You lose a pound, you could lose this part.” This moment became pivotal for Winfrey, as she realized the importance of letting go.

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“The instant I let it go was the greatest life lesson I have ever received,” she said, emphasizing how this experience shaped her future approach to life and career. Winfrey eventually secured the role of Sofia in The Color Purple, earning her an Academy Award nomination. Reflecting on her journey, she advised, “Do everything you can, work as hard as you can, and then let it go.”

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June Steele

June Steele is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News