Photo: Matthew Ralston
She's been a stand-up comic, a veejay, an actress, and a talk show host—and with her upcoming show on OWN, she's giving that last one a whole new spin. Now the mother of four opens up to Oprah about life after divorce, what turning 50 will mean to her, and how great it feels to have to wait for a table.
In 25 years of doing my show, only one competitor ever seriously challenged me in the ratings: Rosie O'Donnell. From the day Rosie took her place among the crowded field of talk show hosts, I knew she had that "It" thing: She was as sharp as she was authentic, as forthright as she was funny. During six seasons of NBC's The Rosie O'Donnell Show, she not only won 11 Emmys—she knew how to use her screen time to truly connect.
Nearly a decade after ending her show, Rosie returns to television this fall to do what she does best, entertaining and connecting again. The two of us have teamed up to create something brand-new: The Rosie Show, debuting October 10 at 7 P.M. on OWN. What's new about it? Rosie! So much has changed for her since she was last on TV.
In 1996 when she first walked onto her set, Rosie was the 34-year-old single mother of one adopted son. She'd already shown her talent on TV (as a VH1 veejay) and in movies (as the loudmouthed third baseman Doris Murphy in 1992's A League of Their Own), but she wasn't exactly a household name. And though everyone close to her knew she was gay, it wasn't something she talked about on TV.
Fifteen years later, Rosie is the mother of four children—Parker, 16, Chelsea, 14, Blake, 11, and Vivi, 8—and a vocal champion of gay rights. She came out to the world in 2002, by which time she'd been with her partner, Kelli Carpenter, for almost five years (the couple would later marry, in San Francisco). After leaving her TV show that same year, Rosie retreated to her home in Nyack, New York, to be a full-time mom—a dream she'd had since losing her own mother to cancer when she was only 10. But life, she says, "didn't go according to script." She and Kelli started to grow apart, and as they spent less time together and finally split, Rosie began inching back into the spotlight, becoming a wildly outspoken cohost of The View and later doing a radio show on Sirius XM.
Today, poised to launch her new TV show, she says she's in a completely new place. As the two of us sit down after our cover shoot in New York City, Rosie, who will turn 50 this spring, tells me she's never been more clear about who she is, what she wants to say—and how she can use her show as a gift to her viewers. This time, direct from Harpo—that's right, she's moved into my Chicago studios—you'll find a show featuring real people dealing with real issues, some celebrities, lots of fun and games, loads of laughter, and a frank-as-ever Rosie.
Next: Start reading the full interview
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