Iyanla Vanzant was a force to be reckoned with—a relationship expert with some of the best no-nonsense, hard-hitting advice Oprah had ever heard. When she first took The Oprah Show by storm in 1998, Iyanla was a popular author, speaker and spiritual coach. Iyanla's humorous style and life-changing advice struck a chord with women everywhere. Her message was simple: To live better, you've got to love yourself.
Oprah says people believed in Iyanla because she was a real-life, triumph-over-tragedy success story. This teen mother and rape survivor lived off welfare until she turned her life around by putting herself through law school and launching a self-help empire. Over the years, Iyanla sold more than 8 million books, including In the Meantime and One Day My Soul Just Opened Up, two New York Times bestsellers.
Oprah Show viewers first met Iyanla during Season 12, and over the next year and a half, she graced the stage 20 times. While hundreds of experts have come and gone over the years, few have captivated Oprah's audience like Iyanla.
But, for unexplained reasons, Iyanla made her last Oprah Show appearance more than 11 years ago. What caused her rumored rift with Oprah? Today, Oprah's setting the record straight.
Iyanla, Dr. Phil and Suze Orman all started dishing out advice on The Oprah Show around the same time, a period Oprah describes as "Change Your Life TV." Millions tuned in every other Tuesday to get Iyanla's take on everything from cheating spouses to financial struggles. "We knew almost instantly that Iyanla was going to be a hit," Oprah says.
Iyanla's popularity soared, and at times, Oprah even sat in the audience while Iyanla led the show. "Oprah Winfrey gives you the stage? Shut your mouth," Iyanla says. "I said, 'I'm sorry for taking over your show.' She said, 'No, that's why we have you here.'"
Overnight, Iyanla became a household name and her life changed dramatically. She was so famous, she says she couldn't go anywhere without people approaching her for one-on-one, save-yourself advice. "I had to stop traveling alone because I missed so many planes," she says. "When somebody runs up to you in the airport and begins to tell you their life story, you can't say, 'Excuse me, boo,' as they're weeping on your bosom."
At the time, Iyanla says she didn't know how to handle her newfound fame. "I had no preconceived idea what fame would be like, because I never thought I would be famous," she says. "I just wanted to do my work. Hell, I just wanted to pay my rent on time."
As her popularity grew, so did her bank account. "After being on Oprah for a couple of months, I got my first royalty check for $1,478,392.17," Iyanla says. "I will never forget it. At the height of my career, I made $3.3 million. Unbelievable. From welfare in the projects to $3.3 million."
Since Iyanla was on the same path as Dr. Phil, Oprah says Harpo Studios intended to help Iyanla launch her own talk show some day. But, after less than two years, Oprah's relationship with Iyanla ended in an instant.
In the summer of 1999, Iyanla says she received a handwritten note from a powerful television executive who was impressed by her work on The Oprah Show. "I didn't know it at the time, but this executive was a representative of Barbara Walters," Iyanla says. When Iyanla called to thank her, she says the woman offered to fly her to New York City for dinner.
Iyanla accepted the invitation. While dining with Barbara and other television executives, Iyanla says she was offered the opportunity to host her own show. "So imagine, you know? A homegirl from Brooklyn and the two most powerful women in television are now present in my world," Iyanla says. "Talk about fry your brain cells."
Iyanla says she was very clear that she wasn't leaving Harpo and turned down Barbara's offer, but then, the opportunity started weighing heavily on her mind. "It made me think, 'Maybe it is time for me to do my own show,'" she says.
Back in Chicago, Iyanla set up a meeting with Oprah and The Oprah Show's executive producer at the time, Dianne Hudson. "The way I phrased it was 'someone big in television,' had made me an offer, that I had turned it down, but that I had reconsidered and wanted to know if Harpo would be willing to do my show now instead of waiting until later," Iyanla says.
Two weeks went by before Iyanla says she received a call from a Harpo attorney. "[The attorney said,] 'Well, it's clear that you're going in a direction that Harpo isn't, and we wish you well,'" Iyanla says. "It was a nice way of saying, 'We don't want you back.' ... Whereas two weeks before I'm standing between the two most powerful women in television, now I don't have a deal with this network and I'm no longer welcome on The Oprah Show. Damn."
Eleven years later, Oprah says she saw an ad for Iyanla's latest book, Peace from Broken Pieces, and called her. "I decided we should have her on and clear the air," Oprah says. "For years there have been rumors swirling around that Iyanla and I had a big falling out. I'm going to tell you from my point of view what really happened."
When Iyanla sits down with Oprah for the first time in more than a decade, the first thing she does is apologize.
Watch Iyanla's heartfelt apology "Let me just put it out there. I love you. I have always loved you and had nothing but positive regard for you. I am now so sorry. I am aware of how my behavior and my choices could have appeared to you and been experienced by you as betrayal. Please forgive me," Iyanla says. "Please. That was not my intention. Ever."
Oprahaccepts Iyanla's apology. "No apology necessary. You are already forgiven," she says. "That is why you're here. I wanted you in this chair to tell you that you are already forgiven. You've written me over the years several letters. When you wrote me the first letter, you were forgiven."
There are two sides to every story, and Oprah shares how she remembers her last meeting with Iyanla, which occurred more than a decade ago.
Oprah: "[The executive producer] Dianne and I both left that meeting like, 'Whoa, what was that?' because we had never produced anybody in a show before but had plans, as you know, because we'd had the meeting with you. We'd also had a meeting with Dr. Phil. Both of you started the same time and were basically on the same track. Our intention was to develop that show in the time that we felt that we could develop that show for you, as well as for Dr. Phil.
So when you came to me and Dianne, and I remember this distinctly, you said that you'd been fasting for eight days."
Iyanla: "Yes. Seven days."
Oprah: "Seven. Okay. That you had fasted and prayed and that God had spoken to you and that God told you that this was..."
Iyanla: "The time is now."
Oprah: "No, not just the time—no. This is what I recall. You said, 'This is the anointed time. Not the appointed time.' The anointed time. That stuck in my mind—the anointed time. Not the appointed time. My feeling was, and Dianne was all, 'Well, we were planning...' and I said, 'I am not going to go against God.' If God has told Iyanla that this is the anointed time, then we need to back off and give her the freedom and the wherewithal to do that. I am not going to stand in her way. ... At the time, we didn't even know it was Barbara Walters.
Iyanla: "But I didn't have a deal at the time. That's what was so confusing."
Oprah: "No, but you left us with the impression, I'm telling you, because otherwise if I thought you could have been talked into it, because we had a big conversation about, 'Should we try to talk her into it?' ... I thought, 'You have this really big opportunity.' I wasn't even angry."
Now, Iyanla shares how she was feeling at that time in her life, torn between her loyalty to Harpo and an offer from a television icon.
Iyanla: "So I'm here every [other] Tuesday minding my business, and then I get this call. I didn't know who it was at first either until I get to the Plaza, and I go to the dinner. Now from welfare to the projects to lunch with Oprah and dinner with Barbara Walters." Oprah: "I understand."
Iyanla: "Do you?"
Oprah: "I really do."
Iyanla: "Talk about frying the brain cell and the eyeball."
Oprah: "Because Barbara holds that thing for me too. I credit my being in this business because of Barbara Walters. So I understand when Barbara Walters calls you that that will get all of your cells."
Iyanla: "That's why I went to pray and fast. My best friend knows. Everybody knows I was fried. When we went to the dinner, I told her no. I said, 'I'm not leaving Harpo.'"
At one point, Iyanla says Oprah asked her, "Do you want to do your show now or do you want to stay [at Harpo] and grow?" Iyanla told Oprah she wanted to stay and grow, but then she had a change of heart.
"Here's what I bumped into: I was afraid. I was afraid to stand on my own," Iyanla says. "[I wanted to] go back and say to you, 'I don't want to wait. Let's do it now.' That was my intention."
But that was not what Oprah says she heard. "What I heard you say that resonated with me so strongly was, 'anointed time, not the appointed time; I am ready.' We said, Dianne Hudson and I, 'But we're not ready,'" Oprah says. "What I thought you were saying to me is that, 'This isn't about you deciding the time because God has told me that the time is now.'"
"Oh, my Lord. Just scratch my eye out with a plastic fork," Iyanla says. "I would not say that to you, Oprah Winfrey."
Looking back, Iyanla says she's realized she wasn't hoping for a business deal when she met with Oprah. She wanted validation.
Iyanla: "I just wanted you to say you liked me and you never did."
Oprah: "I will not accept that. I will not accept that as where I was in my heart because I had offered. Not only did I like you, I would leave the stage and give you the stage because I liked you so much. What did you think that meant when I am sitting in the audience and letting you sit on stage and run the show?"
Iyanla: "I hadn't worked hard enough for it. I hadn't struggled hard enough for it. I couldn't even receive it. I couldn't recognize it. I didn't know what it was. You've got to hear that. You've got to hear that, Oprah. I didn't even know what it was. I thought you wanted the work. I didn't think you wanted me."
Oprah: "Oh, my God. I got it."
Iyanla says she now feels like the conversation that took place 11 years ago was incomplete and assumptions were made about what she'd said.
Oprah: "Let's just clarify this. Were you not saying to us,'I want to do this show, and I want to do it now. In my own time because God has told me this is the time?'"
Iyanla: "I think that I was saying I want to do my own show now, with you, but I wasn't making it if you don't do it. I'm going with them."
Oprah: "Well, it certainly felt like it. It felt like an ultimatum."
Iyanla says she never intended to give Oprah an ultimatum, and she regrets their misunderstanding. However, she believes everything happened for a reason.
"I think all things are lessons God would have us learn," Iyanla says. "I needed to understand and learn how to receive. ... You were giving me something and I couldn't see it, hear it, receive it."
Iyanla eventually received a million-dollar TV contract with Barbara Walters and Buena Vista Television to host The Iyanla Show. But Iyanla says she soon realized the show's producers didn't share her vision. Oprah knew all along what Iyanla needed.
Oprah: "You have a specialty that needed to be nurtured and respected and honored in its space for what you do and how you offer that. So what I feared was that you would go to whoever the big person was, that they wouldn't understand that. Then what happens is that everybody tries to model whatever after what they think I am doing."
Iyanla: "That part of it wasn't about you. Their goal was to get me away from you. That was the goal. I'm sorry."
Oprah: "That's what you believe."
Iyanla: "That's what I believe. That's what I lived. That's what I experienced. I don't even think it was conscious. It wasn't even personal. It wasn't to get me from you so you wouldn't have me. It was to get me from you so they could have me for what they wanted me for. My pattern. People didn't want me for me. They wanted me for what I could offer."
Iyanla says that when she thinks about the way she was treated while hosting The Iyanla Show, it gives her shivers. "Let me not say how I was treated because I wasn't a victim. What kind of treatment did I accept? What did I allow? What did I accommodate? What did I tolerate?" Iyanla says. "Let me put it this way—$27 million television show and I didn't have an office."
When Iyanla met her show producers, she says they couldn't pronounce her name, and they'd never read her books. "I didn't even know what to ask for. What I knew was that it didn't feel good. It was painful," she says. "But, Oprah, it was familiar. Hear me. It was familiar. It was home for me. As bad as it felt, it was home for me."
Throughout her life, Iyanla says she'd always gravitated toward people who treated her badly. "Sometimes [when] I would come home I'd just go in the office and put my head down in anybody's lap and just weep. Weep. And get up Monday, and I would go right back because I've got the television show," she says. "I was scared to speak up."
Iyanla says she wasn't happy with the direction the show was taking, and eventually, she wrote a six-page memo that detailed the changes she wanted producers to make.
"I wrote this document saying this is my vision," Iyanla says. "In order for me to stay there—this is what has to happen. They said, 'Lord, the negress is awake. Lord, the negress is up.' ... They kept telling me we were going to teach spiritual law and principle, and then they'd give me another plate of almonds and another makeover and another dog to kiss."
Then, one day while Iyanla was taping a live show, she says she just stopped reading the words in the teleprompter. "It's like I had a psychotic break. And I said, 'I'm not doing this anymore,'" she says. "They said, 'Well, we can't have you here.' I said, 'Well, I don't want to be here.'"
The Iyanla Show was cancelled after one season.
When Iyanla's talk show ended, she says she wasn't afraid—she was "pissed off." She credits her life coach for helping her work through her anger. "I brought him in to just help me because I [was] drowning here," Iyanla says. "I didn't think I could call you [Oprah]. I wanted to. I wanted to so, so badly."
Oprah says she could have called, and if she had, Oprah would have given Iyanla this advice: "Until you heal your past, you will continue to bleed and bleed and bleed."
"I had to go through that, Oprah, to be able to be who I am today," Iyanla says. "I really had to."
"That is the peace," Oprah says.
"From the broken pieces," Iyanla replies.
In the end, Oprah says she's grateful for the opportunity to clear the air with Iyanla, and at one point, she forgot she was even having this conversation on television! "I thank you for being here today," Oprah says. "I heard you. ... All is forgiven."