Kirt Bennett

Kirt Bennett was only 26 when he appeared on The Oprah Show in 2000 as a recipient of Oprah's Angel Network's $50,000 Use Your Life Award.

Kirt founded the Young Leaders' Academy of Baton Rouge, an education program that prepares at-risk boys to become the leaders of tomorrow. Since 1993, the Young Leaders' Academy has been teaching young men to be role models in their community, to value themselves and make their own dreams come true.

When he appeared on The Oprah Show, Kirt said the education he was providing his students instilled in them an increased sense of ownership and leadership. Aside from the Use Your Life Award, which he received in 2000, Kirt received three U.S. Presidential Service Awards, the National Points of Light Award and an FBI community service award.

After Kirt won the Angel Network Use Your Life Award, the community of Baton Rouge rallied to support the Young Leaders' Academy. With the $50,000 plus additional donations totaling almost a half million dollars, Kirt was able to expand his program and help twice as many boys.

Kirt Bennett died on May 3, 2010, after suffering a stroke the previous week. He was 42.

Learn more about Kirt's work with the Young Leaders' Academy.
Fernando Bengoechea


Designer Nate Berkus spent eight years helping guests on The Oprah Show decorate their homes, but perhaps his most memorable show appearance was in January 2005, when he returned to Oprah's stage just two weeks after surviving an unimaginable tragedy. Nate was vacationing in Sri Lanka with his partner, Fernando Bengoechea, when the 2004 tsunami hit. The natural disaster claimed the lives of more than 400 people, and while Nate survived, Fernando did not.

Nate shares his horrific ordeal

An internationally acclaimed photographer, Fernando's work appeared in major magazines including O, The Oprah Magazine. From celebrities to gorgeous interiors, exotic locations and wonderful portraits of humanity, Fernando captured spirit and beauty.

"I want to keep saying [Fernando's] name out loud because I think it's important for everybody who's lost their life, for their life to be more than that moment of death," Oprah said when Nate opened up about his tragic loss. "[Fernando's] work and his art will live on for everybody who he filmed; for everybody whose life he touched. We get to see him through his work forever."
Truddi Chase

One of the most unforgettable guests in Oprah Show history was Truddi Chase, a woman living with 92 distinct personalities. Truddi's condition—now called dissociative identity disorder, or DID—was caused by years of brutal sexual abuse by her stepfather that started when she was just 2 years old.

Truddi's 1990 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show

Oprah says Truddi's story moved her to tears because she was just beginning to contemplate her own childhood abuse. "I really connected the dots of how profound the manifestation of abuse can be in other people's lives," she said. "The way she shattered her personality and became a multiple [was] her way of protecting herself. Her own little inner-spirited child."

Twenty years after Truddi's Oprah Show appearance, two viewers spoke out about how Truddi inspired them to break the silence of their own abuse. Truddi's daughter, Kari, said her mother would have been happy to hear how her story helped change lives. "For people who are being abused: Talk, find whoever you can and have a voice," Kari said. "I think [my mother] wanted to be that voice for people, to know that it was okay to talk and to step up and not hide."

Truddi passed away in March 2010, but her legacy lives on.

Oprah follows up with Truddi's daughter 
Michael Jackson

On February 10, 1993, Oprah sat down with superstar Michael Jackson for what would be the most-watched interview in television history. Michael, a fiercely private entertainer, had refused to give an interview for 14 years. The unprecedented live event, which took place before Michael faced allegations of sexual abuse, drew a worldwide audience of 90 million people. "It was the most exciting interview I had ever done," Oprah said.

Sixteen years later, Oprah reflected on her interview with Michael, which took place at his Neverland Ranch. "I can tell you I really, really liked him," she said. "I thought I could be his friend, because I felt that he was really honest."

Oprah opens up about her interview with Michael 

Michael died on June 25, 2009. Soon after his passing, an autopsy revealed that a lethal dose of propofol caused him to go into cardiac arrest and die.

In November 2010, Michael's mother, Katherine, and his children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, opened up to Oprah about the King of Pop. "I think of my son all through the day, all the time," Katherine said. "Sometimes during the day, I can hear his laughter in my mind."

"He was just a normal dad," Paris said. "Except for he was, I would say, the best dad ever."

Michael's family remembers him as a loving son and father
John F. Kennedy Jr.

Oprah's interview with John F. Kennedy Jr. was the 11th season premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and it was big news. John had just delivered a speech introducing his uncle Sen. Ted Kennedy at the 1996 Democratic National Convention. At the same time, the gossip pages were ablaze with John's recently announced engagement to publicist Carolyn Bessette. "It was a very exciting day because John F. Kennedy Jr. didn't sit down and talk to anybody," Oprah said when she reflected on the interview 14 years later. "We'd been on the air for 10 years and had been trying to get him to talk, and only I think because he was releasing his magazine, George, was he willing to do it. It was still a huge, huge, huge coup for all of my team to talk him into saying yes."

Oprah said John struck her as timeless and statuesque. "He has such wonderful presence," she said. "He feels calm. Even though I know that he was nervous, he feels in control."

Look back at Oprah's 1996 interview with John

On July 16, 1999, John; his wife, Carolyn; and her sister, Lauren Bessette, boarded a small airplane piloted by John. They were set to fly from New Jersey to the Kennedy family home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, for a wedding.

Hours later, news broke that their light aircraft had gone missing and rescuers were on the scene. Almost a week later, the plane's wreckage was found. There were no survivors.

Oprah says she's thought often about the deaths of John, Carolyn and Lauren. "I know that all death is here to teach us about life," she says. "It made me think about ... how to live more presently in the now."

Oprah reflects on her interview with America's prince of Camelot
Erin Kramp

Erin Kramp was a special mom whom Oprah has called a "heartprint" for her extraordinary legacy of love. She appeared on The Oprah Show with her husband, Doug, in 1998 after receiving a devastating breast cancer diagnosis.

Erin knew she was dying, and after realizing that her 6-year-old daughter, Peyton, would have to grow up without her, she began recording hours and hours of motherly advice. The videotapes covered everything from how to choose makeup ("Try to find makeup that looks natural, like you're not wearing any") to how to choose a husband ("Pick a very nice guy who has a backbone"). In the midst of grueling treatments, Erin also found the strength to write letters and prepare gifts for Peyton to open every Christmas and birthday after she was gone.

Erin lost her battle with breast cancer on October 31, 1998.

Doug returned to The Oprah Show, this time with Peyton, in 2005. Peyton said she had watched or listened to 12 of the more than 100 video and audiotapes left by her mother. "It made me feel very special to see all those tapes," Peyton said. "I guess it was just showing me how much she really loved me. When most people lose a loved one, they forget all about what they look like. With mom's videotapes that she made, I know what she looks like—I can still hear her voice. ... I can feel her love."


The iconic Wladziu Valentino Liberace was best known only by his last name. An entertainer and pianist, Liberace was also known for his flashy outfits and jewelry, flamboyant stage presence and giant candelabra.

For more than 40 years, Liberace reigned supreme as one of America's most beloved performers. He recorded more than 200 albums, starred in an Emmy award-winning television series, wrote three best-selling books, turned his home into a museum, and founded the Liberace Foundation to help talented youth pursue careers in performing and creative arts. One of the highest-paid entertainers of his time, Liberace's income averaged $5 million a year for more than 25 years.

Liberace appeared on the first season of The Oprah Show in 1986, playing a Christmas medley that Oprah called "the most beautiful I've ever heard." It was the legendary entertainer's last televised appearance before he died.

Six weeks later, on February 4, 1987, he died of cardiac arrest due to congestive heart failure brought on by subacute encephalopathy, a degenerative disease of the brain.
Bernie Mac

Before becoming a King of Comedy, Bernie Mac was a UPS man, a furniture mover and a bread delivery sales representative. But Americans knew him best, as Oprah said, as "one of the country's favorite funny men."

Bernie started out as a poor kid from Chicago's South Side. As a child, he performed his own variety show for the neighborhood kids before taking his trip "above the road," cracking jokes for tips on Chicago's elevated train, the El. After years of working day jobs, Bernie decided to get serious about comedy. By 34, making people laugh was his full-time career.

In 1998, Bernie joined comedians Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley to form the Kings of Comedy, the most successful comedy tour in history.

"I'm a clown. I never really wanted to be a star. Stars fall. I like to make people laugh because I don't like to see people sad," Bernie told Oprah during his first Oprah Show appearance in 2002. "[I am] a man who is not the same man on stage, although he's a part of me. He and I [are different]. Bernie Mac is relentless, he's no holds barred. I'm more reserved than he. I'm more laid-back. Bernie Mac is wild."

Bernie also had a successful acting career, appearing in films like Ocean's Eleven, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and Guess Who? He also headlined the sitcom The Bernie Mac Show.

On July 24, 2008, Bernie passed away from complications from pneumonia.

After his death, his Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa co-stars Chris Rock and Ben Stiller appeared on The Oprah Show and paid tribute to the funnyman. Wherever they were, Chris said Bernie lit up the room. "It's like if you're in a room with Bernie Mac, he's funniest guy," Chris said. "Let's not waste our time trying to get a laugh."
Randy Pausch

In October 2007, Oprah met Randy Pausch, a father of three and college professor who was dying from pancreatic cancer. At the time, doctors said he only had a few months to live.

A month earlier, Randy earned international fame when his final lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon was posted on the Internet. "There's an academic tradition called the 'Last Lecture.' Hypothetically, if you knew you were going to die and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?" Randy asked. "Well, for me, there's an elephant in the room. And the elephant in the room [was that], for me, it wasn't hypothetical."

Of the many life lessons in Randy's lecture was this memorable tidbit: "Never ever underestimate the importance of having fun. I am dying soon, and I am choosing to have fun today, tomorrow and every other day I have left."

Look back at Randy's last lecture

During their interview, Oprah asked Randy if his life was well spent. "I'm married to an incredible woman, and I have great kids," he said. "I like to think that I have helped a lot of other people—and that's the best definition I know of time well spent."

Randy passed away on July 25, 2008. He was 47 years old.

His words are immortalized in his best-selling book, The Last Lecture.

Dr. Oz remembers Randy Pausch
Shiloh Pepin

Shiloh Pepin appeared on The Oprah Show on September 22, 2009, just one month before her untimely death.

Shiloh was born with a rare condition called sirenomelia, or "mermaid syndrome." "[The condition is] two legs that are stuck together to make one whole leg," Shiloh told Oprah. "It's the way I was made when I was born."

Sirenomelia affects one in 70,000 pregnancies, and babies born with the condition almost never survive. When Shiloh was born, the doctors told her parents she wouldn't live for more than 72 hours. Ten years later, Shiloh was one of only six people in the world living with "mermaid syndrome."

Wiser than her 10 years, Shiloh lived life to the fullest and never stopped planning for her future. "I feel like everything's possible," she said. "I want to have a normal future like everybody else. ... It's hard to decide what I want to be when I grow up. There are so many choices. An actress, or a princess. Anything I want to be."

Shiloh appeared on The Oprah Show with her parents, Leslie and Elmer. "I believe she's here to just pay testimony that the human spirit is incredible and you can achieve your dreams as long as you have the will and the drive and the spirit," Elmer said. "And she definitely has that, no doubt about it."

On October 22, 2010, Shiloh died of pneumonia.

Shiloh's visit to The Oprah Show
In memorium, guest, died, dead, passed, Christopher Reeve, Dana Reeve

At age 42, actor Christopher Reeve was on top of the world. He was a devoted husband, loving father of three and known to millions for his role as the Man of Steel in the Superman movies. Offscreen, Christopher was an avid sportsman who loved adventure.

On May 27, 1995, Christopher's life took a catastrophic turn. At a horseback-riding competition, the actor fell headfirst off his horse and broke his neck. He was in a coma for four days and woke to tragic news: He was paralyzed from the neck down. Doctors told him he would never walk again. Unable to take a single breath on his own, the 6-foot-4-inch star now needed a respirator to survive.

Three years after his accident, Christopher appeared on The Oprah Show and said he was looking toward the future. "If you play the game of 'what-if,' it's a losing battle," he said. "You end up moving backwards not forwards." Christopher said that, in the wake of his injury, his wife, Dana, gave him the will to live. He continued acting and directing from a wheelchair, wrote two best-selling books and championed the fight to find a cure for spinal cord injuries.

On October 9, 2004, nine years after his accident left him paralyzed, Christopher slipped into a coma due to complications from infections. He died the next day.

Remembering Christopher Reeve

A little less than one year after Christopher's death, and seven months after her final Oprah Show appearance, Dana revealed that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. She had been an activist for disability causes and received the 2005 Mother of the Year Award from the American Cancer Society for her dedication and determination in raising her son after the loss of her husband.

Dana died on March 6, 2006, eleven days before her 45th birthday.
Eunice Shriver

Eunice Shriver, sister to President John F. Kennedy and Senators Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy, was the founder of the Special Olympics and a longtime advocate for children's health and disability issues.

In 2005, Eunice appeared on The Oprah Show with her daughter, Maria Shriver. On that show, Eunice gave viewers her sage advice on mothering. "I think you have to be there when they're there," Eunice said. "I think if you're out to dinner and lunch all the time and you don't have a ceremony at night—at least a dinner together—you lose that contact very quickly. ... I think that's very important."

Eunice said the best advice her parents ever gave her was to have the courage to think outside herself, and it's an attitude she instilled in all her children. "There's always somebody out there much worse off—[so] get going," Eunice said.

Eunice and Maria Shriver talk about mothers and daughters

Eunice died on August 11, 2009, at age 88.

"Eunice Shriver lived as a champion, and I admired her so much," Oprah said in a statement. "She was the first (and besides Barack Obama, the only) person who ever inspired me to say, 'If you run for president, I'll campaign for you.' This was in the 1980s. I believed then and still do that she would have made a great president. She embodied the idea of leader as servant."

Eunice's husband, Sargent Shriver, was a driving force behind the Peace Corps, founded the Job Corps and Head Start, and served as the United States Ambassador to France. He died on January 18, 2011.
Mattie Stepanek

Although he was only 11 years old when he first appeared on The Oprah Show, Mattie J.T. Stepanek was already a phenomenal poet, peacemaker and philosopher.

His battle with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which claimed the lives of his three siblings and was threatening his own survival, only seemed to make his spirit stronger. He used his incredible gift of insight to write poetry he called "Heartsongs," extending hope to people of all ages.

Mattie hadn't yet reached his 14th birthday when he passed away on June 22, 2004, but he made an immeasurable impact on the world in his lifetime. "From the moment I met Mattie Stepanek, I knew it was my privilege that this courageous little boy had drifted into my life," Oprah said.

In October 2008, the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park opened in Rockville, Maryland. A bronze statue of Mattie was dedicated to the park in his memory. "His is still with us," Oprah said in a speech at the park's opening. "He's in the trees, in the grass and in the hearts of all of us who loved him."

Watch a tribute to Mattie Watch
Patrick Swayze

Patrick Swayze was an actor, dancer, singer and songwriter beloved for his unforgettable roles—and moves—in movies like Dirty Dancing and Ghost.

Patrick appeared on The Oprah Show a total of six times, including a visit in 2007 when he surprised two unsuspecting fans. Julia and James had encountered some unexpected fame when a video of their wedding dance, a reenactment of the iconic last dance from Dirty Dancing, was posted on YouTube.

Twenty years after he first danced that show-stopping number, Patrick said he loved that it stood the test of time. "It's a miracle. I think when something touches people's hearts, it sticks with you. Sometimes you do something that just kind of hits a resonant note," Patrick said. "And I've been really fortunate having a lot of movies like that."

In January 2008, Patrick had just finished shooting a TV pilot when he received a devastating pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Refusing to give in to the disease, Patrick continued working while undergoing grueling chemotherapy treatments. While he was sick, Patrick and his wife of 34 years, Lisa Niemi, co-wrote the memoir The Time of My Life.

Read an excerpt from The Time of My Life

Patrick lost his battle with cancer on September 14, 2009.

In his final days, Patrick was peaceful and free from pain, Lisa said when she appeared on The Oprah Show. "There's a strange, difficult transition from trying to treat and make better to trying to make comfortable," she said. "His heart [was] so strong—metaphorically and literally. But it was only so long that his heart was going to keep going."

Lisa's first interview since Patrick's death
Elizabeth Taylor

Legendary actress Elizabeth Taylor was famous for her award-winning film roles, as well as her glamorous lifestyle and impeccable beauty. The two-time Oscar® winner and businesswoman was also a social activist who worked tirelessly in the fight against AIDS.

Elizabeth appeared on The Oprah Show twice. Oprah has said that her first interview with Elizabeth in 1988 was memorable in its difficulty.

Right before the interview, Elizabeth asked Oprah not to ask her anything about her relationships. "That's kind of hard to do when you're Elizabeth Taylor, and you've been married seven times," Oprah said when she reflected on the conversation. "To her credit, she later apologized to me."

Oprah later found out that one of the reasons the interview was so difficult was that Elizabeth was in a lot of hip and back pain at the time.

Elizabeth appeared on The Oprah Show again in 1992, just after her 60th birthday. "If there were such a thing as American royalty, my guest today would be considered the queen," Oprah said in her introduction. "She is a living legend from the time that Hollywood gave us not just actors and actresses but honest-to-goodness movie stars. ... She has talent, and it seems, eternal youth."

In February 2011, Elizabeth was admitted to the hospital with symptoms related to congestive heart failure. She died on March 23, 2011, at age 79.
Luther Vandross

Legendary singer, songwriter and record producer Luther Vandross won eight Grammy Awards in his storied R&B career. "He is the master of the love song," Oprah said during one of his 13 appearances on The Oprah Show.

In 2003, Luther released the album Dance with My Father, his only record to hit number one and his best-selling studio album ever. The album earned him four of his Grammy Awards, including Song of the Year.

Two months before Dance with My Father hit stores, Luther suffered a massive stroke that left him in a coma for six weeks. In May 2004, he granted Oprah his first and only interview after his stroke, revealing that he planned to move forward from his setback with intense therapy and rehab. "I'll be singing at 80," he said.

One year later, Luther died at age 52. "He was the doctor of love," Oprah said during an Oprah Show tribute to Luther that featured performances by Usher and Pattie LaBelle. "We miss him, and we love him."

Oprah said Luther had a lot to teach her. "I learned [from Luther] the meaning of living well," Oprah said. "He had Lalique glasses to drink Kool-Aid out of. He lived so fabulously."

A tribute to Luther Vandross