Even after ending her 25-year reign as the Queen of Daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey has remained one of the world’s most famous television personalities. One of her most enduring legacies? Her ability to get high-profile celebrities to discuss their darkest secrets to an audience of millions. Here are 12 stunners that came to light under her sympathetic gaze.
1. WHITNEY HOUSTON ADMITS THAT SHE DIDN'T THINK CRACK WAS SO WACK.
After denying a drug problem in a 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer—the source of her infamous "crack is wack" declaration—Whitney Houston came clean to Oprah seven years later. She said her drug of choice was marijuana mixed with rock cocaine, a.k.a. crack.
2. MICHAEL JACKSON REVEALS THAT HE’S SUFFERING FROM VITILIGO.
After years of public speculation that he was bleaching his skin for cosmetic reasons, Michael Jackson finally explained in 1993 that he was actually suffering from vitiligo, a disease that causes depigmentation of the skin. During the most-watched interview in television history, the King of Pop also confessed that he had, in fact, had plastic surgery—but not as much as everyone assumed.
3. LANCE ARMSTRONG ADMITS TO DOPING ALLEGATIONS.
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong's fall from grace was swift after he finally admitted, after more than a decade of denials, that he had taken banned substances during all of his cycling victories. During his 2013 sit-down with Oprah, he said he felt a need to protect his "mythic" level image, and he got caught up in the momentum of the lies.
4. RIHANNA CALLS CHRIS BROWN THE LOVE OF HER LIFE.
When photos surfaced of how badly Chris Brown beat Rihanna after a pre-Grammy party in 2009, the public turned against him. Over time, though, it became clear that Rihanna was still seeing her attacker. In an interview with Oprah three years later, she stunned the world by saying she was, indeed, still in love with him. Soon afterward, she began posting pictures on Instagram and Twitter of the two of them hanging out in intimate settings.
5. DAVID LETTERMAN TALKS ABOUT HIS SEX SCANDAL AND HIS STRUGGLES WITH DEPRESSION.
For years, Letterman and Winfrey had a long-rumored (though seemingly low-level) feud brewing. They’ve since buried that hatchet, so much so that in 2013, Dave talked candidly to Oprah about the sex scandal that rocked his marriage and career in 2009. He also opened up about a six-month period of depression where he found it difficult to even get out of bed.
6. MACKENZIE PHILLIPS CONFESSES TO HAVING SEX WITH HER FATHER OVER THE COURSE OF MANY YEARS.
In 2009, Mackenzie Phillips, former child star of One Day at a Time, went on Oprah to talk about her autobiography. She read an excerpt from the book about her father—musician John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papaps—raping her when she was a teenager, and said that she continued to have sex with him for years afterward, including after she was married.
7. JAMES FREY ADMITS HE MADE UP KEY PORTIONS OF HIS MEMOIR.
After getting the coveted Oprah's Book Club bump, author James Frey was outed as a fraud when The Smoking Gun discovered his memoir about addiction and recovery, A Million Little Pieces, was largely fiction. Oprah, as you might imagine, was displeased. She invited him back on the show to explain himself—or, more accurately, to rip him a new one for deceiving her and her legions of followers.
8. LISA MARIE PRESLEY TALKS ABOUT HER MARRIAGE TO MICHAEL JACKSON.
In a sit-down after her 2009 ex-husband’s death, Lisa Marie Presley chatted about the authenticity of their mid-'90s marriage, which many people had viewed as a staged relationship for years. She also talked about how she thought there was possibly suspicious drug use going on while the two were married, which she didn't notice until shortly before she filed for divorce.
9. MO'NIQUE'S BROTHER ADMITS TO MOLESTING HER AS A CHILD.
Although comedian and actress Mo’Nique was outspoken about the childhood sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her older brother (saying she fueled that anger into her Oscar-winning role in Precious), Gerald Imes continually denied it. Until his talk with Oprah in 2010, that is.
"I'm here today to first acknowledge what I've been in denial for for 37 years, and that is I did assault and inappropriately touch my sister in manners that were not comfortable for her," Imes said. "And for that, I apologize and am humbly sorry."
10. TELEVANGELIST TED HAGGARD CONFESSES TO AN AFFAIR AND DRUG USE.
Ted Haggard was once one of the country’s foremost evangelical leaders and was known to advise George W. Bush on a regular basis. So it was quite the shock when he went on Oprah and announced that all of the rumors were true—he had cheated on his wife with a male escort and was also dabbling with drugs.
11. A FRESH-FROM-PRISON MARION JONES TALKS ABOUT HER STEROID USE.
After spending six months in prison for lying to federal agents about using performance-enhancing drugs, the five-time Olympic medalist insisted to Oprah that she didn't knowingly lie.
12. STEPHEN COLBERT OPENS UP ABOUT THE DEATH OF HIS FATHER AND TWO BROTHERS.
The public was used to seeing "Stephen Colbert," the late night comedic pundit character. But when Oprah talked to the real Stephen Colbert, he opened up about the Eastern Airlines crash in 1974 that killed his father and two of his older brothers when he was just 10 years old.
A version of this story originally ran in 2013.