Oprah Winfrey beloved OWN

She was our friend before Facebook or texting ever existed. She listened to our stories, we listened to hers. She gave us book clubs, exercise goals, new-age philosophy, and gurus to help us with our money, our health, our homes, our love lives. She gave us permission to be our authentic selves before we had even realized we weren’t being either authentic or ourselves.

After 27 years together, it comes down to a final eight weeks. Oprah Winfrey will end her reign of daytime TV on May 25th. Right now, Winfrey’s ABC-TV show is in reruns, but the new shows—the final new shows—start running on April 7th. You can bet that the Queen of Media will not be signing off the air without some spectacular goodbye productions. My sources tell me that while the exact plans are very hush-hush, Winfrey has told her producers that she wants to go out with shows that are exciting, memorable, and befitting her reputation. No one has shot down the rumor, reported by Perez Hilton, that Winfrey may do a final show from Soldier Field, although the logistics of that seem staggering. Look for some mega-wattage names to join her on stage in the final weeks, too.

As first predicted in our cover story more than two years ago, Winfrey is ready to become Oprah Unbound—unbound to a weekly television schedule, to ratings, to our expectations of and needs for her.

I met Winfrey four times during her career—three times backstage at her show when I was shadowing a guest who was appearing. And then years later we did a one-on-one interview when Winfrey was promoting her movie, Beloved. My meetings with her came at wildly different times of her life, and so she was in various places in her journey, as she would say. But I was always struck with how human and even vulnerable she seemed when she wasn’t hosting her show.

The person on the little screen had a folksy, easy manner—you could imagine just picking up an ongoing friendship with her over a chatty lunch. The person I met face-to-face was an intelligent but slightly mysterious, slightly sad person. You could have a sparkling and thoughtful conversation with her, but basically she wasn’t knowable. Certainly not in an hour or less, certainly not in those circumstances. And the off-screen Oprah made it clear there would be no other circumstances forthcoming.

Now it all begins to come to an end and she can discover who her authentic self is when she is off the air (except for some rare appearances on her OWN cable network). But we’ll still be seeing her in all the old familiar places—the life-affirming, sister-bonding parts of life. And in the months ahead, while she settles into her Montecito, California, house with only one TV set hidden away upstairs, she will still hold little pieces of our hearts. After all, this 27-year-run was always a two-way street.