We're sure Oprah wouldn't bare soul just for publicity

January 16, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

All of us were deeply moved by Oprah Winfrey's tearful confession that 20 years ago she smoked crack, if there actually was crack to be smoked 20 years ago.

Who wouldn't be touched when Oprah breaks down right there on her own TV show, spilling great big tears? I heard it took a dozen squeegee guys to clean up the studio.

"I did your drug," she told a guest, Charmane Brown, who says she smokes crack cocaine.

It was a man's fault, Oprah said, of her long-ago flirtation with evil. That's always the way. All I know is, when I watched, I wanted to give her a great big hug.

Gosh, only the most unrepentant cynic would suggest that Oprah wasn't the bravest little soldier to stand up in front of God and TV cameras and share her pain with us.

And yet, some are still willing to question her motives. Some might even question the facts. These naysayers point out that her ratings are slipping and there just happened to be a Washington Post reporter on the panel to splash the news all across the front page of her newspaper and also newspapers across America.

Not me, though. I would never for a minute believe that.

This is Oprah, after all, and we love her, and we are grateful that she would make this revelation, even if it is 20 years, and maybe 36 diets, after the fact.

Still, some people aren't satisfied by the suggestion that it was just a spontaneous emotional release on Oprah's part. They ask these questions: Hasn't Oprah done about 200 shows on drug use? Why didn't she just spontaneously combust on any of those occasions?

I think that's easily explained.

In fact, I'm sure she'll offer the explanation on another show.

You could understand this cynicism, if it weren't Oprah. If it's Ricki Lake getting arrested in an anti-fur protest on the same day she's scheduled to appear on the Letterman show, you'd say, sure, this was all about publicity.

But Oprah? She has always been so honest with us. She has confided in us about her tortured childhood. We know all the details, including the one about the pet cockroaches. She wouldn't tell just anyone. She just told us.

Sometimes, it seems that, given Oprah's life story, she should have been a guest on her show and not the host.

Of course, most of her guests aren't worth $200 million. And most of them aren't completely glamorous.

In fact, most of them, as guests on all these talk shows, are life's losers. They're the ones who, for the chance to be on TV, will confess to virtually anything, including sleeping with their husband's mortician.

If you're famous and confess your sins, though, that's a different story entirely. If you're famous and you've done something wrong and you admit you did it and you say you're sorry, you get . . . more famous. This is particularly true in the area of substance abuse.

One example would be Betty Ford, who was hooked on booze or pills or something. Now they have a clinic named after her, and the rich and famous settle in there like it was a Palm Springs spa.

When they leave, all cured or at least tanned, the confessing begins.

Hi, my name is Don Johnson, I've got great shades, some sexy stubble, a hot wife, and I've abused one of the substances that grab you and don't let go. But now I'm fighting for my life. Also, for a cab. You think you can help get me one?

Here's a partial list of famous confessors, not including St. Augustine:

Liz Taylor. Mickey Mantle. Tony Curtis. Lawrence Taylor. Michael Douglas. Eric Clapton and virtually every other rock and roller of his era. And, of course, Julie on "The Love Boat."

Marion Barry didn't actually confess. Hillary, or somebody like her, set him up. But running on the Redemption ticket, Barry was once again elected mayor.

It's a tricky business. Using drugs is universally frowned upon. Most people, especially Republicans, want to put you in jail.

But recovering from drug use can make you a hero. It can jump-start a failing career. In the entertainment biz, confessing to drug use is virtually a rite of passage.

For Oprah, it was something, she said, for which she felt deep shame. She also said that she lived in fear that the tabloids would uncover her dark secret.

Instead, Oprah uncovered it herself. She hopes you were watching.

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