The media mogul told PEOPLE after the TV legend’s passing, “Mary Tyler Moore majorly influenced my life and career. I respected and admired her business acumen, her passion and compassion for all life, and most importantly, the values espoused through her storytelling. I thank her for being a light that shined so brightly, it let me see myself in her.”
Winfrey was Moore’s biggest fan and honored her often on Winfrey’s similarly eponymous show.
“I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore. I wanted to be Mary, I wanted to live where Mary lived, I wanted Mr. Grant in my life, I wanted my boss to act like that, I wanted Ted,” Winfrey said in a video.
In 1997, Winfrey even recreated the opening credits of the The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Moore showed up to surprise a truly shocked Oprah, who immediately started crying.
“You have no idea what you’ve meant to me,” Winfrey tells Moore, after gathering herself. “I just want to say, there’s many times in our lives when there are those of us who only had the television for inspiration, and you were one of those women who was a light. You know, Maya Angelou says there are some people who have a certain way of being in this world, and that’s what you brought to this character.”
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Recalling the surprise later, Winfrey says she doesn’t actually remember much, other than trying to sum up all of her love for Moore at that one moment.
“I am now thinking of everything she means to me,” Winfrey said. “Saturday night, I sat there with the conditioner on my hair for the 30 minutes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Wouldn’t rinse it out until The Bob Newhart Show came on. I’m thinking of every single time I tried to mock her wearing the vest with the little tie. I’m thinking of wanting the ‘O’ above my refrigerator because she had the ‘M’ over hers. I wanted to move to Minneapolis because I thought she really lived there!”
“I’m thinking of all of that and what she meant to me. And there she is, and now I’ve got to be able to express that, and does she know? It was crazy.”
On Wednesday, Winfrey took to Twitter to remember the late actress with a picture of the pair years ago.
“Even now looking at this picture I want to cry. I still can’t believe Mary Tyler Moore touched my face,” Winfrey tweeted. “Will love her 4 ever.”
- With reporting by DAVE QUINN