Photo: Matthew RalstonIn 1996 when she first walked onto her set, Rosie was the 34-year-old single mother of one adopted son. She'd already shown her talent on TV (as a VH1 veejay) and in movies (as the loudmouthed third baseman Doris Murphy in 1992's A League of Their Own), but she wasn't exactly a household name. And though everyone close to her knew she was gay, it wasn't something she talked about on TV.
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Fifteen years later, Rosie is the mother of four children-Parker, 16, Chelsea, 14, Blake, 11, and Vivi, 8-and a vocal champion of gay rights. She came out to the world in 2002, by which time she'd been with her partner, Kelli Carpenter, for almost five years (the couple would later marry, in San Francisco). After leaving her TV show that same year, Rosie retreated to her home in Nyack, New York, to be a full-time mom-a dream she'd had since losing her own mother to cancer when she was only 10. But life, she says, "didn't go according to script." She and Kelli started to grow apart, and as they spent less time together and finally split, Rosie began inching back into the spotlight, becoming a wildly outspoken cohost of The View and later doing a radio show on Sirius XM.
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Today, poised to launch her new TV show, she says she's in a completely new place. As the two of us sit down after our cover shoot in New York City, Rosie, who will turn 50 this spring, tells me she's never been more clear about who she is, what she wants to say-and how she can use her show as a gift to her viewers. This time, direct from Harpo-that's right, she's moved into my Chicago studios-you'll find a show featuring real people dealing with real issues, some celebrities, lots of fun and games, loads of laughter, and a frank-as-ever Rosie.
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Oprah: So why did you make the decision to come back to television?
Rosie: After I divorced, I didn't have my kids half the time. Which was horrifying to me.
Oprah: Because you share custody.
Rosie: Yes. I remember sitting in my house going, "I need something to do." I tried radio. I enjoyed it. Then I did your show in January 2010. I thought, Oh my God, I remember why I love it! The excitement of building up to it, your staff, the whole vibe there. I was actually on the verge of signing a new deal with NBC, and-this probably sounds kiss-assy, but it's true-just before I was about to sign, I remember saying to my agent, "Doesn't Oprah have her own channel? Can we call there?" If I was going back to entertaining, I wanted to work with you.
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Oprah: Thank you for saying that. I'm so happy you chose OWN. On your show, what do you want to be different this time?
Rosie: It's already different. I'm different. When I started the last show, I had a baby who took his first steps in my office. I had never met people like Tom Cruise or Barbra Streisand. Since then, they've both stayed at my home in Miami. It took a while for me to get a grip on the idea that, Oh, wow, you are in the club. Everyone I know who's in the club feels they're not a member-even the biggest stars you can name.
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Oprah: Interesting, isn't it?
Rosie: When I finally realized that, I cut myself a break. I'd always been able to see that everyone else's success was merited-but it seemed like mine must be a fluke.
Oprah: When did you get that yours wasn't a fluke-after your show?
Rosie: Totally. I got that people liked me.
KEEP READING: Rosie O'Donnell on family, career, and coming out to the public
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