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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 24, 2002

Rosie O'Donnell bids farewell to her daytime talk show

By David Bauder
AP Television Writer

NEW YORK — Rosie O'Donnell made a brassy, sentimental farewell to daytime television on Wednesday, capped by a winking message from her not-so-secret crush, Tom Cruise.

O'Donnell, who last week won her sixth Daytime Emmy in six years as best talk show host, is leaving to raise a family and do other things.

She ended her swan song onstage at New York's Rockefeller Center surrounded by members of her staff.

"I didn't know how to end the show and I was thinking, who would be the right guy?" O'Donnell said. "Funny, this is who came to mind."

She aired a tape showing Cruise slowly walking back and forth across a lawn with a lawnmower. He then approached the camera and offered a tall, ice-filled drink.

"Rosie, I cut your lawn," Cruise said. "Here's your lemonade."

It was a subtle reference to a comment O'Donnell made in March when she came out as a lesbian and talked to interviewer Diane Sawyer. Asked to reconcile her sexuality with her oft-stated crush on Cruise, O'Donnell said, "I never once said I want him naked in a bed doing the nasty. I want him to mow my lawn and get me a lemonade."

In a montage of clips from the show's history, played to the accompaniment of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," O'Donnell mixed in pictures of children and her lover, Kelli Carpenter, who is pregnant.

"Can you believe it's the last day?" O'Donnell said. "I'm sort of, like, in severe denial."

While it was her last live show — not coincidentally on the final day of the May ratings "sweeps" — O'Donnell has taped several other new shows that will be seen through June 27. "It wasn't my decision," she said.

The show has faded in influence since O'Donnell's debut put "The Queen of Nice" on countless magazine covers. Her ratings this year are 47 percent lower than her first, peak season in 1996-97, according to Nielsen Media Research.

But with a desirable talk show audience more affluent than, say, Jerry Springer's, her syndicators, Telepictures Productions, begged her to stay. Comedian Caroline Rhea will replace her, yet O'Donnell's time slot next fall on many ABC stations has already been claimed by Wayne Brady's new program.

O'Donnell opened her farewell episode Wednesday by singing in Times Square, and being saluted in a production number by the casts of Broadway shows "Beauty and the Beast," "The Producers, "42nd Street" and others.

She was in a giving mood: Each audience member received a goodie bag that included a camera and digital video recorder. She handed two staff members the Emmys she won Friday night, and said she was also giving them a car and boat, respectively.

Singer Christine Ebersole, whom O'Donnell called one of her best friends, serenaded her with "My Funny Valentine."

And actor Nathan Lane paid an uproarious visit.

"This is the biggest, gayest celebration since Liza's wedding," Lane said.