SIGNED OFF: OPRAH
Oprah Winfrey, America’s richest-ever female entrepreneur, retired the syndicated afternoon TV talk show that represented the heart of her media empire. For her final episode, Winfrey eschewed the usual celebrity guests and gift-giving spectacles, opting for a low-key recital of favourite empowerment messages. “Nobody but you is responsible for your own life,” she told the audience. Her Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) is received on cable in 80 million U.S. households and took over the Corus-owned Viva brand in Canada this year.
DUMPED: GLENN BECK
Meanwhile, Oprah’s mirror-image, the conservative historian-polemicist Glenn Beck, departed network TV after just 2½ years. Beck joined Fox News Channel at the start of 2009 and rocketed to the top of the cable totem pole with impassioned monologues and paranoid chalk talks diagramming the leftist infiltration of American institutions. But advertisers and his audience abandoned him. Beck claimed, “The show has become a movement . . . it doesn’t belong on television anymore.” He was right about that at least: Fox dropped him.
AXED: JOHN GALLIANO
Christian Dior chief designer John Galliano was fired by the fashion house after being arrested for delivering an anti-Semitic harangue in a Parisian tavern. A French website released a video of Galliano making similar “I love Hitler” remarks in an earlier incident, but much of the couture world rallied around the Légion d’honneur member. Galliano was found guilty in a French court of uttering racist public insults and fined $8,000; Dior still has named no successor.
STEPPED DOWN: MICHAEL IGNATIEFF
Michael Ignatieff led the Liberal Party of Canada to an unprecedented third-place election showing and fled public life, joining the University of Toronto’s Massey College as “senior resident.” Ignatieff, a globe-trotting intellectual, was seized upon by the party in 2009 as an emergency replacement for lame-duck leader Stéphane Dion. The relative neophyte was out-campaigned by NDP leader Jack Layton, however, and lost his own Etobicoke-Lakeshore seat to a Tory.
PUT TO PASTURE: FIDEL CASTRO
Fidel Castro, succeeded as president of Cuba by his younger brother Raúl in 2008, resigned from the all-powerful Central Committee of the country’s Communist party. The move completes a power transfer necessitated by the chronic health concerns of Fidel, the central figure in the country’s 1959 revolution. The garrulous senior Castro has, in recent years, favoured track suits over his familiar military fatigues. Liberalization efforts under Raúl’s young regime include a reform that allows Cubans to sell and buy residences for the first time in 50 years.
FINAL RACE: JENNIFER HEI
Jennifer Heil of Spruce Grove, Alta., concluded her competitive freestyle skiing career a year after capturing Olympic silver at the Vancouver Winter Games. Heil, who won gold in Turin in 2006, announced her retirement shortly before taking one last crack at the single moguls event in the annual World Championship in Deer Valley, Utah. The McGill political science student captured the last major honour that had eluded her, edging U.S. rival Hannah Kearney when the American narrowly failed to grab a ski during an aerial trick late in her run. Kearney nonetheless mourned Heil’s departure, saying, “This sport will not be the same without Jen in it.”
PUSHED OUT: BILL ELLIOTT
William Elliott, first-ever civilian commissioner of the RCMP, resigned after a 3½-year tenure spent almost entirely in heated strife with senior Mounties. Elliott, a long-time federal bureaucrat, inherited a scandal-ridden force from disgraced precursor Giuliano Zaccardelli. Despite the retirement of some critics and purges of others, Elliott made little progress on improving the RCMP’s public profile, and was beset by complaints about an “abusive” management style. Elliott follows Zaccardelli to Interpol, where he will serve as special representative to the UN; he is to be replaced at the head of the RCMP by veteran Bob Paulson.
BOWED OUT: FRANK STRONACH
Frank Stronach, the Austrian immigrant who built Magna International Inc. into a global auto-parts giant, stepped down as chairman of the Canadian company after a long struggle with shareholders. Stronach’s sideline in horse racing was widely regarded by markets as an expensive distraction from the main business of Magna, which he founded as a Toronto tool-and-die shop in 1957. He took the racing assets and the company’s E-Car electric-vehicle business out the door with him as part of the departure deal; he remains the company’s biggest shareholder and says he intends to go on “creating jobs” at age 79.
FINAL SOUND CHECK: R.E.M. AND THE WHITE STRIPES
Two of the leading rock bands of their generations reached the end of the road in 2011—at least until the reunion tours. Athens, Ga., indie favourites R.E.M. decided to “call it a day” 28 years after their debut album Murmur. Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Peter Buck told fans, “We walk away with a great sense of gratitude.” Earlier in the year, the duo known as the White Stripes announced the official retirement of their lo-fi, high-volume act. Jack and Meg White, who never did quite relinquish the comic pretense of being siblings, were actually a divorced couple whose professional partnership outlasted their marriage by 11 years.
GOING, GOING, GONE . . . ? LANCE ARMSTRONG AND BRETT FAVRE
Two of the longest-running retirements in sports finally appear official. Lance Armstrong, the American cycling great who retired in 2005 and came back to compete in the 2009 Tour de France, confirmed he would not return to the sport as federal prosecutors quietly investigated doping allegations made by ex-teammate Floyd Landis. (Armstrong has never, as far as anyone knows, tested positive for an illegal performance enhancer.) Meanwhile, quarterback Brett Favre, who retired from the NFL in 2009 and again in 2010, quit for realsies. Barring a 2012 comeback, the Gunslinger finishes with official NFL records in passing yards (71,838), touchdown passes (508), victories as a starting QB (186), and interceptions (336).