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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Mitch Dudek

Stella Mikhail did guest makeup on Oprah show, affected lives with her brush

Stella Mikhail and Oprah Winfrey (Provided)

As the makeup artist for guests of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Stella Mikhail disarmed with charm and got to work on some of the most recognizable faces in the world.

Barbra Streisand. Antonio Banderas. Maya Angelou. Melanie Griffith. Christie Brinkley. Cindy Crawford. Brooke Shields. George Clooney. Glenn Close. Tom Cruise. The list goes on.

She couldn’t talk about it much, discretion is built into the intimate endeavor, not to mention the non-disclosure agreement.

Her sister, Suzanna Ishoo, who also did guest makeup on the show, said Mrs. Mikhail shared a bit here and there and regularly took pictures with guests who sat in her chair even though it was against the rules.

“She was in love with John Travolta. ‘So normal. So pleasant,’ she’d say. And she just loved Maria Shriver. But her absolute favorite was Barack Obama,” her sister said.

“And she’d always ask what sort of advice the person could offer. Donald Trump told her to invest in property,” she said.

Mrs. Mikhail died Feb. 12 from breast cancer. She was 55.

The staff on the show became like family.

In 2003, they embraced her as Mrs. Mikhail went into a deep depression after her 10-year-old daughter, Erica, died from kidney cancer.

“People at the Oprah show lifted her up,” said Susan Berger, a friend and journalist who chronicled Mrs. Mikhail’s stories for an unfinished book titled “I came. I saw. I contoured.”

“Oprah told her, ‘You will always have an angel sitting on your shoulder, and no one can knock you down,’ ” she said.

The talk show host also sent flowers, which Mrs. Mikhail dried and kept.

“I wondered if she’d ever get over it,” said Andre Walker, who worked as Oprah’s personal hair stylist. “We tried to support her as much as we could.”

Mrs. Mikhail worked through it and said about that time: “I found my strength in lipstick and eyeshadow — and the most powerful woman standing next to me: Oprah,” according to Berger. 

When Mrs. Mikhail became pregnant with her second daughter, Faith, Oprah would stop by and rub her stomach and talk to the baby, Berger said.

Stella Mikhail and former President Barack Obama. (Provided)

She began doing makeup professionally at age 17 at the Marshall Field’s in Old Orchard mall in Skokie. 

She went to school to become a dental hygienist, but it wasn’t the right fit.

Her big break came when a friend who worked on the Oprah show as a hairdresser called with a request: A makeup artist was needed on short notice to do comedian Tim Allen, could she fill in? Mrs. Mikhail made an impression; she worked on the show for 22 years.

After Oprah’s farewell show, Mrs. Mikhail transitioned to “The Rosie Show,” where she was the personal makeup artist for host Rosie O’Donnell. 

When Harpo Studios was demolished, like hundreds of others, Mrs. Mikhail, who lived in Morton Grove, kept a brick.

“When she looked at a client, she just kind of went into a zone and picked up a brush,” her sister said.

“Stella was just a gem. Always, always a breath of fresh air, just a positive person. She was assertive but not aggressive, and she had confidence and was also very warm and personable,” Walker said.

“We used to laugh a lot. We’d sit in the green room and watch the show on the monitors. We’d just make fun of each other. It made the job fun,” Walker said. 

Stella Mikhail and Paris Hilton (Provided)

Mrs. Mikhail, a graduate of Senn High School, grew up in Rogers Park, one of six siblings. 

Her parents moved in 1970 from Iraq to Chicago. Her dad, who was Armenian, drove a taxi; her mom, who was Iraqi, worked in an automobile parts factory.

Mrs. Mikhail, who had a long list of personal clients and represented the cosmetics brand Laura Mercier, was doing other people’s makeup and teaching women how to apply their makeup until a week before she died.

“She realized that makeup impacted people’s lives, how it had the power to change a person and make them feel good about themselves, whether it was cancer patients or brides. Whatever they were going through, when Stella was done they felt like a whole different person,” her sister said.

One client she was particularly proud to have helped was Jacqueline Saburido, an activist who appeared on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” after suffering horrible burns in a drunken driving crash.

She also found gratification in doing pre-show makeup for firefighters and other family members who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks.

“She realized what she did was significant, life-changing even,” Berger said.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Mikhail also is survived by her husband, Edmond. Services have been held.

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