EXCLUSIVE: Oprah Winfrey Breaks Down in Tears Over Mary Tyler Moore's Death: 'She Paved the Way'

The media mogul spoke with ET about how Moore inspired her to create an empire.

Oprah Winfrey
is paying tribute to Mary Tyler Moore.

Speaking with ET's Nancy O'Dell by phone on Wednesday, Winfrey couldn't help but get choked up while reflecting on the late TV icon's life and legacy.

"What I'm grateful for is that, in my lifetime, I was able to share with her what her presence in television had meant to me as a young, growing, aspiring reporter," she said. "It's the first time that I can recall a public figure in recent years passing -- and we've lost so many people recently -- where I actually sat down and shed tears about it."

NEWS: Mary Tyler Moore Dies at 80 

Moore died on Wednesday from cardiopulmonary arrest after she had contracted pneumonia. The groundbreaking actress was 80. 

Winfrey praised Moore as a "role model" for "young, single women in the workforce," and revealed that it was Moore who first inspired her to pursue her own entertainment empire.

"Mary Tyler Moore first gave me the idea that you can own your own show and produce it. She was the one," Winfrey said. "So, when I say that she had a powerful influence on me, it wasn't just being that iconic figure that was women in the workforce, doing the same job I was doing, working in news as a journalist, in a newsroom, and who was single and really OK with it. Every episode wasn't about trying to find a man, it was about trying to find your way in life."

RELATED: Mary Tyler Moore's Last TV Appearance Was an Epic Reunion With Betty White, Valerie Harper and More Co-Stars 

"She paved the way through storytelling for women," Winfrey continued, "and was a value system for women without even knowing it. So, her legacy will live on in ways I know the creators of [The Mary Tyler Moore Show] never even imagined."

In February 1997, Moore surprised Lady O on the set of her namesake talk show.

"It's the time I coined the 'ugly cry,' and I went into double, triple overtime ugly cry," Winfrey said of the moment. "After that I said, 'Never again!' I called all my producers together -- and that was in 1997 -- I said, 'Never again will I be surprised on the show, and if I'm ever surprised on the show, it will cost whoever produced that show their job.' Because I could not speak, hear or think!"

Though she couldn't help but admit, "It made the moment even better."

Moore's friends and former co-stars, including Ed Asner and Dick Van Dyke, have taken to social media to pay tribute to the beloved star. See what they had to say below.

WATCH: Robert Redford, Carol Burnett and More Stars Mourn Mary Tyler Moore's Death