Oprah Winfrey Show

Nadine Caridi

Best known for talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah Winfrey is an American media proprietor/actress/producer in addition to her involvement in philanthropy.


Born into poverty in rural Missisippi, Oprah Winfrey turned into the richest African-American. She gave birth to a son when she was a teenager after undergoing molestation. Her son died in infancy after which she went to Tennessee. Winfrey landed a job in radio, continued her study and got into daytime talk show. Later, she initiated her own production company and put her hands into philanthropic works. The Oprah Winfrey Show became highest-ranking television program and she became the greatest black philanthropist in American history. For her influential life story, President Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. Similarly, Duke and Harvard awarded Winfrey with honorary doctorate degrees.

Early Life and Background

Oprah Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954. Her birth place is Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was an unmarried teen when she was born. Lee and Oprah’s alleged father, Vernon Winfrey broke up after Lee got pregnant in as single sexual encounter. Lee worked as a housemaid while Vernon was a coal miner who turned in to a barber. However, Noah Robinson, Sr., farmer and World War II Veteran claimed to be her father. Oprah Winfrey’s genetic test demonstrates her origin includes Kpelle (Liberia) ethnicity, 89% Sub-Saharan African, some Native American and East Asian.

Lee left Winfrey with her mother, Hattie Mae Lee, and travelled to North. Her grandmother was utterly poor due to which she often ended up wearing dress made of potato sacks. The local children used to make fun of her dresses. She spent her 6 years in that poverty. Her grandmother would hit her with stick if she would not do chores or misbehaves. Nevertheless, Hattie taught Winfrey to read before she turned three years old. Consequently, she got a nickname “The Preacher” because she had ability to recite Bible verses.

When Winfrey turned six, she went to live with her mother in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Vernita Lee worked as a housemaid for long hours. Therefore, she was not as supportive and encouraging to Winfrey like her mother. Lee had given birth to a daughter, Winfrey’s half-sister, Patricia. However, Patricia later died because of cocaine addiction. Since Lee was having financial issues having to look after two daughters, Lee sent Winfrey to live with Vernon Winfrey in Nashville, Tennessee. Lee again gave birth to another daughter. She also named her Patricia and put her up for adoption. Winfrey remained unknown about her another half-sister until 2010. Lee gave birth to a son, Jeffrey, who died of AIDS in 1989.

Molestation, Abuse and Son

Before Winfrey reached teenage, her cousin, uncle and a family friend molested her. She was nine years old when they started molesting her. When Winfrey was 24, she confessed it to her family members; however, they refused to accept it. It was in 1986 Winfrey announced about the sexual abuse to her viewers through her TV show. She stated that she did not want to be a mother because she was not mothered well.

13-year-old Winfrey ran away from home after undergoing sexual abuse for years. She became pregnant at age 14; however, her prematurely born son died shortly after birth. Winfrey exclaimed that her family members betrayed her by selling the story of her son to the National Enquirer in 1990.

Education and Early Success

Later, Winfrey attended Lincoln High School. Her early success in the Upward Bound program got her transferred to affluent Nicolet High School. She was poor and used to take bus to the school with her fellow African-Americans who were servant of her classmates’ families. Therefore, her affluent classmates used to look down at her. In order to mingle with her rich peers, Winfrey began stealing her mother’s money. In addition, she took up bad habits of lying, arguing with her mother and going out with older boys.

As a result, her mother sent her to Nashville once again to live with Vernon. This time, Lee did not take Winfrey back. Vernon prioritized Winfrey’s education, treated her strictly and encouraged her at the same time. Consequently, Winfrey became honors student. She was voted the Most Popular Girl and took second position in the nation in dramatic interpretation when she was at East Nashville High School. Similarly, she won a speech contest that secured her full scholarship to attend Tennessee State University. She studied communication as she loved to be on stage and interviewing her corncob dolls while she was child. Winfrey accredited her grandmother’s influence for speaking in public.

Beginning of Career and The Oprah Winfrey Show

Oprah Winfrey’s first job was at a local grocery store. She won Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant at age 17. This win attracted attention of local black radio station, WVOL, which hired her as part-time news reader. She worked at WVOL from senior year of high school until the second year of college.

Winfrey later went to work as first black and youngest female news anchor at WLAC-TV. She then went to work with WJZ-TV in 1976 as co-anchor for six o’clock news. However, as WJZ-TV demoted her in 1977, WJZ’s local talk show People Are Talking and Dialing for Dollars recruited her. She co-anchored with Richard Sher in People Are Talking.

After working with WJZ for years, she went to Chicago in 1983 to host WLS-TV’s talk show AM Chicago. A few months later, the low rated show went up to overtaking Donahue as the highest-rated talk show in Chicago. As a result, Winfrey caught attention of many people including movie critic Robert Ebert. Ebert convinced her to sign deal with King World making prediction that Winfrey would generate 40 times more revenue as his TV show At the Movies. Therefore, At the Movies was renamed to The Oprah Winfrey Show beginning in September 8, 1986. As predicted, The Oprah Winfrey Show made twice as much as Donahue attracting national audiences and displacing Donahue as number one daytime talk show in the US.

The success of The Oprah Winfrey Show did not come by luck. The show became popular because of Winfrey’s characteristics: witty, sharp, genuine and connectedness with audience. Later, in mid-1990s, the tabloid talk show hosted shows on broader topics such as heart disease, geopolitics and spirituality. The Oprah Winfrey Show arranged interviews with celebrities on social issues and their involvement with particular issue related charities.

Further Career Progress (Acting, Producing and Founding)

In 1989, Winfrey starred and produced miniseries The Women of Brewster Place. In addition, she co-founded TV network Oxygen. She became the president of Harpo Productions. In 2008, Discovery Health Channel and Winfrey announced their plan to name the channel to OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.  The Oprah Winfrey Show aired its final episode on May 25, 2011.

Apart from hosting The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey appeared in interviews with celebrities. She hosted interview with Michael Jackson n 1993 which became the fourth most watched event in US TV history. In 2005, she appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman to promote The Color Purple. Similarly, in 2007, Letterman made his appearance in The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Her filmographies include appearing as co-star in The Color Purple in 1985 as Sofia. She was nominated for Academy Award for this role. Winfrey starred and produced film Beloved (1998). Harpo Productions released Their Eyes were Watching God (2005). Similarly, in 2008 Harpo Productions signed to develop and produce scripted series, documentaries and movies for HBO. Winfrey has voiced Judge Bumbleden in Bee Movie and Eudora in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. In addition, she has also narrated US version of BBC program Life for Discovery channel.

Publication and Authorship

The Oprah Winfrey Show is not the only reason for Oprah Winfrey’s rising recognition and net worth. She has co-authored 5 books. With Bob Greene, Winfrey co-authored autobiography of former US President Bill Clinton in 2005. Similarly, she has written The Life You Want, a memoir. Moreover, she publishes magazines: O, The Oprah Magazine (2004-08) and O at HomeFortune called O, The Oprah Magazine as the most successful magazine in 2002.

Radio and Online

Winfrey has created Oprah.com website with an aim to provide resources related to her show, magazine, books and public charity. It averages more than 70 million views and has more than 6 million users per month. in the same note, Winfrey signed $55 million contract with Xm Satellite Radio to establish her radio channel, Oprah Radio. It features contributors to The Oprah Winfrey Show and O, The Oprah Magazine.

Personal Life and Relationships

Winfrey resides on 42-acre estate with ocean and sea view “The Promised Land” in Montecito, Claifornia. She also owns house in New Jersey and Colorado. Similarly, Winfrey has property in Maui, Hawaii and Antigua. Additionally, she owns an apartment in Chicago and estate on Fisher Island, Florida.

Winfrey was in romantic relationship with her high school sweetheart Anthony Otey. They were serious about getting married. However, Otey says he had always known that an exemplary student Winfrey was destined for far better life. The couple broke up on Valentine’s Day of her senior year.

In 1971, months after breaking up with Otey, she met William “Bubba” Taylor at Tennessee State University. Even though Winfrey was deeply in love with Bubba and helped him get a job with WVOL, he disagreed to move to Baltimore with her.

Winfrey had romantic relationship with John Tesh but they split up due to the pressure of interracial relationship. Later, she started love affair with married man who had no intention of leaving his wife. She became obsessed about the man and depressed at the same time. Her suicide note to her best friend Gayle King in 1981  demonstrates her devastating depression.

She just did not dare to kill herself because she was optimistic about future. However, Winfrey confessed about her cocaine smoking with a man and was involved in drug-related love affair. Her ex-boyfriend, Randoph Cook stated that they lived together for months in 1985 and did drugs.

Afterwards, Winfrey dated movie critic Roger Ebert during mid-1980s. Later, she started relationship with Stedman Graham. Graham and Winfrey are together since 1986. They are not married.

Influence, Recognition and Honors

The Oprah Winfrey Show has earned her definitely a huge recognition and net worth, but her life and works have influenced the world. CNN and Time called her "arguably the world's most powerful woman" and The American Spectator called her "arguably the most influential woman in the world". Life listed her as both influential woman and "America's most powerful woman". Likewise, USA Today ranked her the most influential woman and most influential black person of the previous quarter-century. Additionally, Forbes named her the most powerful celebrity 4 times and among most powerful 100 women in 2014. In the same note, the Life, Vanity Fair, The Greatest American, Entertainment Weekly and many other publications have listed her in their influential/powerful women list.

Philanthropy and Awards

One of the 50 most generous Americans, Oprah Winfrey has donated $400 million to educational causes. She has given over 400 scholarships to Morehouse College, Atlanta. In addition, Winfrey is the recipient of first Bob Hope Humanitarian Award (2002) and Emmy Award for services to television. She has also donated $12 million to Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2013. For her noble deeds, President Barack Obama awarded her the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

Winfrey’s charity Oprah’s Angel Network (estd. 1998) supported charitable projects and provided grants to nonprofit organizations around the world. It raised $80 million among which Bon Jovi had donated $1 million. Winfrey personally gave $10 million for covering the loss of Hurricane Katrina.

Property and Net Worth

Born in utter poverty, Winfrey turned to a millionaire at the age of 32. The Oprah Winfrey Show served as the stepping stone. Later, her production company generated good amount and worth’s $340 million. Winfrey replaced Bill Cosby and became the richest African American with net worth of $800 million. According to the data of 2017, the 20th century and powerful black American woman has the net worth of $3.1 billion.

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