Oprah Winfrey is an African-American media mogul, talk show host, producer, actress and a celebrated humanitarian.

Short Bio

Turning her life from its bitter beginnings with the help of her father, Winfrey entered the media world on the bases of having a good voice. Her desire to keep her job and own a piece of the media world led her to endure ill-treatment at work.

Winfrey surprised many when she called off her show with the intention of building her network based on her rules. She is known for her therapeutic interviews, winning the hearts of her audience around the world.

Her firm resolve to excel inspires the world as she dominates the media world despite being a woman and African-American, a match that had fewer chances of succeeding in the field. Her drive, “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work.”

 

Career

While in high school, Winfrey’s remarkable oratory skills landed her a job at a radio station in Nashville; she was 17 years old. She earned the position of a fledgling news reporter. She held the position throughout her senior year in high school and continued for two years after joining the university.

In 1974, she moved to Nashville’s CBS-affiliated TV station where she was hired as the first female news co-anchor in the area. She was nurtured into the TV career.

1976 saw Winfrey graduate from university and leave Nashville for Baltimore to work at the CBS owned WJZ-TV as a co-anchor for the 6 pm news. Her arrival had been hyped through billboards, buses and an advert asking, “What is an Oprah?” While she looked forward to her new position, her new colleagues were disappointed to see the colored girl with a lot of hair, Winfrey. To them, she wasn’t up to the task.

She was confronted by the fact that the biggest star in local TV and workmate, Jerry Turner wasn’t ashamed to direct his hostility at her.

Her colleagues noted the animosity expressed by Turner but couldn’t stop him; he was King Jerry, one who couldn’t be blamed for failure or mischief. It became impossible for her to work with Turner.

On April 1, 1977, Winfrey lost her luxurious evening co-anchoring spot and was demoted to the less visible news cut-ins on morning TV. This came along with street reporting and news writing, her weakest link.

At times, she was singled out for being female and treated lesser than her male colleagues. The harassment extended to her house when one of her seniors insisted that she should house his girlfriend for free while a producer turned her into a babysitter.

 

Rising Star

The success side of her stay in Baltimore began on August 14, 1978, when Winfrey was paired with Richard Sher for a morning talk-show, People Are Talking. Despite receiving a negative review from a famous TV critic, Winfrey and Sher drew people’s attention. She also met great workmates who became her longtime friends.

People Are Talking show grew in baby steps, attracting viewers all over Baltimore and by 1980, it beat the most famous talk show, Donahue in viewership. Winfrey and her co-host were named ‘the best talk show team ever seen.’

When the TV station tried to launch the show to the national level in 1981, it failed. Winfrey, after realizing she didn’t want to be limited to Baltimore, resigned from the position in 1983 after 7 and a half years of service.

She moved to Chicago to host ABC owned WLS-TV’s AM Chicago, which was had poor viewership. Winfrey aired its first episode on January 2, 1984, marking the beginning of its fame and in a month overtook Donahue show in rating.

Winfrey’s effect on AM Chicago coupled with her rating in her film debut, The Color Purple, a 1985 American coming-of-age period drama film where she starred as Sofia Johnson put her career in the limelight.

A famous movie critic convinced her to sign a syndication deal with the production company behind AM Chicago and rename the show after her name. On September 8, 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show came live replacing AM Chicago; it operated as one of the many products of Harpo Productions, owned by Winfrey.

Unlike her main competitor, Phil Donahue, a white male with years of expertise, Winfrey brought a sense of security to those she interviewed. Her curiosity, humor, and empathy drew confessions that interviewees would never have made on national TV.

She was black, with a lot of weight, making her guests feel safe and secure; they knew they could trust her.

Winfrey focused on matters close to the heart instead of using a tabloid format that was common in talk shows. She interviewed her guests on spirituality, sex and drug abuse, meditation, charity work, geopolitics, cancer, and heart diseases. She gave various gifts to her audience, bonding with them even tighter.

Besides hosting celebrities like Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Celine Dion, Elizabeth Taylor and her best friend Gayle King, Winfrey interviewed people living with various disorders, ailments, and social difficulties. Her show reached over 36.5 million people in America alone.

Winfrey’s Harpo Studio had various products besides the Oprah show. In 1996, she began an on-air reading club encouraging her audience to buy a specific book and would discuss it with her. She wanted to introduce a reading culture in America. The suggested books were bought in millions. She operated the book club until 2002.

After airing 25 seasons, The Oprah Winfrey Show came to an end on May 25, 2011. She focused her attention on creating her cable TV network inspired by her instincts and values. She developed and launched it on January 1, 2011, The Oprah Winfrey Network.

Her reason, “It is confidence in our bodies, minds, and spirits that allows us to keep looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in, and new lessons to learn – which is what life is all about.”

 

Her World

Since its conception, the pay television channel, OWN, was owned by Winfrey’s Harpo Studio and Discovery Inc. While it was at first installed in 80 million homes in 2011, the number increased to 81.9 million in 2015, broadcasting in America, Canada, and Australia.

OWN’s early years were marked with significant losses despite being owned by the celebrated media mogul, Winfrey. Like her previous involvements, OWN’s rating increased as it appealed to African-American female viewers turning the once known losses into profits.

The channel airs dramas, comedies, soap operas, documentary series, talk shows, reality and syndicate programs from various people. Of the programs, Oprah’s Next Chapter TV show hosted by Winfrey and The Haves and the Have Nots, crime drama and soap opera by a partner and actor, Tyler Perry are the most watched.

As of December 4, 2017, Discovery Communication became the majority shareholder of OWN after paying $70 million to acquire 24.5% stake from Winfrey’s Harpo. Though she’s the main minority shareholder, Winfrey continues as OWN’s CEO with her exclusivity commitment to the network extended through 2025.

Spreading Wings

While running the Oprah show and moving on to OWN, Winfrey spread her wings further into filming. She produced and starred in Beloved, a horror-drama film based on a novel bearing the same name by Toni Morrison. She took the role of a former slave and hero, Sethe. Unlike her debut film, Beloved earned poor rating and made a loss of about $30 million after its release on October 8, 1998.

Winfrey co-produced Their Eyes Were Watching God Film based on a book with a similar title by Zora Neale Hurston. The film was released on March 15, 2005, starring Halle Berry, a celebrated American actress.

Putting her voice skills into greater use, Winfrey voiced Gussie the goose in Charlotte’s Web, Judge Bumbleton in Bee Movie, Eudora in The Princess and The Frog in 2006, 2007 and 2009 respectively. She also narrated Life, a BBC nature documentary series, US version in 2010.

In a film, A Wrinkle In Time, released on February 26, 2018, Winfrey took a major role acting as Mrs. Which. The film grossed $100.5 million failing to make a profit.

 

Philanthropy

A believer in giving, Winfrey started The Angel Network in 1997 with the aim of making education accessible to the needy, nurturing leadership, protecting fundamental human rights and creating community support. She encouraged people to give and volunteer even as she donated towards the network.

Through The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, Winfrey chooses non –profit organizations to grant funds for their works. She runs it from her money and doesn’t accept donations or grant applications.

In 2007, Winfrey began and funded the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation for Girls in South Africa with the aim of breaking the cycle of poverty among women and their families. She donated $100 million to the supporting foundation to get the school running.

In Kenya, two of her foundations teamed up for an initiative to teach students to become ambassadors of hope in their communities. Through the program, she raised money together with the students, built a school and equipped it with school supplies in 2008.

In America, Winfrey donated $900,000 to The US Dream Academy to provide after-school mentoring to at-risk youth in 2009.

Winfrey continues to give through her foundations to deserving communities saying, “I don’t think you ever stop giving. I don’t. I think it’s an on-going process. And it’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s able to touch somebody’s life.”

 

Net Worth

Winfrey is considered the first black multi-billionaire in America and among the most influential women in the world. She believes, “Unless you choose to do great things with it, it makes no difference how much you are rewarded, or how much power you have.”

In 2001, Forbes estimated Winfrey’s net worth as $800 million enabling her to buy a 42-acre Montecito estate estimated at $50 million before making it her main home. The media magnate, also known to be real estate savvy purchased a $14 million ski chalet in Colorado and $8 million estates on Orcas Island, Washington.

Winfrey continues to acquire property, build businesses and give to those in need while moving up Forbes’ America’s Self-Made Women 2018 list to Number 6. She is considered number 887 in Forbes Billionaires 2018 list with $2.9 billion as of September 14, 2018.

 

Early Life

Orpah Gail ‘Oprah’ Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954, in Mississippi, America to a teen mother, Vernita Lee, and father, Vernon Winfrey.

Her father was in the service when Winfrey was born and only found out of her existence through the mail in a note scribbled, “Send clothes!” Her mother left her under the care of her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Living in abject poverty, Mae sewed potato sacks for her to wear as clothes attracting ridicule from her age mates. Without much to offer too little Winfrey, Mae focused on literacy and discipline.

By the time she turned 3, Winfrey could read and speak with confidence. She developed a passion for the stage, acting and interviewing various objects and animals at home.

When she turned 6, her mother took to Milwaukee where she was working as a maid. Since her job was demanding, Winfrey’s mother didn’t spend much time with her. She lived with her mother and her half-sister, Patricia. Sensing the difficulty in bringing up the two girls, Winfrey was sent to live with her father and stepmother, Zelma in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 8.

The following year Lee asked to have Winfrey visit her for summer, but when it was time for her to return to Vernon, Lee declined. Vernon wept knowing Milwaukee wasn’t favorable for his daughter. It wasn’t long before Winfrey suffered sexual molestation in the hands of a cousin at nine years, an uncle and a trusted family member later on. She blamed herself for it.

She joined Lincoln High School, Milwaukee but later upgraded to a better school, Nicolet High School following her success at school. Seeing her classmates free-spending while enjoying their time in school, Winfrey began stealing money from her mother, leading to constant arguments between the two.

At the age of 14, Winfrey fell pregnant and bore a premature baby boy, Canaan, who died in the hospital a few weeks later. Her family kept the story secret for years until 1990 when a relative told National Enquirer, an American Supermarket Tabloid focusing on celebrity and entertainment news. She was devastated.

Sensing her inability to bring up her uncontrollable and ungrateful daughter, Lee sent Winfrey back to her father, for good.

Vernon, sensing the rebellion from his once well-behaved daughter determined to get her back on track. Under his supervision, Winfrey could neither wear her heavy black makeup nor her short tight skirts.

Unlike Lee, Vernon, who was by then a barber, invested his time on Winfrey; he insisted on discipline and rejected poor performance because he knew she was capable of better. He made sure she attended church service, read scripture, recite and perform on various occasions.

Winfrey was also required to choose five books from the local library, read and write reports on each every two weeks. Zelma availed herself to take her to the library. This directed her values and boosted her drama skills.

Winfrey joined East Nashville High School and with the renewed vigor became an honors student. She was also voted Most Popular Girl, joined the school’s speech team and became second in the nation in dramatic interpretation.

Under the guidance of her father and stepmother, Winfrey focused on her education and got a full scholarship to Tennessee State University after winning an oratory competition. She made true her words, “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.”

Personal Life

Winfrey maintains some longtime friends most of whom she worked with in Baltimore. Gayle King, an American TV personality and journalist, remains her best friends since their early 20s. On several occasions, the two have been rumored as gay.

In 1986, Winfrey met Stedman Graham, an American educator, author, podcaster and businessman at a charity event and they began dating after that. They got engaged with the plan of getting married in November 1992 but later decided to remain as soulmates. She is a wife and Graham her husband would have been traditional and not suitable for her.

In 1991, Winfrey testified before US senate judiciary committee to form a database of convicted child abusers. The ‘Oprah Bill’ was signed two years by former President Bill Clinton.

Reference

Early life: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/magazine/1986/12/14/the-man-who-saved-oprah-winfrey/66d7b7b3-98af-4495-82a7-6b04827f1bd6/?utm_term=.9d976cd703f8,

Career: http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/sun-magazine/bs-sm-oprahs-baltimore-20110522-story.html#

Net worth: https://www.forbes.com/profile/oprah-winfrey/#59c5ea365745

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