Orpah Gail Winfrey, famously known as Oprah Winfrey is known for her show ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show. She is a self-made billionaire. The show broadcasted from Chicago. The show was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history. In fact, it ran in national syndication for 25 years, from 1986 to 2011.
Born on the 29th of January, 1954 at Kosciusko, Mississippi, United States, Oprah made history. Oprah Winfrey is an entrepreneur, television personality, actress, television producer, author, and philanthropist. She did a daily talk show which was among the most popular television genre. Her journey may have had ups and downs, but her fight through it all made her become the richest and most influential woman in the world.
Oprah’s actual name is Orpah Gail Winfrey. Orpah is a biblical name. However, people mispronounced her name often and called her Oprah. She was born to an unmarried teenage mother called Vernita. She worked as a housemaid to meet her and Oprah’s needs. Her father, Vernon Winfrey worked as a coal miner. He later worked as a barber. Later on, he turned into a city councilman who has been in the Armed Forces when she was born.
Vernita traveled to the North after Oprah was born. Oprah spent six years living in rural poverty with her maternal grandmother. Her grandmother, Hattie Mar was so poor. She wore dresses made of potato sacks. Other children made fun of her often. Hattie taught Oprah to read before she turned three. She took her to a local church and taught her to recite Bible verses. However, her grandmother was said to be abusive when Oprah was a child.
When Oprah was six, she moved to an inner-city neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her mother. However, she was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother was to Oprah. Her mother’s long hours of working were also a reason behind this. Her mother had another daughter later – Patricia. She was Oprah’s half-sister.
By 1962, her mother had a difficult time raising both daughters. Therefore, Winfrey was temporarily sent to live with Vernon in Nashville, Tennessee. While Oprah was in Nashville, she gave birth to her third daughter. She put her up for adoption due to financial strains and her name was also Patricia. In fact, Oprah did not know about her second half-sister until 2010.
By the time Winfrey moved back with her mother, Lee had also given birth to Winfrey’s half-brother Jeffrey, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1989.
Oprah’s Brutal Abuse
Oprah Winfrey said she was molested by a family friend, uncle, and cousin. This began when she was nine years old. She spoke about the matter for the first time 1986 episode of her TV show regarding sexual abuse. Oprah ran away from home when she was 13 after suffering from the abuse. She became pregnant at 14 years old. However, her son was born prematurely and died shortly after birth. In addition to that, Oprah claimed that when he was 24 she spoke to her family members regarding her abuse. However, no one believed her. In fact, Oprah commented that she had chosen not to be a mother because she had not been mothered well. Later in 1990, Oprah stated she felt betrayed by her family member who spoke about the story of her son to the National Enquirer.
Oprah’s school life
She attended Lincoln High School in Milwaukee. Oprah succeeded in her Upward Bound program. Later on, she was transferred to the affluence suburban Nicolet High School. Oprah rode the bus to school with fellow African-Americans. She said she was continually reminded of her poverty as she, some of whom were servants of her classmates’ families.
Oprah began to rebel and stole money from her mother. She did this in an effort to keep up with her free-spending peers. Therefore, her mother sent her with Vernon to Nashville. Although, this time she did not take her back.
Vernon was strict. However, she encouraged Oprah and ensured her education was made a priority. As a result, Oprah became an honors student. In fact, she was voted Most Popular Girl. Furthermore, she joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation.
After school life
As a teenager, Oprah worked at a local grocery store. It was her first job. She won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant when she was 17 years old. Later on, Oprah captured the attention of the local black radio station, WVOL, which hired her to do the news part-time.
Oprah had won an oratory contest. It helped her to secure a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. In fact, the University is a historically black institution. Oprah Winfrey studied communication. She received her in 1987. By that time Oprah was a successful television personality.
Her grandmother said she was not surprised about Oprah’s success on television. As a child, she played games interviewing her corncob doll and the crows on the fence of her family’s property. Furthermore, she always enjoyed speaking on stage.
Oprah Winfrey Joins the Media
Oprah was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. She was 19 years old then. Usually, she covered the same stories as John Tesh did. In 1967 she moved to Baltimore’s WJZ-TV to co-anchor the six o’clock news. It was an ABC affiliate in Baltimore Maryland. In 1997, a talk show called ‘People Are Talking’ aired. It premiered on August 14, 1978. She also hosted the local version of Dialing for Dollars.
Oprah Winfrey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the film ‘The Color Purple’ in 1980.
In addition to that, Oprah’s 1980s talk show contemporaries like Sally Jesse Raphael, Phil Donahue, and Jerry Springer made tens of millions of dollars through traditional contracts. However, Oprah would go on to make multiple billions of dollars.
That same year, Winfrey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film The Color Purple. She also launched the television production company Harpo Inc., making her the first Black person, and the third woman to control her own major studio.
Oprah relocated to Chicago in 1983. She hosted WLS-TV’s low-rated half house morning talk show called AM Chicago. Later after a few months, the show was the highest-rated talk show.
Robert Ebert, a movie critic asked her to sign a syndication deal with King World. He predicted that she would generate 40 times as much revenue as his television show – At The Movies. The show was renamed. It became The Oprah Winfrey Show and expanded to a full hour.
The Oprah Winfrey Show
The first episode aired on September 8th, 1986. It became Donahue’s number one daytime talk show in America. Oprah got praise and critics bashed her too. In fact, some said she lacks journalistic toughness. Others said she is plainspoken, has robust humor, and a lot of empathy. She co-starred in a drama miniseries that she produced called The Women of Brewster Place in 1989. However, it was short-lived.
Later, in the mid-1990s, Oprah Winfrey hosted shows on spirituality, geopolitics, meditation, and heart disease. In fact, she interviewed celebrities wh faced social issues such as charity work, substance abuse, and cancer. Furthermore, she hosted television giveaways. However, critics accused her of promoting junk science.
Moreover, in 1993, Oprah Winfrey hosted a rare prime-time interview with Michael Jackson. It became the fourth most viewed event in American television history. Almost 36.5 million people watched the interview. From 1992 to 1994, Oprah moderated three ABC Afterschool Specials.
Winfrey is a dedicated activist for children’s rights; in 1994, President Bill Clinton signed a bill into law that Winfrey had proposed to Congress, creating a nationwide database of convicted child abusers. Furthermore, she founded the Family for Better Lives foundation and also contributes to her alma mater, Tennessee State University.
Oprah’s ratings climbed. Over time, she focused on serious issues like sexual intolerance, molestation, and racism. She received multiple Daytime Emmy awards for Outstanding Talk Show Host throughout the decade. By 1995, her net worth hiked. It was worth $340 million. This made her the richest woman in entertainment. She co-founded Oxygen Media in 1998. The company was geared to women and made women-centric programs.
Oprah first crossed into billionaire status in 1999. She became America’s first black female billionaire. Around this time she was earning $300 million per year producing her own show as well as Dr. Phil’s and Rachael Ray’s shows.
She co-authored multiple books on exercise and diet. Oprah launched her influential Book Club in 1996. Furthermore, she laid the foundation for the 2000 publication of O, The Oprah Magazine. By 2000, with a net worth of $800 million, Winfrey is believed to have been the richest African American of the 20th century.
It was the initial network for her Oprah After the Show program from 2002 to 2006. Then it moved to Oprah.com. Oprah Winfrey sold her stake in the network. Oprah is also the president of Harpo Production. Harpo is actually Oprah spelled backward. It is a film and TV production company behind The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray, The Dr. Oz Show, and many others. In fact, this made her the first Black person, and the third woman to control her own major studio.
In September 2002, Winfrey was named the first recipient of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Bob Hope Humanitarian Award. Oprah bought her first property in Maui in 2002. Over the years she has spent as much as $60 million to piece together 160+ acres in Maui. She spent $32 million in one transaction alone to buy the property next door.
Later in 2004, Winfrey signed a new contract to continue The Oprah Winfrey Show through the 2010-11 season. At the time, the syndicated show was seen on nearly 212 U.S. stations and in more than 100 countries worldwide.
In 2005, Winfrey helped give The Color Purple a new life onstage as one of the producers of the 11-time Tony-nominated musical, which ran on Broadway until 2008. A revival of the musical, which Winfrey co-produced in 2015, won a Tony Award.
In 2009, Winfrey announced that she would be ending her program when her contract with ABC ended, in 2011.
Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)
After The Oprah Winfrey Show ended in 2011. Oprah Winfrey moved to her own network, ‘the Oprah Winfrey Network. It is a joint venture with Discovery Communications. Oprah had financial stumbles at the beginning. However, the network made headlines in January 2013, when it aired an interview between Winfrey and Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong is an American cyclist. He is a seven-time Tour de France winner who was stripped of his Tour titles in 2012 due to doping charges.
In November 2013, Winfrey received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Barack Obama gave her this award for her contributions to her country.
In March 2015, Winfrey announced that her Chicago-based Harpo Studios would close at the end of the year to consolidate the company’s production operations to the Los Angeles-based OWN headquarters. Oprah Winfrey’s television empire was launched at the studio and it had been home to her daily syndicated talk show through its finale in 2011.
Furthermore, Oprah has been a board member of Weight Watchers since 2015. When she was brought on to the company, she was awarded $43.5 million worth of equity. That stake has grown to be worth more than $400 million. In 2019 she signed a multi-year deal with Apple to produce shows for the tech giant.
In January 2017, CBS announced that Winfrey would join the newsmagazine 60 Minutes as a special contributor in the fall. Later, in December 2017, Discovery became the majority owner of OWN, with the purchase of 24.5 percent of the company from its founder for $70 million. Winfrey retained 25.5 percent of OWN and remained its chief executive under the terms of the agreement.
In January 2018, Oprah Winfrey became the first African American woman to be honored with the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award, for lifetime achievement. In a powerful speech, Oprah Winfrey recalled being inspired by seeing Sidney Poitier. She honored at the Globes decades earlier, before emphasizing the importance of a free press and the power of speaking the truth in a “culture broken by brutally powerful men.”
In April 2019, Winfrey revealed that she had left her special post on the show because it was not “the best format” and that she spoke with “too much emotion” for the producers.
In 2021, Oprah joined hands with Prince Harry for a talk show. As of 2021, her net worth stands at $2.7 billion. She stands eighth on the billionaire list.
Read more on Bill Gate’s Billionaire Journey