Oprah Winfrey has lived the American Dream, overcoming hardship and diversity to become one of the largest media figures in the world.
Orpah Gail Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi. She was named after a biblical character in the Old Testament named Orpah from the Book of Ruth. A clerical error in the hospital listed her as Oprah and the name stuck with her. Her mother, Vernita Lee, worked as a housemaid. She took her last name from Vernon Winfrey, a city councilman who was serving in the armed formed forces at the time of her birth (although a Mississippi farmer named Noah Robinson, Sr. later claimed to be her biological father). After her birth, her mother moved north and left Oprah in the care of her maternal grandmother Hattie Mae Lee. Hattie taught Oprah to read at age three and brought her to the local church in which she was very active. The family was poor but made due with the resources available. Hattie even made dresses for Oprah made from potato sacks. When she turned six years old, Oprah moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to live with her mother. Vernita gave birth to another daughter, Patricia and she worked as a maid, leaving her with little time to give Oprah the attention she had been receiving before (she also gave birth later to another daughter, also named Patricia whom she gave up for adoption and a son named Jeffrey. Both the first Patricia and Jeffrey would die, in 2003 and 1989 respectively). Because she was struggling to raise the kids, Vernita sent Oprah to live with Vernon in 1962, so Oprah began a new life in Nashville, Tennessee.
She now began to attract a great deal of attention and was hired by radio station WVOL as a news reader and then moved on to WLAC-TV where she served as a news anchor. Ambitious, she was not content to enjoy where she was, instead moving to Baltimore, Maryland where co-anchored the six-o’clock news for WJZ. She also participating in a local talk show for the station called People are Talking. In a true sense, people were talking — about her and soon she was on the move again, this time to Chicago, Illinois where she would become the host of WLS-TV’s AM Chicago, a morning talk show. Within three months, she pulled the show from the bottom of the ratings to the top, overcoming the Phil Donahue juggernaut in Chicago.
As she was enjoyed her local success, she was drawn into the national spotlight when she was cast in the role of Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s production of “The Color Purple.” Incredibly, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance. Now in the public eye, it was time for her to make a move nationally.
Her approach caused her to shake off her competitors to become the Queen of Television and she began forging into other areas of media. She created and co-starred in a television miniseries called the Women of Brewster Place and adapted the Toni Morrison novel Beloved in to a feature motion picture. Her success was not, however, without it’s obstacles. While the Women of Brewster Place was critically acclaimed, its spin-off television series was quickly cancelled. Beloved failed at the box office spectacular leading Oprah to suffer a bout of depression leading to a 30 pound weight gain. Also, on an episode of her show, Oprah touched on the topic of Mad Cow disease and one of her guest made statement against feeding processed livestock to cattle, a practice which many in England believed contributed to the disease. Members of the cattle industry in Texas sued Winfrey based on a 1995 Texas law under which people can be held liable if they make false and disparaging statements about perishable food products. The lawsuits seemed nonsensical on its face but the lawsuit placed Winfrey in significant emotional turmoil as wel as in potential financial jeopardy. Oprah hired Phil McGraw to help prepare her for the trial and after the judge dismissed the case against her in 1998, she publicly thanked McGraw. She soon began inviting him onto her show as a relation and life strategy expert and in 2002 Oprah’s Harpo Studios began producing a new show for him called the Dr. Phil Show. Oprah began inviting a number of guests on to advise audience members and guests. One of these was Mehmet Cengiz Oz whom she referred to as Dr. Oz. In 2009, Harpo Studios began producing the Dr. Oz show.
Oprah also became the go to person for the biggest celebrity interviews, both on her show as well as standalone interviews. As her media star grew ever brighter, so did her financial standing. From 2006-2009 she was the only Black female billionaire and in 2012 was worth $2.7 billion. With her success she has expanded her media holdings, becoming a co-founder of the Oxygen network in 1998 and on January 1, 2011, the Oprah Winfrey Network was launched, a co-production between Harpo Studios and the Discovery Channel. She also published O, The Oprah Magazine from 2004 to 2008 (which Fortune Magazine named the most successful start-up ever in the industry), and later a magazine called O at Home. In addition she has created an online empire at oprah.com and a Sirius-XM channel and she doesn’t seem to be slowing down, filming more content for the OWN network. She also fills her time doing charity work and has given away more the $400 million as of 2012.
In addition to her vast media empire, Oprah has enjoyed a personal relationship with long-time boyfriend Steadman Graham. Their relationship has long been the subject of discussion amongst her fans wondering if they would marry. She has long said that her best friend is Gayle King, a former talk show host, who help to run Oprah’s empire.
Oprah Winfrey did not have a lot in her early life but she was guided towards education and believing in herself and she has used her career to influence others to follow a positive path in life.
- Oprah Winfrey – Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oprah_Winfrey
- The Official Oprah Winfrey Website - http://www.oprah.com
- Biography – Oprah Winfrey - http://www.biography.com/people/oprah-winfrey-9534419
- Oprah – People Magazine - http://www.people.com/people/oprah_winfrey/0,,,00.html