Oprah Gail Winfrey is an American talk show host, television producer, actress, author, and media proprietor. She is best known for her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, broadcast from Chicago, which ran in national syndication for 25 years, from 1986 to 2011.Dubbed the “Queen of All Media”, she was the richest African-American of the 20th century and was once the world’s only black billionaire. By 2007, she was often ranked as the most influential woman in the world.
Orpah Gail Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954; her first name was spelled Orpah on her birth certificate after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth, but people mispronounced it regularly and “Oprah” stuck. She was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to an unmarried teenage mother. Her mother, Vernita Lee (1935–2018), was a housemaid. Winfrey’s biological father is usually noted as Vernon Winfrey (c. 1933–2022), a coal miner turned barber turned city councilman who was in the Armed Forces when she was born. However, Mississippi farmer and World War II Veteran Noah Robinson Sr. (born c. 1925) has claimed to be her biological father. A genetic test in 2006 determined that her matrilineal line originated among the Kpelle ethnic group, in the area that today is Liberia. Her genetic makeup was determined to be 89% Sub-Saharan African, 8% Native American, and 3% East Asian. However, given the imprecision of genetic testing, the East Asian markers may actually be Native American.
After Winfrey’s birth, her mother traveled north, and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae (Presley) Lee (April 15, 1900 – February 27, 1963). Her grandmother was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which other children made fun of her. Her grandmother taught her to read before the age of three and took her to the local church, where she was nicknamed “The Preacher” for her ability to recite Bible verses. When Winfrey was a child, her grandmother was reportedly abusive.
At age six, Winfrey moved to an inner-city neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her mother, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother had been, largely as a result of the long hours she worked as a maid. Around this time, Lee had given birth to another daughter, Winfrey’s younger half-sister, Patricia who died of causes related to cocaine addiction in February 2003 at age 43. By 1962, Lee was having difficulty raising both daughters, so Winfrey was temporarily sent to live with Vernon in Nashville, Tennessee. While Winfrey was in Nashville, Lee gave birth to a third daughter, who was put up for adoption in the hopes of easing the financial straits that had led to Lee’s being on welfare, and was later also named Patricia. Winfrey did not know that she had a 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. At the age of 8, she was baptized in a Baptist church.
Winfrey has stated she was molested by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend, starting when she was nine years old, something she first announced on a 1986 episode of her TV show regarding sexual abuse. A biographer alleged that when Winfrey discussed the alleged abuse with family members at age 24, they reportedly refused to believe her account. Winfrey once commented that she had chosen not to be a mother because she had not been mothered well. At 13, after suffering what she described as years of abuse, Winfrey ran away from home. When she was 14, she became pregnant, but her son was born prematurely and died shortly after birth. Winfrey later stated she felt betrayed by the family member who had sold the story of her son to the National Enquirer in 1990.
Winfrey attended Lincoln High School in Milwaukee, but after early success in the Upward Bound program, was transferred to the affluent suburban Nicolet High School. Upon transferring, she said she was continually reminded of her poverty as she rode the bus to school with fellow African-Americans, some of whom were servants of her classmates’ families. She began to rebel and steal money from her mother in an effort to keep up with her free-spending peers. As a result, her mother once again sent her to live with Vernon in Nashville, although this time she did not take her back. Vernon was strict but encouraging, and made her education a priority. Winfrey became an honors student, was voted Most Popular Girl, and joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation.
Winfrey’s first job as a teenager was working at a local grocery store. At the age of 17, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. She also attracted the attention of the local black radio station, WVOL, which hired her to do the news part-time. She worked there during her senior year of high school and in her first two years of college. She had won an oratory contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically black institution, where she studied communication. However, she did not deliver her final paper and receive her degree until 1987, by which time she was a successful television personality.
By 19, Winfrey was a co-anchor for the local evening news. Winfrey’s often emotional, extemporaneous delivery eventually led to her transfer to the daytime talk show arena, and after boosting a third-rated local Chicago talk show to first place,she launched her own production company.
By the mid-1990s, Winfrey had reinvented her show with a focus on literature, self-improvement, mindfulness, and spirituality. Though she has been criticized for unleashing a confession culture, promoting controversial self-help ideas, and having an emotion-centered approach, she has also been praised for overcoming adversity to become a benefactor to others. Winfrey also emerged as a political force in the 2008 presidential race, with her endorsement of Barack Obama estimated to have been worth about one million votes during the 2008 Democratic primaries. In 2013, Winfrey was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, and received honorary doctorate degrees from Duke and Harvard. In 2008, she formed her own network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
Credited with creating a more intimate, confessional form of media communication, Winfrey popularized and revolutionized the tabloid talk show genre pioneered by Phil Donahue. In 1994, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Winfrey has won many accolades throughout her career which includes 18 Daytime Emmy Awards (including the Lifetime Achievement Award and the Chairman’s Award), two Primetime Emmy Awards (including the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award), a Tony Award, a Peabody Award, and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award awarded by the Academy Awards, in addition to two competitive Academy Award nominations. Winfrey was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021.
Winfrey’s high school sweetheart Anthony Otey recalled an innocent courtship that began in Winfrey’s senior year of high school, from which he saved hundreds of love notes; Winfrey conducted herself with dignity and was a model student.In 1971, several months after breaking up with Otey, Winfrey met William “Bubba” Taylor at Tennessee State University.
In the 1970s, Winfrey had a romantic relationship with John Tesh. Biographer Kitty Kelley claims that Tesh split with Winfrey over the pressures of an interracial relationship.
Winfrey later confessed to smoking crack cocaine with a man she was romantically involved with during the same era. She explained on her show: “I always felt that the drug itself is not the problem but that I was addicted to the man.” She added: “I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t have done for that man.”
Winfrey was allegedly involved in a second drug-related love affair. Self-proclaimed former boyfriend Randolph Cook said they lived together for several months in 1985 and did drugs. In 1997, Cook tried to sue Winfrey for $20 million for allegedly blocking a tell-all book about their alleged relationship.
In the mid-1980s, Winfrey briefly dated movie critic Roger Ebert, whom she credits with advising her to take her show into syndication.
In 1985, before Winfrey’s Chicago talk show had gone national, Haitian filmmaker Reginald Chevalier claims he appeared as a guest on a look-alike segment and began a relationship with Winfrey involving romantic evenings at home, candlelit baths, and dinners with Michael Jordan and Danny Glover. Chevalier says Winfrey ended the relationship when she met Stedman Graham.
Winfrey and her partner Stedman Graham have been together since 1986. They were engaged to be married in November 1992, but the ceremony never took place.
According to Forbes, Oprah Winfrey has an estimated net worth of whooping 2.5 Billion Dollars as of March 2023.