Oprah Gail Winfrey
Oprah Gail Winfrey (born Orpah, January 29, 1954) is an American media executive,actress, talk show host, television producerand philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history.
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Not to be confused with Orpah or Opera.
"Oprah" redirects here. For the talk show, see The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Oprah Gail Winfrey (born Orpah, January 29, 1954) is an American media executive,actress, talk show host, television producerand philanthropist. She is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011 in Chicago. Dubbed the "Queen of All Media", she was the richestAfrican American of the 20th century and North America's first black multi-billionaire,and has been ranked the greatest black philanthropist in American history. She has also been sometimes ranked as the most influential woman in the world.
Winfrey in October 2014
Orpah Gail Winfrey
January 29, 1954 (age 65)
Kosciusko, Mississippi, U.S.
Montecito, CaliforniaLavallette, New JerseyTelluride, ColoradoMaui, HawaiiChicago, IllinoisFisher Island, Florida
Alma materTennessee State UniversityOccupation
Host of The Oprah Winfrey ShowChairwoman and CEO of Harpo Productions (1986–present)Chairwoman, CEO and CCO of theOprah Winfrey Network (2011–present)ActressAuthor
Years active1971–presentSalary$75 million (2013)Net worth US$3.1 billion (June 2019)Political partyIndependentPartner(s)Stedman Graham (1986–present)ChildrenCanaan (born c. 1968, died c. 1968)Websiteoprah.comSignature
Winfrey was born into poverty in ruralMississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in inner-city Milwaukee. She has stated that she was molested during her childhood and early teens and became pregnant at 14; her son was born prematurelyand died in infancy. Winfrey was then sent to live with the man she calls her father, Vernon Winfrey, a barber in Tennessee, and landed a job in radio while still in high school. By 19, she 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 and became internationally syndicated.
Credited with creating a more intimate confessional form of media communication, Winfrey popularized and revolutionized the tabloid talk showgenre pioneered by Phil Donahue. Through this medium, Winfrey broke 20th-century taboos and allowed LGBT people to enter the mainstream through television appearances. In 1994, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.
By the mid-1990s, Winfrey had reinvented her show with a focus on literature, self-improvement, mindfulness and spirituality. Though she was criticized for unleashing a confession culture, promoting controversialself-help ideas, and having an emotion-centered approach, she has also been praised for overcoming adversity to become a benefactor to others. Winfrey had also emerged as a political force in the 2008 presidential race, delivering about one million votes to Barack Obama in the razor close 2008 Democratic primary. In 2013, Winfrey was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama and honorary doctorate degrees from Duke andHarvard. In 2008, she formed her own network, Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
Born Orpah Gail Winfrey, her first name was spelled Orpah (not Oprah) on her birth certificate after the biblical figure of that name in the Book of Ruth, but people mispronounced it regularly and "Oprah" stuck. She was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to an unmarried teenage mother. She later said that her conception was due to a single sexual encounter and the couple broke up not long after. Her mother, Vernita Lee (1935–2018), was a housemaid. Winfrey's biological father is usually noted as Vernon Winfrey (born c. 1933), a coal miner turned barber turned city councilman who had been 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 Kpelleethnic 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, the East Asian markers may, given the imprecision of genetic testing, 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), who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local 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 would hit her with a stick when she did not do chores or if she misbehaved in any way.
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 later (in February 2003, at age 43) died of causes related to cocaine addiction.
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 hope of easing the financial straits that had led to Lee's being onwelfare) and was later also named Patricia. Winfrey did not learn she had a second half-sister until 2010. By the time Winfrey moved back with her mother, Lee had also given birth to a boy named Jeffrey, Winfrey's half-brother, who died of AIDS-related causes in 1989.
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 to her viewers on a 1986 episode of her TV show regarding sexual abuse. 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 he 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.
She began attending Lincoln High School in Milwaukee, but after early success in theUpward Bound program, was transferred to the affluent suburban Nicolet High School, where she says her poverty was constantly rubbed in her face as she rode the bus to school with fellow African-Americans, some of whom were servants of her classmates' families. She began to steal money from her mother in an effort to keep up with her free-spending peers, to lie to and argue with her mother, and to go out with older boys.
Her frustrated 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 atEast Nashville High School, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation.
She won an oratory contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically black institution, where she studied communication. Her 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 again while in her first two years of college.
Winfrey's career choice in media would not have surprised her grandmother, who once said that ever since Winfrey could talk, she was on stage. As a child, she played games interviewing her corncob doll and the crows on the fence of her family's property. Winfrey later acknowledged her grandmother's influence, saying it was Hattie Mae who had encouraged her to speak in public and "gave me a positive sense of myself".
Main article: The Oprah Winfrey Show
Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. She moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. In 1977, she was removed as co-anchor and worked in lower profile positions at the station. She was then recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ's local talk show People Are Talking, which premiered on August 14, 1978. She also hosted the local version of Dialing for Dollars.
In 1983, Winfrey relocated to Chicago to hostWLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago. The first episode aired on January 2, 1984. Within months after Winfrey took over, the show went from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest-rated talk show in Chicago. The movie critic Roger Ebert persuaded her to sign a syndication deal with King World. Ebert predicted that she would generate 40 times as much revenue as his television show, At the Movies. It was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to a full hour and broadcast nationally beginning September 8, 1986. Winfrey's syndicated show brought in double Donahue's national audience, displacing Donahue as the number-one daytime talk show in America. Their much-publicized contest was the subject of enormous scrutiny. TIME magazine wrote:
“Few people would have bet on Oprah Winfrey's swift rise to host of the most popular talk show on TV. In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk. As interviewers go, she is no match for, say, Phil Donahue ... What she lacks in journalistic toughness, she makes up for in plainspoken curiosity, robust humor and, above all empathy. Guests with sad stories to tell are apt to rouse a tear in Oprah's eye ... They, in turn, often find themselves revealing things they would not imagine telling anyone, much less a national TV audience. It is the talk show as a group therapy session.”
TV columnist Howard Rosenberg said, "She's a roundhouse, a full course meal, big, brassy, loud, aggressive, hyper, laughable, lovable, soulful, tender, low-down, earthy, and hungry. And she may know the way to Phil Donahue's jugular." Newsday's Les Payne observed, "Oprah Winfrey is sharper than Donahue, wittier, more genuine, and far better attuned to her audience, if not the world" and Martha Bayles of The Wall Street Journalwrote, "It's a relief to see a gab-monger with a fond but realistic assessment of her own cultural and religious roots."
In the early years of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the program was classified as a tabloid talk show. In the mid-1990s, Winfrey adopted a less tabloid-oriented format, hosting shows on broader topics such as heart disease, geopolitics, spirituality, and meditation, interviewing celebrities on social issues they were directly involved with, such as cancer, charity work, or substance abuse, and hosting televised giveaways including shows where every audience member received a new car (donated by General Motors) or a trip to Australia (donated by Australian tourism bodies). Later years of the show faced analysis that Winfrey was promotingjunk science.
In addition to her talk show, Winfrey also produced and co-starred in the 1989 drama miniseries The Women of Brewster Place and a short-lived spin-off, Brewster Place. As well as hosting and appearing on television shows, Winfrey co-founded the women's cable television network Oxygen which was the initial network for her Oprah After the Showprogram from 2002 to 2006 before moving to Oprah.com when Winfrey sold her stake in the network. She is also the president ofHarpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards). She also moderated three ABC Afterschool Specials from 1992 to 1994.
On January 15, 2008, Winfrey and Discovery Communications announced plans to changeDiscovery Health Channel into a new channel called OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. It was scheduled to launch in 2009 but was delayed, and actually launched on January 1, 2011.
The series finale of The Oprah Winfrey Showaired on May 25, 2011.
In January 2017, CBS announced that Winfrey would join 60 Minutes as a special contributor on the Sunday evening news magazine program starting in September 2017. TheNational Museum of African American History and Culture in 2018 opened a special exhibit on Winfrey's cultural influence through television. Winfrey left 60 Minutes by the end of 2018.
In June 2018, Apple announced a multi-year content partnership with Winfrey, in which it was agreed that Winfrey would create new original programs exclusively for Apple's streaming service, Apple TV+.
In 1993, Winfrey hosted a rare prime-time interview with Michael Jackson, which became the fourth most-watched event in American television history as well as the most watched interview ever, with an audience of 36.5 million. On December 1, 2005, Winfrey appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote the new Broadway musical The Color Purple, of which she was a producer, joining the hostfor the first time in 16 years. The episode was hailed by some as the "television event of the decade" and helped Letterman attract his largest audience in more than 11 years: 13.45 million viewers. Although a much-rumored feud was said to have been the cause of the rift, both Winfrey and Letterman balked at such talk. "I want you to know, it's really over, whatever you thought was happening", said Winfrey. On September 10, 2007, Letterman made his first appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, as its season premiere was filmed in New York City.
In 2006, rappers Ludacris, 50 Cent, and Ice Cube criticized Winfrey for what they perceived as an anti-hip hop bias. In an interview with GQ magazine, Ludacris said that Winfrey gave him a "hard time" about his lyrics, and edited comments he made during an appearance on her show with the cast of the film Crash. He also said that he wasn't initially invited on the show with the rest of the cast. Winfrey responded by saying that she is opposed to rap lyrics that "marginalize women", but enjoys some artists, includingKanye West, who appeared on her show. She said she spoke with Ludacris backstage after his appearance to explain her position and said she understood that his music was for entertainment purposes, but that some of his listeners might take it literally. In September 2008, Winfrey received criticism after Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report reported that Winfrey refused to have Sarah Palin on her show, allegedly because of Winfrey's support for Barack Obama. Winfrey denied the report, maintaining that there never was a discussion regarding Palin's appearing on her show. She said that after she made public her support for Obama, she decided that she would not let her show be used as a platform for any of the candidates. Although Obama appeared twice on her show, those appearances were prior to his declaring himself a candidate. Winfrey added that Palin would make a fantastic guest and that she would love to have her on the show after the election, which she did on November 18, 2009.
In 2009, Winfrey was criticized for allowing actress Suzanne Somers to appear on her show to discuss hormone treatments that are not accepted by mainstream medicine.Critics have also suggested that Winfrey is not tough enough when questioning celebrity guests or politicians whom she appears to like. Lisa de Moraes, a media columnist forThe Washington Post, stated: "Oprah doesn't do follow-up questions unless you're an author who's embarrassed her by fabricating portions of a supposed memoir she's plugged for her book club."
In 1985, Winfrey co-starred in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple as distraught housewife Sofia. She was nominated for anAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actressfor her performance. The Alice Walker novel went on to become a Broadway musicalwhich opened in late 2005, with Winfrey credited as a producer. In October 1998, Winfrey produced and starred in the filmBeloved, based on Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. To prepare for her role as Sethe, the protagonist and former slave, Winfrey experienced a 24-hour simulation of the experience of slavery, which included being tied up and blindfolded and left alone in the woods. Despite major advertising, including two episodes of her talk show dedicated solely to the film, and moderate to good critical reviews, Belovedopened to poor box-office results, losing approximately $30 million. While promoting the movie, co-star Thandie Newton described Winfrey as "a very strong technical actress and it's because she's so smart. She's acute. She's got a mind like a razor blade." In 2005, Harpo Productions released a film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. The made-for-television film was based upon a teleplay by Suzan-Lori Parks and starredHalle Berry in the lead female role.
In late 2008, Winfrey's company Harpo Filmssigned an exclusive output pact to develop and produce scripted series, documentaries, and movies for HBO.
Oprah voiced Gussie the goose in Charlotte's Web (2006) and voiced Judge Bumbleton inBee Movie (2007), co-starring the voices ofJerry Seinfeld and Renée Zellweger. In 2009, Winfrey provided the voice for the character of Eudora, the mother of Princess Tiana, in Disney's The Princess and the Frog and in 2010, narrated the US version of the BBCnature program Life for Discovery.
In 2018, Winfrey starred as Mrs. Which in the film adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's novel A Wrinkle in Time. She also lent her voice to an animated virtual-reality short film written and directed by Eric Darnell, starring John Legend, titled Crow: The Legend, telling a native American origin tale.
Publishing and writing
Winfrey has co-authored five books. At the announcement of a weight-loss book in 2005, co-authored with her personal trainer Bob Greene, it was said that her undisclosed advance fee had broken the record for the world's highest book advance fee, previously held by the autobiography of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
In 2015, her memoir, The Life You Want, was announced following on her tour of the same name, and scheduled for publication in 2017, but was "indefinitely postponed" in 2016.
Winfrey publishes the magazine: O, The Oprah Magazine and from 2004 to 2008 also published a magazine called O At Home. In 2002, Fortune called O, the Oprah Magazine the most successful start-up ever in the industry. Although its circulation had declined by more than 10 percent (to 2.4 million) from 2005 to 2008, the January 2009 issue was the best selling issue since 2006. The audience for her magazine is considerably more upscale than for her TV show; the average reader earns well above the median for U.S. women.
Winfrey's company created the Oprah.comwebsite to provide resources and interactive content relating to her shows, magazines, book club, and public charity. Oprah.com averages more than 70 million page views and more than six million users per month, and receives approximately 20,000 e-mails each week. Winfrey initiated "Oprah's Child Predator Watch List", through her show and website, to help track down accused child molesters. Within the first 48 hours, two of the featured men were captured.
On February 9, 2006, it was announced that Winfrey had signed a three-year, $55-million contract with XM Satellite Radio to establish a new radio channel. The channel, Oprah Radio, features popular contributors to The Oprah Winfrey Show and O, The Oprah Magazine including Nate Berkus, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Bob Greene, Dr. Robin Smith, andMarianne Williamson. Oprah & Friends began broadcasting at 11:00 am ET, September 25, 2006, from a new studio at Winfrey's Chicago headquarters. The channel broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week on XM Radio Channel 156. Winfrey's contract requires her to be on the air 30 minutes a week, 39 weeks a year.