It seems there really isn’t anything Oprah Winfrey can’t do.
She’s a media mogul in every sense. Getting her start as a news anchor and then getting her own talk show for 25 years was only the beginning. Winfrey used the millions she made during the talk show to buy a network. She also started a magazine, has acted in movies winning countless awards. And we haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to this impressive business lady who built her own empire and is one of the wealthiest women in America.
Winfrey defied many odds and smashed through barriers to get where she is today. Born to a teen mother in rural Mississippi she overcame a tough childhood raised without indoor plumbing and sexual abuse.
Oprah was living in Mississippi at 9-years-old when she had her first experience with sexual abuse. While babysitting her younger siblings, Oprah says she was raped by her 19-year-old cousin. As time went on, a family friend and an uncle would also abuse Winfrey. Eventually, Oprah became pregnant, but she managed to hide her pregnancy from her family for seven months. The history of abuse was traumatizing to Oprah. She kept the incidents to herself and began acting out. She would skip school, steal, and run away. It became more than her mother could handle, and so Oprah was made to move back to Nashville, under her father’s watchful eye. She told her father about the pregnancy, then went into labor the very same day. Her baby boy died two weeks later.
Winfrey said her father saved her life. He was strict and provided her with guidance, structure, rules, and books. He required his daughter to complete weekly book reports, and she went without dinner until she learned five new vocabulary words each day.
Winfrey became an excellent student, participating as well in the drama club, debate club, and student council. She won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University after winning a speaking contest. The following year she was invited to a White House Conference on Youth.
Winfrey was crowned Miss Fire Prevention by WVOL, a local Nashville radio station, and was hired by the station to read afternoon newscasts.
Winfrey became Miss Black Nashville and Miss Tennessee during her freshman year at Tennessee State. A Nashville television station offered her a job; which Winfrey turned down twice, but finally took the advice of a speech teacher, who reminded her that job offers from CBS were “the reason people go to college.” The show was seen each night on WTVF-TV, and Winfrey was Nashville’s first African American female co-anchor of the evening news. She was nineteen years old and still a sophomore in college.
After Winfrey graduated, a television station in Baltimore, Maryland, scheduled her to do the local news updates, called cut-ins, during Good Morning America, and soon she was moved to the morning talk show “Baltimore is Talking.” After seven years on the show, the general manager of a station in Chicago saw Winfrey in an audition tape sent in by her producer. At the time her ratings in Baltimore were better than Phil Donahue’s, a national talk-show host, and Winfrey and her producer were hired.
Winfrey moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1984 and took over as anchor on A.M. Chicago, a morning talk show that was consistently last in the ratings. She changed the emphasis of the show from traditional women’s issues to current and controversial topics, and after a month the show was even with Donahue’s program. Three months later it had inched ahead. In September 1985 the program, renamed the Oprah Winfrey Show was expanded to an hour. As a result, Donahue moved to New York City.
In 1985, Quincy Jones saw Winfrey on television and thought she would make a fine actress in a movie he was coproducing with director Steven Spielberg. The film was based on the Alice Walker novel The Color Purple
The popularity of Winfrey’s show skyrocketed after the success of The Color Purple, and in September 1985 the distributor King World bought the rights to distribute a television program to air the program in 138 cities, a record for first-time syndication.
The Oprah Winfrey Show won several Emmys for Best Talk Show, and Winfrey was honored as Best Talk Show Host. That same year, Winfrey formed her own production company, Harpo, Inc., to produce the topics that she wanted to see produced. 10 years later in 1996 Winfrey started an on-air reading club.
The club ensured Winfrey as the most powerful book marketer in the United States. She sent more people to bookstores than morning news programs, other daytime shows, evening magazines, radio shows, print reviews, and feature articles combined. But after a six-year run with her book club, Winfrey decided to cut back in the spring of 2002 and no longer have the book club as a monthly feature.
Oprah launched O magazine in 2000, and 20 years later ended regular monthly print editions. These days Winfrey is busy with her deal with Apple TV Plus, which launched in fall of 2019 as one of a slew of new streaming services from tech and entertainment companies aiming to challenge Netflix for viewers’ attention.
According to Forbes, there are 615 billionaires in the U.S. and only 7 are Black. Winfrey was the first black woman to become a billionaire in the U.S.
In 2020, Winfrey ranked on Forbes list of the highest-paid celebrities raking in $37 million between June 2019 and May 2020.
As one of the wealthiest women in America and the highest paid entertainer in the world, Winfrey has made generous contributions to charitable organizations and institutions such as Morehouse College, the Harold Washington Library, the United Negro College Fund, and Tennessee State University.
Along with giving back through philanthropy, Oprah has homes from coast to coast. She lives primarily in a Montecito, California, estate that she calls “The Promised Land,” which she reportedly bought for $52 million in 2001. The 23,000-square-foot home has six bedrooms and 10 fireplaces.
Oprah calls the home “The Promised Land, because Dr. King said he would not get to the promised land but one day we might. And that’s how the estate got its name, because Winfrey thinks it’s a fulfillment of the promise that Dr. King spoke of.”
She bought two neighboring properties over the years — including a ranch previously owned by Jeff Bridges spending over $86 million total to create a Montecito compound that sits on 70 acres.
Winfrey has at least 8 homes all over the U.S. Aside from her two mansions in Montecito she has a home in Maui on 163 acres in the Hana area. A ski chalet in Telluride, Colorado. A waterfront estate on Washington State’s Orcas Island. Plus, let’s not forget about her home in Antigua.
Winfrey says her “greatest luxury” is flying private on her own plane. Winfrey paid for that splurge upfront and in full, she said “I wrote that first check because I can’t stand bills for my first G4 for the full $25 million.” I know many of us aspire to follow in Oprah’s footsteps and we will be writing a check like that one day!
Oprah is one of the greatest philanthropists in the 21st century. Her success has allowed her to give to countless charities over the years. She has donated millions of dollars to various organizations with the majority of her money going to three foundations: The Angel Network, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and The Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation. Some of the projects she has funded include The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and Rebuilding the Gulf Coast.
The Oprah Winfrey Foundation is run exclusively by Oprah Winfrey. (You can’t donate to this organization, because it’s funded by an endowment.) The Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation was initially created in 2007 to give money towards the Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. Through these organizations, Winfrey has truly established herself as an altruistic person. She has extended her arm and influence far and wide throughout the world.
Oprah is also a big supporter of the Clinton Foundation, which supports many causes including treating HIV and AIDS and fighting climate change. She donates to Project Cuddle which rescues hundreds of babies from abandonment and abuse every year.
Winfrey keeps a very small circle of friends the lucky three include Maria Shriver, Gayle King and Bob Greene.
Winfrey says the key to a long-lasting bond is “Surrounding yourself with someone who is as happy for your happiness as you are for your happiness. “You need friends who are happy in their own lives so that they can actually be authentically happy for you.”
Such a true statement, isn’t it? Hoping to get one of Oprah’s famous garden baskets she’s definitely the kind of friend anyone would be lucky to have in this lifetime. Thank you for making this world a better place, Lady O!