Television chat show host, actress, author and businesswoman Oprah Winfrey is one of the richest people in America today – but it’s been a tough road to the top!
Now aged 65 and worth an estimated $3 billion, she’s lived a true rags-to-riches story. In fact, as a child, she had to wear potato sacks when her family couldn’t afford new clothes, but her perseverance and talent have made her a massive media mogul and the queen of daytime TV.
Born to unmarried teenage housemaid Vernita Lee in a poor rural community in Kosciusko, Mississippi, in 1954, Winfrey was raised by her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee. She said her strict upbringing included regular beatings.
Then, living with her mother in a boarding house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, between six and 14, she often had to sleep on the porch and said she was physically abused for years. Being sent to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey, in Nashville, Tennessee, was a turning point.
He helped create structure in her life, her schoolwork improved and she became more focused. She got her first job in broadcasting as a part-time newsreader for local radio station WVOL, in Nashville, while still a high school senior.
She went to Tennessee State University in 1971 and became Nashville’s WLAC-TV’s first black female news anchor and the station’s youngest-ever!
Chat show host
Moving to Baltimore in 1976, she became a news reporter for ABC, but the plain, objective reporting style didn’t suit her, so she took a new job as co-host of a local TV chat show, People Are Talking. It was a huge success, but her real big break came in 1984, when she moved to Chicago.
She hosted a chat show called AM Chicago – and less than a year later, it became The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 1986, it was syndicated nationally and then broadcast to more than 100 other countries. It has been America’s number one talk show ever since, with more than 20 million viewers tuning in each week.
TV and films
Winfrey launched her own company, Harpo Productions, and bought the rights to The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1988. She’s also CEO of the Oprah Winfrey Network, which was launched in 2011. She has co-founded the women’s cable TV network Oxygen media, produces films for ABC and has co-written five books – wow, what a woman!
As an actress, her most famous role was in 1985, when she starred in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple – a coming-of-age period drama. She played housewife Sofia, who left her husband to escape a life of domestic violence.
Winfrey supports many charities and is an active speaker against child abuse. Having donated more than $400 million to educational causes and $12 million to Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, she received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2002 Emmy Awards in 2002. US President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
She’s also a wonderful employer – in 2006, she paid for 1,065 staff members and their families to go on holiday to Hawaii as a thank you for their hard work. We like the sound of that!
When people tune into Winfrey’s show, they experience first-hand her empowering attitude and ability to inspire others. Even when discussing negative issues, she manages to bring out a positive message. She covers informative topics, such as improving relationships, strengthening families and dealing with crises.
In sharing painful, personal aspects of her own life with viewers, she has been incredibly frank about her rags-to-riches story. One of her most famous quotes is, “When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are,” – reminding people that they need to like themselves and realise their own worth.
Dare to dream
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