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Oprah Gail Winfrey: Star born out of adversity

This self-made media mogul is a talk show host, media executive, actress and philanthropist. Best known as the hostess of the highly popular Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired for 25 seasons, she launched her own Oprah Winfrey Network.

inspiring-lives Updated: Jan 29, 2020 16:57 IST
HT Correspondent  
HT Correspondent  
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The Oprah Winfrey Show won three Daytime Emmy Awards in 1987.
The Oprah Winfrey Show won three Daytime Emmy Awards in 1987.(Illustration: Unnikrishnan)

Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi on January 29, 1954 to Vernita Lee, who lived on a small family farm and Vernon Winfrey, a soldier temporarily stationed at a military base nearby, Oprah Gail Winfrey was raised by Hattie Mae Lee, her grandmother. As a child, she shuttled between numerous caregivers and attended the Nashville East High School in Nashville, Tennessee. At the age of 17, she won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. She also attracted the attention of the local black radio station WVOL, which hired her as a part-time news anchor.

Career

Working in the local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black woman to take up the post at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. She moved to Baltimore TV channel to co-anchor the six o’clock news. In 1977, she was removed as co-anchor and given lower positions at the same station.

In 1978, Winfrey hosted the TV chat show People Are Talking, which became a hit. She was then recruited by a Chicago TV station to host her own morning show named AM Chicago.

In 1985, Winfrey acted in the movie The Color Purple. She launched The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986 as a nationally syndicated programme that ran for 25 years. Soon she gained ownership of the programme from ABC and brought it under the control of her new production company named Harpo Productions (Oprah spelt backwards) and stepped up her earnings from syndication.

SWEET SUCCESS

In 1987, The Oprah Winfrey Show won three Daytime Emmy Awards. The following year, it won an additional Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show. In 1993, her interview with Michael Jackson became the most watched programme in its category and the fourth most watched event in American television.

DIVERSIFICATION

In 1996, she launched the Oprah’s Book Club, a talk show meant for book discussions. Books recommended by Winfrey sold millions of additional copies. In 1997, she played the role of a therapist in an episode of the sitcom Ellen. In 1998, she produced and starred in the movie Beloved. The same year the talk show host launched Oprah’s Angel Network, which provided funds to charitable and non-profit organisations.

In 2002, she initiated O, the Oprah Magazine, which was later confirmed as the most successful start-up in the magazine industry.

In 2006, she provided the voice for the animated film Charlotte’s Web. She also launched Oprah Radio, a channel on XM Satellite Radio. In 2007, she did the voice-over as Judge Bumbleden in the film Bee Movie. In 2008, Winfrey endorsed Barack Obama in the presidential election. Her public support played a key factor in Obama’s ultimate victory. In 2009, the film The Princess and the Frog featured her voice as Eudora.

AWARDS

In 2013, Winfrey was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama and was conferred with honorary doctorates from Duke and Harvard. In 2018, she became the first African American woman to get the Golden Globes’ Cecil B DeMille Award for lifetime achievement.

INTERESTING FACTS

1. On September 8, 1986, Winfrey began her Emmy-winning The Oprah Winfrey Show. It was aired for 25 years, making her the first woman to own & produce her own TV show.

2. Winfrey’s net worth of $2.5 billion makes her the first and only African-American female billionaire, according to Forbes. Over the years, she has racked up 82 credits on films and TV shows including many Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) productions, the Oscar-nominated A Color Purple, A Wrinkle in Time and Netflix’s When They See Us, to name just a few, IMDB states.

3. In 1991, she said that her original name, Orpah, was often mispronounced. “On the birth certificate it is Orpah but then it got translated to Oprah that spells Harpo (production firm) backwards.

4. Oprah once told TV host Trevor Noah that she travels with avocados grown in her garden. “I travel with my own bread, and avocados,” she said. “I have my own avocado orchard.”

Source: oprahmag.com, Wikipedia, famouspeople.com