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Profile: Oprah Winfrey: ‘Most Influential Woman in the World’

21 May 2011

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The woman Oprah                                                        (Eudy)

By Gabriella Osamor


Oprah Winfrey is an American television host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. She has been described as, “ a roundhouse, a full course meal, big, brassy, loud, aggressive, hyper, laughable, lovable , soulful, tender, low-down, earthy and hungry”.
Hungry, probably, best describes Oprah (originally "Orpah" after the Biblical character in the Book of Ruth). You’d be hard-pressed to find a personal history that embodies the idea of a Cinderella story more than Oprah Winfrey’s.

From a poverty-stricken childhood marred by sexual abuse and a teenage pregnancy, Oprah went on to become one of the most successful, powerful and influential women in America. Her role as a cultural icon, philanthropist, media maven and outspoken political advocate mean she has dipped her toe into every aspect of modern society and left a mark that few others have.

From Poor Youngster to Mogul
Oprah Gail Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi to an unmarried teenage mother; Vernita Lee a housemaid. Winfrey had believed that her biological father was Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner turned barber turned city councilman who had been in the American Armed Forces when Oprah was born.

Decades later, Mississippi farmer and World War II veteran Noah Robinson Sr. claimed he is Winfrey’s biological father. She later stated that her conception was due to a single sexual encounter and that the couple broke up not long after.

A genetic test in 2006 determined that her maternal line originated among the Kpelle ethnic group, in the area that today is Liberia. After her birth, Winfrey's mother traveled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her.

Winfrey's 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 switch when she didn't 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, due in large part to the long hours Vernita Lee worked as a maid.
About the time Winfrey moved in, Lee had given birth to another daughter, Winfrey's younger half-sister, Patricia who later 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. Lee gave this daughter, later also named Patricia, up for adoption in the hope of easing the financial straits that had led to Lee's being on Welfare. Winfrey did not learn she had a second half-sister until 2010.

By the time Winfrey moved back in with Lee, 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, her uncle, and a family friend, starting when she was nine years old.

When Winfrey discussed the alleged abuse with family members at age 24, they refused to accept what she said. Oprah once commented that she had chosen not to be a mother because she had not been mothered well.

At 13, after suffering years of abuse, Winfrey ran away from home. When she was 14, she became pregnant, her son died shortly after birth. She began high school at Lincoln High School; but after early success in the Upward 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.

Oprah 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, Tennessee though this time she did not take her back.

Oprah Winfrey collage days

Vernon was strict but encouraging, and made Winfrey’s education a priority. Winfrey became an honours 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.

Oprah won an oratory contest, which secured her 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 age 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.
She 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". Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV.
Work Life

Winfrey moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. 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 there as well.
In 1983, Winfrey relocated to Chicago to host WLS-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, a show during which she has been opening up to audiences about her personal life, including admitting she contemplated suicide as a teen.  The Oprah Winfrey Show expanded to a full hour, and broadcast nationally beginning September 8, 1986.

First national broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986 and now   (Eudy)

Winfrey's syndicated show brought in double Donahue's national audience, displacing Donahue as the number one day-time talk show in America. Their much publicised 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”.
In the early years of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the program was classified as a tabloid talk show. In the mid 1990s Winfrey then 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.

Oprah making headline news             (Eudy)

In addition to her talk show, Winfrey also produced and co-starred in a 1989 drama miniseries The Women of Brewster Place, as well as a short-lived spin-off, Brewster Place. While hosting and appearing on television shows, Winfrey co-founded the women's cable television network Oxygen. She is also the president of Harpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards).
In 1985, Winfrey co-starred in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple as distraught housewife, Sofia. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.

The film went on to become a Broadway musical which opened in late 2005, with Winfrey credited as a producer. In October 1998, Winfrey produced and starred in the film Beloved, 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, Beloved opened 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."

Winfrey as Sofia in The Color Purple

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.

Winfrey publishes two magazines: O, The Oprah Magazine and 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 earning US $63,000 a year (well above the median for U.S. women.)
Personal life

A self-described promiscuous teen who was a victim of sexual abuse, Winfrey gave birth at the age of 14, to a boy who died shortly after. 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 as a model student.
The two spoke of getting married, but Otey claimed to have always secretly known that Winfrey was destined for a far greater life than he could ever provide. She broke up with him on Valentine's Day of her senior year.

In 1971, several months after breaking up with Otey, Winfrey met William "Bubba" Taylor at Tennessee State University. She helped get Taylor a job at WVOL, and according to reports, "did everything to keep him, including literally begging him on her knees to stay with her."
Taylor however was unwilling to leave Nashville with Winfrey when she moved to Baltimore to work at WJZ-TV in June 1976.  Winfrey would later recall. "We really did care for each other", "We shared a deep love. A love I will never forget."

When WJZ-TV management criticised Winfrey for crying on the air while reporting tragedies and were unhappy with her physical appearance (especially when her hair fell out as the result of a bad perm), Winfrey turned to reporter Lloyd Kramer for comfort.
"Lloyd was just the best", Winfrey would later recall. "That man loved me even when I was bald! He was wonderful. He stuck with me through the whole demoralising experience. That man was the most fun romance I ever had." She had other relationships that did not work out.

According to Winfrey, her emotional turmoil gradually led to a weight problem: "The reason I gained so much weight in the first place and the reason I had such a sorry history of abusive relationships with men was I just needed approval so much.
I needed everyone to like me, because I didn't like myself much. So I'd end up with these cruel self-absorbed guys who'd tell me how selfish I was, and I'd say 'Oh thank you, you're so right' and be grateful to them. Because I had no sense that I deserved anything else.
Which is also why I gained so much weight later on, it was the perfect way of cushioning myself against the world's disapproval. Winfrey later confessed to smoking crack cocaine with a man she was romantically involved with during the same era.
She explained, "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." In 1985 before Winfrey's Chicago talk show had gone national.
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.

Oprah's Montecito estate                          (flickr.com)

Winfrey currently lives on "The Promised Land", her 42-acre (170,000 m2) estate with ocean and mountain views in Montecito, California. Her base during filming of Winfrey's show is Chicago, so she spends time in the neighborhood of Streeterville.
Winfrey also owns a house in Lavallette, New Jersey, an apartment in Chicago, an estate on Fisher Island, Florida, a house in Douglasville, Georgia, a ski house in Telluride, Colorado, and property on Maui, Hawaii and Antigua.
Personal wealth

Born in rural poverty, and then raised by a mother on welfare in a poor urban neighborhood, Winfrey became a millionaire at age 32 when her talk show went national. Winfrey was in a position to negotiate ownership of the show and start her own production company because of the success and the amount of revenue the show generated.
At age 41, Winfrey had a net worth of $340 million and replaced Bill Cosby as the only African American on the Forbes 400.  Although black people are just under 13% of the U.S. population, Winfrey has remained the only African American to rank among America's 400 richest people nearly every year since 1995.

With a 2000 net worth of $800 million, Winfrey is believed to be the richest African American of the 20th century. Due to her status as a historical figure, Professor Juliet E.K. Walker of the University of Illinois created the course "History 298: Oprah Winfrey, the Tycoon."
Winfrey was the highest paid TV entertainer in the United States in 2006, earning an estimated $260 million during the year, five times the sum earned by second-place music executive Simon Cowell. By 2008, her yearly income had increased to $275 million.

She celebrated her 55th birthday with 1,700 of her employees and their families in Barcelona, treating them all at Poble

Espanyol and later embarked on a 10 day Mediterranean cruise. They all sailed to Italy, Greece, Malta and Turkey. She spent $5,400 for each person aboard.

Forbes' international rich list has listed Winfrey as the world's only black billionaire from 2004 to 2006 and as the first black woman billionaire in world history. According to Forbes, in September 2010 Winfrey was worth over $2.7 billion and has overtaken former eBay CEO Meg Whitman as the richest self-made woman in America.

Written with reports from Wikipedia and Yahoo News

Tags: Life, Life and Style

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  • Please can someone tell Oprah for me that I can still provide her with a rapturous-like love life that can make up her drought years of affection. I know the magic!

    From: nwatah mike

    Posted: 3 years ago

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  • life is just a page.

    From: Nansubuga Edith Luyima

    Posted: 3 years ago

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