Oprah Winfrey was born on 29 January 1954 on a farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi. She was supposed to be named Orpah, from the Bible, but for some reason unknown, she has been known as Oprah almost from birth. Her unmarried parents, Vernon Winfrey and Vernita Lee, separated soon after she was born, leaving her behind to be cared for by her maternal grandmother. On the farm at her grandmother’s she began her broadcasting “career” by teaching herself to read aloud and do recitations at the age of three.
Between the ages of six to thirteen she lived in Milwaukee with her mother. Having to put up with abuse and molestation, she ran away and was sent to a juvenile detention home when she was 13. Winfrey was denied admission as all the beds were occupied. As a final way out she was sent to live under her father’s strict discipline in Nashville. Her father ruled that she complies with midnight curfew, and he required her to read a book and write a report on it every week. The positive outcome, however, was that she learned from him to make the best of life, and not to accept anything less than what he thought was best.
Oprah Winfrey attended the Tennessee State University from 1971 and majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts, and was named Miss Black Tennessee in 1972. Her broadcasting career began at age 17, when she was taken aboard by WVOL radio, Nashville. At nineteen she signed on with WTVF-TV in Nashville as a reporter/anchor. In 1976, she went to Baltimore, and joined WJZ-TV news as a co-anchor, and in 1978 her talent for hosting talk shows was discovered when she became co-host of WJZ-TV’s “People Are Talking,” while still serving as anchor and news reporter.
It was clear by now that the internationally famous Television Talk Show Host/Producer/Actress overcame the influences of a troubled childhood to achieve superstar status in the entertainment world. After a brief stint as a new anchor in Tennessee, she moved to Chicago in January 1984 to host WLS-TV’s morning talk show “AM Chicago”. In a couple of months she turned “AM Chicago” into the hottest show in town. The programme was soon expanded to a full hour, and in September 1985 the show was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. By 1986, the program was nationally syndicated, as it continues to be today.
Winfrey made her acting debut as “Sofia” in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, and received both an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. In 1998, she starred as Sethe in the critically commended Beloved, which was based on Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. She also won acclaim as head of her own production company, Harpo Productions, which creates feature films, prime-time TV specials and home videos. She received a special award from the Chicago Academy for the Arts in 1986 for exclusive contributions to the city’s artistic community and was named Woman of Achievement by the National Organization of Women.
Motivated in part by her personal memories of childhood abuse, she initiated a campaign in 1991 to set up a national database of convicted child abusers. She testified before a United States Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a National Child Protection Act. President Clinton signed the “Oprah Bill” into law in 1993. It made provision for the establishment of the national database she had sought, and which is now available to law enforcement agencies and other concerned parties across the USA.
Oprah Winfrey with her partner, Stedman Graham, is a resident of a condominium on Chicago’s Gold Coast. She is also the owner of a house in Tennessee as well as a Wisconsin condo. In 2001 she bought a very large seaside estate on the Santa Barbara coast for $50 million. She has a personal fortune estimated at more than half a billion dollars.
At 50 she is an internationally acclaimed figure not only in the worlds of media and entertainment but also in the larger sphere of public communication. Her talk show has an enormous international influence – an estimated 14 – 25 million people watch her show daily in the USA, and millions more in 132 other countries. People act and react to the topics addressed by her – new books, donations, contributions, etiquette, etc.