In this success story, we are going to share the life story of Oprah Winfrey, an American media mogul, TV host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. She is known not only in the USA but also all over the world. People believe her words, her fees are enormous, and she is more popular than Elvis and Superman and ranked as first according to VH1’s “The 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons” ranked list.
From September 8, 1986, to May 25, 2011, 34 million American women and 15 million American men sat down glued to the TV when Oprah Winfrey’s show began. It was a sacred ritual, which took place in 117 countries of the world. Her audience was 55% larger than that of her closest competitors. Since its debut, The Oprah Winfrey Show rating was higher than the combined rating of three other daytime programs aired at the same time.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the richest and most powerful American women. She is sort of America’s alter ego, a woman loved and admired by everyone, worshipped by all types of TV audiences. Oprah Winfrey is also the Chairwoman, CEO, and CCO of her own company Oprah Winfrey Network. Winfrey does it all in her uniquely sincere manner, never bulldozing her way to the top. She is the embodiment of American spirit and commercial success.
Oprah Winfrey life story is a great example of a woman who has moved from rags-to-riches, risen from poverty to the top of the world, who changed America and the world for the better. She is the first African-American female billionaire.
Oprah Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi, United States. Oprah’s real name was “Orpah.” She was named after the biblical character, Ruth’s daughter-in-law in the Book of Ruth. However, nobody called the girl Orpah. Neither her parents nor her friends could pronounce Orpah. That is why they decided to change it even in her birth certificate to Oprah.
Oprah Winfrey had a very difficult childhood. Her mother, Vernita Lee, a housemaid, and biological father, Vernon Winfrey, a miner and later a barber, were never married. When Oprah Winfrey was born, her father was far away in the army serving at a naval base. Oprah’s mother moved to Milwaukee to work as a maid, having left little Oprah on a farm with her strict grandmother. If Winfrey misbehaved or did not do what she was ordered to, her grandmother oftentimes beat her with a stick.
In her early childhood, Oprah had no idea what the shoes were. Neither did she have a dress, a luxury that she first received to go to school. The seclusion of the farm where Oprah was growing up forced her to make up and create her own ways of entertainment. She made friends with household animals and found a true consolation in books. There was no television on the farm, and according to Winfrey, it was her grandmother, Hattie Mae (Presley) Lee, who gave her the most precious gift in life has taught her to read and write before she even turned three.
Oprah recalls her strict granny as her first role model. In one of the interviews, she said that her strength and way of thinking are all the results of her grandmother’s work and effort. Every Sunday Hattie Mae took little Oprah Winfrey to a church where people nicknamed her “The Preacher”. When this little but at the same time such a mature girl was reciting Bible verses in her unique and inimitable manner, people in the church stood in awe, and many believed that the Holy Spirit touched her. Sensitive Oprah had never forgotten that early success and made her dream of becoming a missionary or a preacher. Later Winfrey’s fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Duncan, inspired her to become a teacher.
When Oprah started kindergarten at the age of five, she herself diligently wrote a request letter to her teacher asking to move her straight to the first grade. A surprised teacher did so. Having studied in the first grade, Oprah was then transferred directly to the third, which was an early sign of the huge potential of a poor lonely girl from Mississippi.
At the age of six, Oprah Winfrey returned to her mother. Together with her half brother and sister, she moved to an inner-city neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the morals and manners were completely different from the ones of the rural countryside.
Despite horrible poverty, constant humiliation and a complicated life the girl continued to give public performances, take part in poetic competitions at black public clubs and at church meetings where everybody called her “The Little Speaker”. Later in one of her interviews, Oprah Winfrey said that despite all hardships and difficulties and at the darkest times somewhere deep inside she had always known that one day she would become the person she was.
Oprah Winfrey lived with her mother for only two years. At the age of eight, having stolen some money from her mom, she ran away to live with her father and his new family. Oprah stayed with them for a year until her mother, who was her legal guardian, did not force her to leave her dad and move back to Milwaukee’s ghetto where despair and tragedy were in the air.
Later in her show, Oprah had a series of interviews with the women who were sexually abused by their relatives in childhood. In one of those shows, Oprah Winfrey with all the details shared her own story about being raped by her nineteen-year-old cousin at the age of nine. She even remembered how afterward he bought her an ice cream. Her misfortunes did not end then. As it turned out later, the mother’s numerous friends and relatives repeatedly molested Oprah.
When she was thirteen, Oprah got so tired of humiliation and harassment that she stole some money from her mom and ran away again. When the money was over, Oprah Winfrey went to her pastor for help. However, he brought her back home, to her furious mother, who immediately renounced her. Oprah Winfrey, who had already been pregnant when she was 14, found herself in the shelter for difficult teenagers. Her father took her home from that dirty and cold place. In her chat with CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, Oprah confessed with tears in her eyes that her father had saved her life. Oprah’s child was born prematurely and died shortly after his birth.
Despite such a miserable childhood, this ambitious young girl continued dreaming about wonderful countries, things, and places she would read about in her books. In 1991, she said to Good Housekeeping: “Books showed me there were possibilities in life… Reading gave me hope. For me, it was the open door.”
From the age of fourteen, Oprah lived with her father’s family in the town of Nashville. Her life turned its direction vividly, reminding the American Dream coming true. Oprah’s father, Vernon Winfrey, surrounded her with care and attention, and finally, an ugly duckling started to turn into a beautiful swan.
In the interview for Good Housekeeping magazine, Oprah Winfrey commented: “My father turned my life around by insisting that I be more than I was and by believing I could be more. His love of learning showed me the way”. Vernon made Oprah learn five new words every day or else she would stay without dinner. Talented by nature Oprah became a real student. At the age of fifteen, she was chosen to perform with the church choir in California. When Oprah Winfrey saw the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she promised herself to have her own star there one day. After that trip, Oprah became the head of her school council, took part in a school drama club and notably showed herself in oratory art and disputing. At the age of sixteen, she won an oratory contest of Elks Club, which secured her a full scholarship at Tennessee State University. President Nixon invited Oprah Winfrey to the White House as an outstanding American teenager and representative of the black youth of Nashville. Later Oprah recalled that it was all the result of her father’s transforming influence on her.
Oprah’s first experience of working in mass media was at a radio station “WVOL” where she was invited by John Heidelberg, then an acting program director. Mr. Heidelberg had noticed Oprah’s talent during the contest “Miss Fire Prevention” where she with all her eloquence and emotion was persuading people to look out for their gas stoves and not let children play with fire. It is needless to say that she won that contest. Oprah Winfrey combined her senior high school year with a part-time job, which she was really good at and for which she received $100 a week. Finally, Winfrey’s speaking abilities started to pay off.
TV host career
During Winfrey’s first year at Tennessee University where she majored in speech and drama, Oprah Winfrey became Miss Black Tennessee and later Miss Black Nashville. In 1971, she took part in a carnival procession in frames of “Miss Black America” beauty pageant. Shortly afterward local TV station CBS offered her a job, and Oprah Winfrey became the first black female assistant to Nashville’s evening news anchor. She was only nineteen.
At the second year of college, Oprah Winfrey became the news anchor on Nashville’s television. Not only was she the news anchor but also the first African-American woman to take such a position. It may sound not so wondrous to you right now when the President of the United States of America is black, however at that time of rampant racism it had seemed easier to get to the Political Bureau of USSR than to take the top position in the USA’s television industry.
Unfortunately, that job became Oprah’s abject failure. The news turned out to be not her cup of tea. Informing viewer about another hurricane overblown California Oprah Winfrey was swallowing tears. Her voice was trembling when she talked about the decrease in stock rates at the exchange. Oprah’s unique gift of sincere compassion and empathy, which ultimately made her successful and rich, were worst of all vices for a news anchor. In nine months, she was fired from the news. However, that did not put Oprah off, and she confidently continued her career path.
Before she graduated from college in 1976, Winfrey was offered a position of a reporter in Baltimore and a co-anchor of 6 o’clock news on WJZ-TV. Oprah accepted the offer. She worked there for two years and then received an invitation to become a host of the WJZ’s local talk show “People Are Talking”. Surprisingly as it may seem, the audience gave a new fat black female show host a very cordial welcome. Oprah’s ratings surged up. Later Oprah recalled of her first show: “I came off the air and said to myself, ‘This is what I should be doing. It’s like breathing.”
In 1984, after 6 years spent on WJZ-TV, Oprah Winfrey, then 29 years old, was invited to Chicago to host WLS-TV’s low-rated half-hour morning talk show, “AM Chicago”.
Winfrey signed a four-year contract with an annual fee of two hundred thousand dollars. At first, she was a bit worried about how the audience would like a morning talk show hosted by a black presenter. Moreover, that turned out to be not her only anxiety at that time. The thing was that her show was aired simultaneously with the most popular with Americans program of the day “The Phil Donahue Show”. Oprah was greatly worried how the viewers and her colleagues would assess her work and whether she would be able to grasp the attention of people who had an option of immediately switching to the well-known and loved-already show hosted by such an experienced and respected showman.
Fortunately, her fears never came true. A month after Winfrey had made her debut “AM Chicago” achieved its highest rating for a year. Within a couple of months, Donahue moved to New York, which was a wise thing to do, taking into account that competition with Oprah Winfrey was impossible. People watched only Winfrey’s show. Over a year, the rating of the morning program hosted by Oprah soared up by 50%!
Winfrey soon became the best friend of all American housewives. Her show was a complete and utter mystery of success. One day she would host Donny and Marie Osmond and the next day – here we go! – welcome some homosexual couple. She explained her ability to hear the viewpoints completely opposite to her own by saying that she was trying to show people who they really were rather than changing them. In the fourth grade, Oprah wanted to become a teacher, and now every day she was giving lessons to the audience of attentive and interested listeners all around the country, and that was her consolation. Oprah herself regarded her job as an excellent opportunity to educate people and make their lives easier. Winfrey’s ability to communicate with drug addicts and those who chose alternative lifestyles made her understand that “we are each responsible for our own life – no other person is or even can be.” She loved every minute of her shows, and her viewers loved her for that.
In 1985, Quincy Jones, who was a producer of a film adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple”, saw Oprah Winfrey on TV when he was flipping through channels in his hotel room in Chicago. He was looking for somebody to play Sofia. Although Winfrey had not had any acting experience not counting the drama club at her college and a cameo role in the series of “American Masters,” Jones offered her a job. In December 1985, the movie was released and received glowing audience reviews. Gene Siskel of the “Chicago Tribune” praised Winfrey’s work and characterized her debut as “shockingly good.” Winfrey was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the movie.
In June 1986,, National Organization for Women awarded Oprah with Woman of Achievement Award for her sensitive performance. Winfrey’s success led her to work in a film adaptation of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son” in 1986,. She played the main character’s mother. However, the film was not a success. Winfrey confessed that it was hard for her to identify herself with a mother because at her 32, she still did not have much experience of such emotions. Nevertheless, her overall success at the cinema was very beneficial to “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. Her fame skyrocketed. In the future, Oprah did several other full-length films, played in many series, and voiced a couple of popular cartoons. In 1986,, Oprah Winfrey met Stedman Graham, Jr. They remain longtime partners until nowadays. Stedman Graham is an entrepreneur and CEO of S. Graham & Associates.
Oprah Winfrey biography is full episodes that led her to success. One of such episodes happened in 1986, when Oprah Winfrey became the television presenter of her own talk show, called The Oprah Winfrey Show, which later helped her skyrocket her career. On September 8, of the same year, TV syndication company King World Production included The Oprah Winfrey Show in its broadcasting covering 138 cities and towns. This was supposed to bring in the profit of 125 million dollars during 1987-1988 TV season. Such a drastic turn of events made Oprah the highest paid television presenter in the show business. By the year of 1993, the show had spread its influence on unprecedented for the USA number of markets – 198 markets which made 99% of all existing in the country and 64 foreign markets including Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, and The Netherlands. During 27 years of her career, Oprah Winfrey has interviewed and hosted an infinite number of politicians: Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama. In 1993, she interviewed Michael Jackson, who very rarely agreed to socialize with the press. Oprah interviewed the creator of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Microsoft Bill Gates, the developer and co-founder of Google Sergey Brin, CEO of Oracle Corporation Larry Ellison, businessman and investor Richard Branson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Russell Crowe, Al Pacino and many others. It really would be easier to say who had not visited Oprah at her show.
Winfrey’s Word is as good as gold
The power of Oprah Winfrey in her show is such that it can make a person famous and successful over just one evening as it happened with Marianne Williamson and her self-help book “A Return to Love”.
On Tuesday, February 4, 1992, Williamson appeared in Winfrey’s show. On Wednesday, over just one day, the audience bought thirty-five thousand book copies. Over the next 8 days, according to the publisher, the remaining three hundred thousand copies were sold. All of this was the result of just one appearance of the book’s author in “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. It was an unprecedented case in the history of book business where on average, no more than ten thousand copies of hardcover books were sold.
In July 1993, the appearance of Deepak Chopra on Oprah’s show had the same impact on the sales of his new book Ageless Body Timeless Mind. Oprah’s audience bought more than 100,000 copies of the book Ageless Body Timeless Mind that day.
In 1998, Texas cattle ranchers issued a lawsuit against Oprah. “Oprah accused of whipping up anti-beef ‘lynch mob” – those were the headlines of most of the newspapers in 1998 after Winfrey’s very emotional reaction to the information disclosed by her show’s guest Howard Lyman. He was reporting on Mad Cow disease (a few weeks before British newspaper was making headlines on this Mad Cow disease and throughout the world) that the cows were being fed to cows. Having heard that Oprah exclaimed: “It has just stopped me cold from eating another burger!” As it turned out that one phrase had led to unpredictable fluctuations of beef prices and instability of the whole meat market, which had been in steep decline already due to the burning and widely elucidated by the media topic of Mad Cow disease. Texas cattle ranchers filled a $10.3 million lawsuit against Oprah. On August 27, 2002, after almost 6 years the Federal Judge dismissed the case and signified that the case belonged in Federal Court. The statute of limitations has expired, and the case could not be filed again, including the Supreme Court. Oprah and Howard won the case.
Not long before presidential elections, George Bush Junior was a guest at Winfrey’s talk show. During the interview, he incidentally noticed that he regarded Oprah as an idol of a typical American woman, and bound his statement by an innocent kiss on the cheek. In response, Winfrey gave him a big smile and complimented him back. Such a touching scene deeply moved the female part of the audience, and having brushed away some tears, they made up their minds about their definite choice on the upcoming presidential elections. During the elections of 2007, Oprah Winfrey openly supported Barack Obama.
Indeed, it may only be a coincidence that both George Bush Junior and Barack Obama won the elections. Nevertheless, aren’t there just too many coincidences connected with the name of Oprah Winfrey? Overall, it would not hurt anyone who is aiming at the President’s office to ensure the support of this prominent orator, just in case, to be on the safe side.
True success is diverse
Having become the highest paid figure in show business, Oprah Winfrey had no intentions of resting on laurels. In October 1988, she registered her own company “HARPO Entertainment Group” (the name “Harpo” is “Oprah” spelled backward), which produces multimedia programs for television.
The newly fledged businesswoman began from buying a film studio of 9,000 square meters in Chicago for $20 million. There, at her own studio, she filmed all the episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. Besides the show, which is the main product and brand of the company, “HARPO Entertainment Group” also produces documentaries and sell it to various TV channels.
In just five years of the company’s existence, according to the Forbes magazine of September 1993, Oprah’s personal income amounted to $98 million. For comparison, the income of the king of cinematography Steven Spielberg in the same years did not exceed $72 million. Oprah became the first African-American woman to own her personal production company in the field of entertainment. She also became the third woman in the world after Mary Pickford and Lucille Ball who owned their personal studios and ran personal shows.
As the owner of “HARPO Entertainment Group” Oprah Winfrey recognizes and trusts her business to only one person – her longtime lawyer and partner Jeffrey D. Jacobs who is the President and Chief Operating Officer of “HARPO Entertainment Group”. Even so, as Mr. Jacobs considers that Oprah is the only one who really runs her show and her money, she ultimately takes any important decision personally. Jacobs states that Winfrey still single-handedly signs each check and light-heartedly does any routine task of the lowest-positioned clerk of her corporation.
In 2000, Winfrey created the O, The Oprah Magazine that became one of the most successful titles in the history of the periodical press with its print run exceeding 2 million copies. In addition, she opened an Eccentric restaurant in Chicago, bought a cable channel, and invested in real estate. Oprah Winfrey is the lucky owner of an estate on the ocean coast in Santa Barbara worth $50 million, a ranch in Colorado purchased for $4.3 million, a Global Express XRS jet with the budgeted annual operating costs of $1.4 million, four residences and a mansion in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as well as a farm in Indiana.
In 2006, Winfrey signed a $55 million contract with XM Satellite Radio. Moreover, Oprah Winfrey is the owner of Oprah.com website with the monthly audience reach of 2.8 million people according to SimilarWeb as of March 29, 2015.
The final show?
On May 25, 2011, Oprah Winfrey aired the last episode of her show. The show was recorded without a usual guest. Most of the time, Oprah was on stage alone. A living legend of American television wanted to stay face to face with her audience and together with them say good-bye to her dear creation. Only once did she invite all her staff to join her at the stage to thank them for their longstanding work and loyalty. “I won’t say goodbye. I’ll just say…until we meet again,” said Oprah fighting back her tears.
The people in the audience of the finale, women mostly, as usual, could not hold themselves together and burst into tears. Definitely, the housewives all around the world will miss Oprah. During the finale, the brightest clips from previous shows were shown; Paul Simon composed the background music, especially for the occasion. At the end of the show, Oprah went down to the audience and high-fived her guests and staff on her way out.
On January 01, 2011, Oprah Winfrey launched her own channel called OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). The audience of its first broadcast in the USA reached 80 million people. Oprah is a host and producer of her new prime-time show on OWN, Oprah Prime (originally named Oprah Next Chapter), which has already aired for three seasons with the highest ratings ever, and it isn’t hard to predict that it’s going to be just as popular and successful as everything that Oprah does.
Oprah is pleased to donate money to various charities and funds supporting children. Oprah’s Angel Network, a charity established by her, spends millions of dollars for various purposes, starting from financing schools in the poorest countries of Africa to providing financial assistance to the victims of the hurricane Katrina. In 1994, she proposed a bill to Congress that aimed at creating a single database to help track child abusers. President Bill Clinton approved and signed the bill into law.
In December 2011, Oprah Winfrey and Sean Penn with a charity mission arrived at a settlement camp in Haiti where the earthquake of 2010 killed more than 200,000 people and made millions homeless. Sean, whose charity organization had already helped more than 50,000 people, shared with journalists that everybody who spent time in Haiti knew how it was important for the world to see what was going on there and he really appreciated that Oprah was there with them. Oprah in return commented to the journalists: “This is part of the next chapter, going around the world to see interesting and fascinating cases of profound examples of what can be done to make a difference in the world”.
Oprah’s book list
Oprah loves self-help books. In Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, there are 74 must-read books, and she continues picking out books to her list that made a difference to her. Some of them are “Ruby” by Cynthia Bond, “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd, “The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” by Ayana Mathis and many others.
Oprah Winfrey’s secrets of success
According to “Forbes”, as of March 29, 2015, Oprah Winfrey’s net worth was $3 billion. So, what is the secret of the success of “The Oprah Winfrey’s Show”, which ran on TV for more than 25 years? On the other hand, is there a secret at all?
The answer is obvious – the secret lies in the unique personality of the show’s host. Primarily, the show was not just a simple job for Oprah. It was the realization of her childhood dream to teach people and help them. Oprah Winfrey has never put money on the first place in her priority list. Maybe on the second. For example, she never received any commission for the goods and products, which she advertised in her show. However, she only spoke about things, which she considered truly good and important. As paradoxically as it may sound, Oprah’s huge fortune is the result of never trading her principles for wealth and money.
Oprah Winfrey’s personality traits include being sincere, courageous, and hard-working. Winfrey is uniquely capable of communicating without being boring, raising delicate topics without causing nuisances, motivating without sounding didactic, and teaching without lecturing. Only Oprah could ask the adult movies star in one of her shows if they ever arose at shooting and get full approval from the audience. Oprah’s charisma and sensitivity are catching. This quality allow her to be a successful talk show host and deal with the subjects, which would be a taboo in any other place. Winfrey’s straightforwardness and sincerity are unique qualities for her profession. Her ability for self-identification with the interlocutor during their conversation in the room full of people allow her to ask such questions which other journalists would not even consider.
Oprah Winfrey’s close friend and mentor Maya Angelou once called her the cheapest and most honest shrink of America. Angelou, an outstanding American poet, described Oprah as the one who bravely walks where others do not dare to set foot, the one who paves the way for others. Indeed, Oprah’s ability to stride boldly where others do not take a risk to step is close to mystical. She instinctively knows the underbelly of a person and has a unique talent to bring to light exactly what the audience wants to know about a person. She has a capability and patience to listen attentively to sadists, fiends, and assassins without expressing a tiny bit of judgment or personal emotional attitude.
Oprah Winfrey had to overcome countless obstacles on her way to success. It would be impossible to tell of all the difficulties and failures she had to surmount for there were many. But Oprah did it and so can everyone.
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