Person

Oprah Winfrey

Nationality:

American

Born:

1954

Occupation:

TV Host and Media Personality

New Wealth:

$3.5 Billion

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Oprah Winfrey is a world-renowned television host, media personality, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Best known for her over 23-year TV show “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Winfrey is the first African-American woman billionaire and the owner of multiple TV networks, publications, and charitable foundations, including Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation and the Oprah Winfrey Foundation. Winfrey is a regular Democratic Party donor with close ties to former president Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama. 1 2 3

Background

Oprah Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to an unwed teenage mother on January 29, 1954. She lived her first five years of life on her grandmother’s farm, where she was active in her family’s local church. 4

Winfrey moved with her mother to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the age of six. She was abused at a young age by a male relative and others. This abuse led to her leaving her home to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. 5

In Tennessee, Winfrey excelled academically, won prizes for oratory, won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant at 17, and received a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. 6 She left Tennessee State early in 1975 to pursue a career, one credit shy of graduating. She later completed her final course and received a degree in speech communications and performing arts in 1987. 7

Career

Early Career

In 1975, Oprah Winfrey began her career as a local television reporter and anchor. In 1976, she moved to Baltimore to become the co-anchor at WJZ-TV News. AT WJZ-TV News, Winfrey also co-hosted the talk show “People Are Talking.” In 1984, Winfrey was hired by WLS-TV in Chicago to host a morning talk show, “AM Chicago.” The show rapidly increased in popularity, was expanded from a half hour to one hour, and in September 1985 “AM Chicago” was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” 8

The Oprah Winfrey Show

“The Oprah Winfrey Show” became nationally syndicated in 1986 and became the winner of multiple Emmy Awards and the highest-rated television talk show in America. 9 In 1987, the first year the program was eligible, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” won three Daytime Emmy Awards. The show ran nationally for 24 seasons until May 2011 and aired in 140 countries. 10

Winfrey built the show around empathetic, personal interviews with high-profile public personalities, and her show became the stage for multiple significant moments in American culture. For example, in 2011 Winfrey hosted then-President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama; in 2009 singer Whitney Houston gave a detailed interview on her drug use and divorce with Bobby Brown; in 1997 Winfrey hosted media personality Ellen Degeneres, who had just recently came out as lesbian; and in 1993 Winfrey visited Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch for a personal interview about Jackson’s upbringing and how he suffered from a skin condition called vitiligo. The Michael Jackson-Oprah Winfrey interview drew 100 million viewers and was the most-watched television interview in history. 11 12

Beginning the 1990s, Winfrey began discussing topics on her shows including self-help, healthy living, and new age spiritualism. 13

Acting and Producing Career

In 1985, Winfrey played Sofia in the movie The Color Purple directed by Steven Spielberg and adapted from the novel by Alice Walker. For her role, Winfrey was nominated as Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars and the Golden Globe Awards. 14

In 1986, Winfrey played Mrs. Thomas in the movie Native Son, a movie adaptation of the Richard Wright novel from 1940. 15

As of March 2024, Oprah had appeared in 36 films or TV series, including politically charged, left-of-center productions such as the TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale.” 16

Winfrey has also worked as a producer in 64 TV and movie production, as of March 2024, including working as the producer for the 2023 miniseries “The 1619 Project,” based on the New York Times Magazine 1619 Project, which argues that American history is defined by slavery and oppression. 17

Other Media Activities

In 1996, Winfrey launched an on-air book club called Oprah’s Book Club. Winfrey would announce books and several weeks later invite guests onto her show to discuss her selections. Books chosen for Oprah’s Book Club regularly became best sellers. 18 In 2020, Winfrey was criticized for choosing American Dirt for her book club because the novel was written about Mexican immigrants by a non-Mexican immigrant author. 19 In 2018, Winfrey chose Becoming, a memoir by former first Lady Michelle Obama for her book club, saying “I want the whole world to read this book.” 20

In 1998, Winfrey co-founded Oxygen Media, a cable network featuring women’s-interest programming. In 2008, she launched the Oprah Winfrey Network, replacing Discovery Health Channel. 21

In 2000, Winfrey launched O, The Oprah Magazine. The magazine ceased publication in 2020. O was rebranded the following year becoming the Oprah Daily online and O Quarterly print edition. In 2004 Winfrey launched O at Home magazine, which ran until 2008. 22

In 2018, Winfrey announced an agreement to produce content for Apple TV+ streaming. 23

Political Advocacy and Donations

In 2008, Oprah Winfrey endorsed then-Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) in the Democratic presidential primary, the first time she had publicly endorsed a political candidate. In 2013, President Obama awarded Winfrey the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 24

In 2020, Winfrey hosted a two-part panel on George Floyd and Black Lives Matter (BLM) called
“Where Do We Go From Here?” On the panel, Winfrey asked “Is this the moment that will finally change our country, where people will recognize systemic racism for the problem and the evil that it is?” She also said 21st century America was “very much like in the days of Jim Crow when black men would be lynched and dragged through the town as an example for other people to see.” The panel included Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the New York Times 1619 Project, and Georgia Democratic politician and activist Stacey Abrams. 25

Winfrey also hosted Mehmet Oz regularly on her TV show as a health commentator. Oz went on to host his own show and then to run unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 2022 as a Republican. 26 27

Additionally, Winfrey regularly donates to Democratic Party affiliates and political candidates. According to public filings, Winfrey has donated $2,900 to California Democratic congressional candidate Will Rollins, $7,600 to Stacey Abrams (D), over $40,000 to U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), $7,300 to President Barck Obama, $10,000 to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, $4,090 to the Democratic Party of Virginia, $4,545 to the Democratic Party of Nevada, $1,363 to the Democratic Party of New Hampshire, $4,545 to the Democratic Party of Iowa, $5,454 to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, $10,000 to the Democratic Party of Ohio, and $3,181 to the Democratic Party of Colorado. Winfrey’s first publicly listed political donation was $1,000 to then-U.S. Senate Candidate Carol Moseley-Braun (D) in 1992 to In 2006, Winfrey also donated $5,000 to then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). 28

Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation and Oprah Winfrey Foundation

In 2023, Winfrey was named by the left-leaning Inside Philanthropy as one of the top 40 most powerful women in U.S. philanthropy. Winfrey conducts her charitable giving through the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation and the Oprah Winfrey Foundation. 29 Winfrey reportedly attended a 2009 meeting with Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Melinda Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and others that created the Giving Pledge, a pledge for billionaires take to give away at least 50% of their wealth to charity. 30

Through her foundations, Winfrey established a $12 million Covid Relief Fund dedicated to underserved communities in Chicago, Baltimore, Nashville, Milwaukee, and Kosciusko, Mississippi; donated $5 million to Live Healthy Chicago; gave $2 million to NashvilleNurture; gave $25 million to Morehouse College, a historically black college or university (HBCU); and was a top donor to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History. Winfrey donated repeatedly to organizations outside of America, including giving roughly $17 million to a leadership academy in South Africa. 31

In 1998, Oprah announced Oprah’s Angel Network, a public charity to inspire charitable actions in others. Activities of Oprah’s Angel Network include the $100,000 Use Your Life Award given to those who devote themselves to improving the lives of others, building 55 schools in rural areas throughout the world, rebuilding or restoring 300 homes damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the O Ambassadors school program focused on training kids to be global citizens. 32 33

References

  1. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  2. IP Staff.” The 50 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy.” Inside Philanthropy. December 5, 2023. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2023/12/5/the-50-most-powerful-women-in-us-philanthropy
  3. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  4. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  5.  “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  6. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  7. Parent, Beth. “Where Did Oprah Winfrey Go to School?” Your Dictionary. January 15, 2021. Accessed March 98, 2024. https://www.yourdictionary.com/articles/oprah-winfrey-school-education.
  8. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  9. “Oprah Winfrey.” Britannica. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oprah-Winfrey#ref168126.
  10.  “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  11. “Oprah’s 15 Hall of Fame Episodes.” Entertainment Weekly. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://ew.com/gallery/oprahs-15-hall-fame-episodes/.
  12. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  13.  “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  14. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/
  15. “Native Son.” IMDb. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091613/.
  16. “Oprah Winfrey.” IMDb. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001856/.
  17. “Oprah Winfrey.” IMDb. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001856/.
  18. “Oprah Winfrey.” Britannica. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oprah-Winfrey#ref168126.
  19. Lange, Jeva. “The Oprah’s Book Club controversy , explained.” The Week. January 23, 2020. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://theweek.com/articles/890885/oprahs-book-club-controversy-explained.
  20. Bricker, Tierney. “Looking Back on the Best and Most Controversial Oprah’s Book Club Selections Ever.” E News. November 1, 2019. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.eonline.com/news/1087680/looking-back-on-the-best-and-most-controversial-oprah-s-book-club-selections-ever.
  21. “Oprah Winfrey.” Britannica. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oprah-Winfrey#ref168126.
  22. “Oprah Winfrey.” Britannica. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oprah-Winfrey#ref168126.
  23.  “Oprah Winfrey.” Britannica. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oprah-Winfrey#ref168126.
  24. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  25. Fallon, Kevin. “Oprah on Black Lives Matter and George Floyd: We Are at a ‘Tipping Point’ for Racism in America.” Daily Beast. June 10, 2020. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.thedailybeast.com/oprah-on-black-lives-matter-and-george-floyd-we-are-at-a-tipping-point-for-racism-in-america.
  26. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  27. “Pennsylvania U.S. Senate Election Results.” New York Times. December 23, 2022. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/11/08/us/elections/results-pennsylvania-us-senate.html.
  28. “Donor Lookup: Oprah Winfrey.” Open Secrets. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=oprah+winfrey&order=desc&sort=D.
  29. IP Staff.” The 50 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy.” Inside Philanthropy. December 5, 2023. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2023/12/5/the-50-most-powerful-women-in-us-philanthropy
  30.  Piper, Kelsey. “The Giving Pledge, the campaign to change billionaire philanthropy, explained.” July 10, 2019. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/7/10/18693578/gates-buffett-giving-pledge-billionaire-philanthropy.
  31. Adeniji, Ade. “’Look in Your Own Neighborhood.” Abou that Big Oprah Gift for Pandemic Relief. June 3, 2020. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2020/6/3/look-in-your-own-neighborhood-about-that-big-oprah-gift-for-pandemic-relief.
  32. “Oprah Winfrey.” Academy of Achievement. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://achievement.org/achiever/oprah-winfrey/.
  33. “Oprah’s Angel Network Fact Sheet.” Oprah.com. Accessed March 8, 2024. https://www.oprah.com/pressroom/about-oprahs-angel-network
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