No other name in Hollywood shines as bright as the name Oprah Winfrey.
Dubbed the Queen of All Media, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Winfrey is the first and only multi-millionaire black person. She ran the highest rated talk show that spanned the length of a quarter of a century.
Before all the success was years of struggle and various walls she had to work to break down. As she was starting off on television, she received backlash for her looks, her skin color, for the crinkly texture of her hair, and for her overweight body. She was a victim of sexual abuse in her childhood. She was a career woman who found no interest in having her own children. These were all things about Oprah Winfrey that made her, at first, an unappealing and controversial character.
Through the years, she has changed the way people think about TV. She began the culture of confessional television, allowing people to talk more openly about their struggles. Her success in this endeavor was largely due to her own openness to her audience. She created a safe space in a public forum for all people to discuss what was once taboo: race, weight, beauty, gender, and sexuality.
Her capability for empathy stems from her rough childhood, spent in her grandmother’s farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Life was far from modern where she was, but she was taught to read and write while her mother, Vernita Lee, looked for work in the North as a maid.
Her father, Vernon Winfrey Jr., was merely a coal miner. When Lee gave birth to Oprah’s half-sister Patricia, Oprah was sent away to live with her father instead. During this time, she was not aware that her mother had given up a third daughter up for adoption. By the time she came back to live with her mother, Lee had already given birth to a son.
With such financial struggles, Oprah often had to wear potato sacks as dresses, for which she was heavily made fun of.
Oprah may not have liked her potato sacks, but she did like to talk.
At the age of 3, she could already recite poems and bible verses, at some point earning her the nickname “The Preacher” in the local churches. At the age of 17, she was offered an on-air job at WVOL, a radio station serving the African American community in Nashville, where she continued to work through the beginnings of her college years. She won a full scholarship in Tennessee State University where she majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts. After finishing her degree, she signed on with a local TV station as an anchor, and from there on out, things started looking up for her.
Word of her talent in hosting got around, and eventually she was invited to host a program on WLS-TV that was on the brink of cancellation. In less than a year, ratings picked up, and AM Chicago became one of the most popular programs in the area. It became so successful that it went from last place in the ratings to the top, overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show in Chicago. The program was changed to a one-hour format, and in September 1985, it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her show began airing nationally in 1986, and since then, she has started several shows, built her own network, and published her own magazine.
With this powerhouse performer working around the clock, she did more than just break a glass ceiling or a racial barrier. She built a media empire from the ground up.
At age 32, she bought the ownership rights to her own show. By the time she was 41, she had become the only African American on the Forbes 400, a title that was once held by Bill Cosby. She was the highest paid entertainer in 2006, earning $260 Million a year. Two years later, her annual income had grown to $275 Million.
As of 2014, Oprah’s net worth lands over a whopping $2.9 Billion.
Big, black, and female: what once seemed like an impossible combination of features is now the world’s most successful self-made woman.
She faced her life’s problems head on, and instead of hiding behind a mask, she shared her life experiences, her struggles, and her greatest obstacles. She helped open the rest of the world up to the idea that there is nothing that can stop you, if you just don’t let it.
Influential, powerful, independent, self-made–these are typically the words that come to mind when attempting to describe her.
If there can only be one word to describe what Oprah Winfrey is, it’s driven.