Oprah Gail Winfrey, as she was born, is a talk show host, media executive, actress, television producer and billionaire philanthropist. She’s best known for being the host of her own, wildly popular program, The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired for 25 seasons, from 1986 to 2011 and has become the highest-rated television program of its kind in history. In 2011, Winfrey launched her own TV network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
Oprah has been dubbed the “Queen of All Media”, she was the richest African American of the 20th century and North America’s first black multi-billionaire, and has been ranked the greatest black philanthropist in American history. She has also been sometimes ranked as the most influential woman in the world.
Winfrey was born in the rural town of Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954. After a troubled adolescence in a small farming community, where she was sexually abused by a number of male relatives and friends of her mother, Vernita, Winfrey moved to Nashville to live with her father, Vernon, a barber and businessman.
In 1971, Winfrey entered Tennessee State University. She began working in radio and television broadcasting in Nashville. In 1976, Winfrey moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where she hosted the TV chat show People Are Talking. The show became a hit and Winfrey stayed with it for eight years, after which she was recruited by a Chicago TV station to host her own morning show, A.M. Chicago.
Winfrey launched The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986 as a nationally syndicated program that ran for 25 years, until 2011. With its placement on 120 channels and an audience of 10 million people, the show grossed $125 million by the end of its first year, of which Winfrey received $30 million.
She soon gained ownership of the program from ABC, drawing it under the control of her new production company, Harpo Productions (‘Oprah’ spelled backwards) and making more and more money from syndication.
In 1994, with talk shows becoming increasingly trashy and exploitative, Winfrey pledged to keep her show free of tabloid topics. Although ratings initially fell, she earned the respect of her viewers and was soon rewarded with an upsurge in popularity.
Projects with Harpo have included the highly-rated 1989 TV miniseries, The Women of Brewster Place, in which Winfrey also starred.
In 2004, Winfrey signed a new contract to continue The Oprah Winfrey Show through the 2010-11 season. At the time, the syndicated show was seen on nearly 212 U.S. stations and in more than 100 countries worldwide.
In 2009, Winfrey announced that she would be ending her program when her contract with ABC ended, in 2011.
In 1999 Winfrey debuted Oxygen Media, a company she co-founded that’s dedicated to producing cable and Internet programming for women. In doing so, Winfrey ensured her spot in the forefront of the media industry as one of the most powerful and wealthy people in show business. In 2002, she concluded a deal with the network to air a prime-time complement to her syndicated talk show.
Winfrey’s highly successful monthly magazine, published by Hearst, O: The Oprah Magazine, debuted in 2000.
Soon after the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey moved to her own network, the Oprah Winfrey Network, a joint venture with Discovery Communications.
Winfrey was called “arguably the world’s most powerful woman” by CNN and Time.com, “arguably the most influential woman in the world” by The American Spectator, “one of the 100 people who most influenced the 20th Century” and “one of the most influential people” from 2004 to 2011 by TIME. Winfrey is the only person in the world to have appeared in the latter list on ten occasions.
At the end of the 20th century, Life listed Winfrey as both the most influential woman and the most influential black person of her generation, and in a cover story profile the magazine called her “America’s most powerful woman”. In 2007, USA Today ranked Winfrey as the most influential woman and most influential black person of the previous quarter-century. Ladies Home Journal also ranked Winfrey number one in their list of the most powerful women in America and Senator Barack Obama has said she “may be the most influential woman in the country”. In 1998, Winfrey became the first woman and first African American to top Entertainment Weekly’s list of the 101 most powerful people in the entertainment industry. Forbes named her the world’s most powerful celebrity in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2013.
As chairman of Harpo Inc., she was named the most powerful woman in entertainment by The Hollywood Reporter in 2008. She has been listed as one of the most powerful 100 women in the world by Forbes, ranking 14th in 2014. In 2010, Life magazine named Winfrey one of the 100 people who changed the world, alongside such luminaries as Jesus Christ, Elvis Presley, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Winfrey was the only living woman to make the list.
At the age of 41, Winfrey had a net worth of $340 million and replaced Bill Cosby as the only African American on the Forbes 400. With a 2000 net worth of $800 million, Winfrey is believed to have been the richest African American of the 20th century. There has been a course taught at the University of Illinois focusing on Winfrey’s business acumen, namely: “History 298: Oprah Winfrey, the Tycoon”. Winfrey was the highest paid television 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.
Forbes’ list of The World’s Billionaires has listed Winfrey as the world’s only black billionaire from 2004 to 2006 and as the first black woman billionaire in the world that was achieved in 2003. As of 2014, Winfrey had a net worth in excess of 2.9 billion dollars and had overtaken former eBay CEO Meg Whitman as the richest self-made woman in America.
Oprah Winfrey has written the following books: