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Oprah Winfrey

Talk Show Host and Producer

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Oprah Winfrey API FEST 2009

Oprah Winfrey at a screening of the movie Precious, AFI Fest, November 1, 2009

Getty Images / Jason Merritt
Oprah Winfrey at The Legends Ball 2005

Oprah Winfrey at The Legends Ball 2005

Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown

Dates: January 29, 1954 - 

Occupation: news anchor, talk show host, actress, philanthropist, executive

Known for:

  • first African American syndicated talk show host
  • first African American woman billionaire (Forbes, 2003)
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show, Harpo Productions, O Magazine, Oxygen Network
  • Oprah's Angel Network, Oprah's Book Club
  • campaign for the "Oprah Bill" (1993), providing a national database of convicted child abusers

Also known as:  Orpah Gail Winfrey

Background, Family:

  • Father: Vernon Winfrey (coal miner, barber)
  • Mother: Vernita Lee (maid)
  • Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to parents who were not married, Oprah Winfrey moved at age six from her grandmother's Mississippi farm to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her mother, and at age fourteen to Nashville, Tennessee, to live with her father.
  • Oprah Winfrey has never married; her long-time companion is Stedman Graham, a business executive, educator, speaker, and writer. Oprah was pregnant at fourteen but lost the baby soon after birth.

Education:

  • Tennessee State University (1976)

About Oprah Winfrey:

Excelling in school even with a childhood troubled with rebellion and abuse, Oprah Winfrey received a full college scholarship and won the Miss Black Tennessee contest when she was eighteen. The next year she began to work as a news anchor in Nashville. In 1976, after earning her college degree, she moved to a position with an ABC news affiliate in Baltimore, Maryland, and in 1977 began co-hosting a local morning show.

Oprah Winfrey was hired in 1984 to rescue a failing morning talk show in Chicago, A. M. Chicago. After a quick turnaround in the ratings, it was expanded to an hour and renamed the next year as The Oprah Winfrey Show, and it was syndicated nationally in 1986 -- making Oprah Winfrey the first African American to host a nationally-syndicated talk show.

That year, she formed Harpo Productions, a production company. She acted in or produced a number of movie and television projects. In 2000, she helped found Oxygen Media, Inc., providing cable and interactive programming directed at women.

Oprah's Book Club, begun in 1997, has been responsible for huge sales of the books that she features on her talk show, with major benefits to the publishing industry and to individual writers.

Acting and Producing:

Oprah Winfrey had a part in The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg's movie adaptation of Alice Walker's novel. She appeared in a movie adaptation of Richard Wright's Native Son. She was in the television series The Women of Brewster Place in 1989. In 1992, she provided the voice of Elizabeth Keckley in the television production, Lincoln. In 1997, she produced and starred in the television movie Before Women Had Wings, and in 1998, produced and starred in an adaptation of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Beloved. Oprah has also produced or played roles in a number of television and movie productions.

Philanthropy:

Oprah Winfrey, with the income and wealth derived from her production company and other efforts, has chosen to donate a signficant amount to charities and other philanthropic causes, especially stressing education. The Oprah's Angel Network is one of her projects, in which she gives $100,000 awards to those who are helping others in significant ways.

Among Oprah's Awards:

  • 1998 - Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
  • 1999 - 50th anniversary gold medal, National Book Foundation

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