Renowned television talk show host Oprah Winfrey is sometimes called the most influential woman of the 20th century, and perhaps rightly so, as she has her own globally viewed talk show, television network, magazine and millions of fans. Oprah Gail Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954 in Missouri to unwed teenage parents. She lived in poverty, first with her mother, then grandmother and then biological father and admitted to having been sexually abused by her male relatives as a child. She enrolled at Tennessee State University in 1971 and landed a part time job as a radio show host after winning the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. She then started working at a local TV station, becoming the youngest and only black news anchor at the time.
In 1976, she moved to Baltimore to work as a talk show host for the TV show “People Are Talking”. The show was a success and Oprah hosted it for 8 years, before being hired to host her own morning show, “A.M. Chicago”. She was competing with the Phil Donahue show, which aired in the same time slot on another station. Oprah entered with a bang, and within months, had amassed a hundred thousand more viewers than the Donahue show, and achieving the top spot in TV ratings. She even starred in Steven Spielberg’s film “The Color Purple” and received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.
In 1986, she launched her own talk show by the name of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” which made $125 million in its first year, of which Oprah herself received $30 million. It went on to become the highest rated talk show nationwide, airing in more than 100 countries and reaching an audience of 13.1 million U.S. viewers at its peak. It was also internationally acclaimed, especially in Saudi Arabia where women viewers particularly admired her for her positive attitude and modest dress. Oprah launched her own production company called “Harpo Productions” (which is Oprah spelt backwards) and soon bought the rights of the show from ABC.
One of the most admired aspects of Oprah’s show was her refusal to indulge in popular tabloid topics and keep the theme of her show wholesome and refreshing. Although she initially lost some viewership to other trashy shows, her ratings soon surged as she won the respect and admiration of her viewers. Another highly publicized aspect of her show has been her weight loss effort. With the help of her personal trainer Bob Greene and chef Rosie Daley, she managed to lose almost 90 lbs to achieve her target weight. Oprah’s show is also noted for the “Oprah Book Club” which she formed as a segment on the show, and introduced relatively little known authors, who went on to become bestsellers with Oprah’s backing. In 1999, she co-founded Oxygen Media that produced cable and Internet programs for women and in 2004 she launched “O: The Oprah Magazine” which was an immediate success. She also launched a joint venture with Discovery Communications called “Oprah Winfrey Network” which aired her show after her contract with ABC ended.
Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential women of our times. She was the only African American billionaire for a while. She is also a great philanthropist and has given more than $400 million towards educational causes, and Oprah’s Angel Network has raised millions of dollars for charitable programs. Some of her pet causes include relief for hurricane victims, girls’ education and activism against sexual harassment, for which she also founded the Family for Better Lives foundation. She backed Barack Obama during his presidential campaign and garnered thousands of supporters for him. In 2013, Obama presented her with the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Oprah Winfrey Show ran for 25 seasons from 1986 to 2011. Oprah is now 60 years old and lives in Chicago with her long time fiancé Stedman Graham.