When Oprah Gail Winfrey (yes, her second name is the same as her BFF Gail King) was born on 29 January 1954, nobody could have imagined the greatness she was destined for. Her unwed mother was so poor that during her early years in Mississippi, Winfrey had no running water.
Of course, as we now know, an awful lot has changed! Oprah is the first black woman to win the Cecil B. De Mille Award, to become a billionaire (back in 2003) and to control her own television studio, among many other milestones. She’s also the only woman on the list of the world’s top 10 richest celebrities!
She’s enjoyed phenomenal success, but she’s also worked incredibly hard for it. Remarkably, she says she has never started any project with the goal of making money. Her success comes from a natural love of life and people, and a desire to do good. Which, honestly, has us all rooting for her.
How did she get into television?
Oprah’s always been a bright spark, and earned a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. But in 1976 she took a huge gamble, dropping out to work in media. She was a news anchor in Nashville and then Baltimore, but was considered “too emotional” (we know!). Luckily, an insightful manager transferred her to a chat show called “People are Talking”.
She was an instant success, and started hosting “AM Chicago” in 1985. The stagnant show shot to number 1 in the local ratings, and was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show” a year later. And just like that, she was off.
How did her media empire expand?
Film critic Roger Ebert suggested that Winfrey syndicate her show, which was when the money really started rolling in. She bought Harpo Studios in 1988, broadcast Oprah and Friends on the radio, produced television and stage shows (including a musical of The Colour Purple) and launched the wildly successful Oprah.com website and O, the Oprah Magazine.
She’s also an Oscar-winning actress, for The Colour Purple in 1986. She famously left her talk show to found the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, in 2011. There were some teething problems with this, but she consulted experts like Tyler Perry and was able to turn it around.
What are her other income streams?
There’s no denying that Winfrey is a brand. Whatever she puts her name to generates huge profit. But she seems to understand that with great power comes great responsibility, and only endorses things that she really believes in.
That’s why she owns 10% of Weight Watchers, and created a range of healthy soups and side dishes called “O, That’s Good!”. She’s also a freelance journalist who contributes to 60 Minutes, has written several books, and makes special appearances. Taken together with her shows, her producing, and her acting, it’s not hard to see why she’s worth over $4 billion today.
What real estate does she own?
Currently, Oprah owns a lavish home in Montecito, California as her primary residence, plus a property in Maui, California and place in Telluride, Colorado that is perfect for glamourous skiing trip. She paid $79 million, $50 million and $14 million for these respectively, and she might well have more property that we don’t know about in her portfolio.
How does she give back?
Oprah has always been known for her generosity to her audiences and guests on her shows. Her philanthropy is even bigger today; she’s spent more than $140 million on the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, and has raised more than $80 million for through her Angel Network. The higher she climbs, the more love she spreads.
Tagged in Oprah Winfrey