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The 63-year-old talk-show host and media proprietor fronted the highest-rated television show of all time in the US, The Oprah Winfrey Show, for 25 years; has her own glossy magazine (for which she is the cover star each month); runs a television network, OWN; is the richest African American and the first and only black multi-billionaire in America and is a hugely significant philanthropist.
A Difficult Childhood :
Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954 to an unwed teenage mother in rural poverty. She spent her initial years on her grandmother’s farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi, while her mother wandered in search of work. Despite the hardships of her physical environment, Winfrey enjoyed the loving support of her grandmother and the church community, who nurtured her as a gifted child. At the age of three she voraciously recited poems and Bible verses in local churches.
Her world changed for the worse at the age of six and she became a victim of child abuse which lasted from the ages of nine to 13. Emotionally devastated, she went to Nashville, Tennessee to live with a man whom she called her father. Vernon Winfrey was a strict disciplinarian who made it a point to give his daughter a secure life.
A lonely child, Winfrey found solace in books. Her intelligence was rewarded by a seventh-grade teacher who got her a scholarship to a better school. In this structured environment, Winfrey flourished, and became an honor student, winning prizes for oratory and dramatic recitation. Winfrey’s talent for public performance and spontaneity in answering questions helped her win beauty contests and get her first taste of public attention.
Oprah’s Struggle And Success between age 17 – 32 :
At the age of 17 she clinched the Miss Black Tennessee crown and was subsequently offered an on-air job at WVOL, a radio station serving the African American community in Nashville. Winfrey continued to work at WVOL in her first years of college, but her broadcasting career opened new avenues for her. She dropped from her school and signed on with a local television station as a reporter and anchor. She had found her medium.
In 1984, she moved on to be the host of A.M. Chicago, which later became ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’. It was syndicated in 1986 and soon toppled Donahue as the nation’s top-rated talk show. Winfrey was 32 when she launched the show. With its placement on 120 channels and an audience of 10 million people, the show grossed USD 125 million by the end of its first year, of which Winfrey garnered USD 30 million, making her a millionaire.
Achievement of Winfrey :
She soon gained ownership of the program from ABC, drawing it under the control of her new production company, Harpo Productions (‘Oprah’ spelled backwards) spinning more money from syndication. Today, Harpo is a formidable force in film and television production, as well as magazine publishing and the Internet.
In 1987, its first year of eligibility, the show received three Daytime Emmy Awards in the categories of Outstanding Host, Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction. The following year Winfrey herself became the youngest person to receive the International Radio and Television Society’s “Broadcaster of the Year” Award.
The cult show became a powerful platform or go-to-place for the celebrities and politicians to promote new ventures and to apologize publicly for their indiscretions. It made America fell in love with Winfrey, who captured the nation’s attention with her poignant portrayal of Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple. Through her stunning performance she earned herself nomination for an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actress.“Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see the beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead.”
From 2006 to 2008, her support for Barack Obama, by one estimate, delivered over a million votes in the close 2008 Democratic primary race. Her interview with the controversial entertainer Michael Jackson drew a hundred million viewers, making it the most watched interview in television history. She also received a thumbs up for skillfully handling Katherine Jackson who spilled many beans on the show about her late legendary son, Michael Jackson.
“Far away in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see the beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead.”
Another venture the ‘Oprah Book Club’, started 15 years ago, championed 65 titles and has almost 2 million members. In one memorable show, Winfrey gifted all 276 audience members a new car. She has also become one of the world’s most generous philanthropists. In 2000, Oprah’s Angel Network began presenting a USD 100,000 “Use Your Life Award” to people who served as a beacon to improve the lives of others.
In 2009 she announced that she would end her popular talk show after as successful innings of 25 years. She is expected to focus in the next few years on her cable channel OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), which launched in January 2011.
Similar to her success her achievements are also astounding. She was named one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century” by Time magazine, and in 1998 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“It is no coincidence a lonely little girl who felt not a lot of love, even though my parents and grandparents did the best they could….it is no coincidence that I grew up to feel the genuine kindness, affection, trust and validation from millions of you, all over the world.”
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