Oprah Gail Winfrey

portrait of Oprah Winfrey
Hotel Bel Air, Los Angeles, for 50th birthday party. Photo by Alan Light
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Born: 29 January 1954, Kosciusko, Mississippi

Her birth certificate reads "Orpah Gail Winfrey", she was named after a character from the Old Testament book Ruth. She was born to a pair of unwed teenagers, the father already in the Army, and was raised by a strict but supportive grandmother who taught her to read by age three. The family had problems pronouncing her first name, the mispronunciation stuck. When she lived with her mother at Milwaukee, Wisconsin things didn't go as well, but she still did well in school. Winfrey later reported that she was sexually molested and raped by two members of her family and a family friend during that time. She ran away from home at thirteen and was pregnant a year later. She moved to Nashville, Tennessee and lived with her father during high school, she starred on the speech team and won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. At seventeen she was Miss Black Tennessee and started working at WVOL radio where she read the news, working there for three years, starting in her senior year of high school. She moved to WLAC-TV where she was the youngest new anchor and the first black female news anchor on the local news. In 1976 she moved to Baltimore to co-anchor the evening news at WJZ-TV, then was co-host of the local talk show, People are Talking. In 1983 she moved to Chicago to host WLS-TV's morning talk show, AM Chicago, it took only a few months for her to take the show from the bottom of the ratings to overtake Donahue as the highest-rating show in the market. Rechristened The Oprah Winfrey Show, it was syndicated nationally in the fall of 1986. She dated movie critic Roger Ebert briefly, it was his suggestion to syndicate the show, which soon topped Donahue nationally. Her ratings allowed her to negotiate her own production contract and she has produced the show, and others, ever since. Originally a "tabloid talk show", in the mid 1990s Oprah moved to a wider and more serious range of topics. In 1996 she introduced Oprah's Book Club as a segment on her show, focusing on a broad range of books she recommended to her audience. It is estimated that books mentioned sell an extra million copies as a result. Oprah endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2007, holding at least one fund raiser and attending several rallies in during the campaign. The largest political event of 2007 was a rally at Columbia, South Carolina where she joined Obama on stage and drew a crowd of 30,000. Pollsters believe that she directly brought enough votes to Obama to win the nomination. Her success has made her staggeringly wealthy, her net worth in 2009 was estimated at $2.3 billion. With her gift of communication and her audience, she is clearly the most influential woman in the world.

Biography from Wikipedia and Museum of Broadcast Communications

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