Talk legend Oprah Winfrey is celebrating her 70th birthday. So she became an all-powerful show host.
She is the greatest. That sounds pretty trite even in the USA, the land of superlatives, but in this case it is true: the 1.69 meter tall Oprah Winfrey is the most effective woman in America.
It is “a phenomenon,” the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (SZ) marveled years ago. In Germany one can “hardly imagine her influence on America’s consciousness” because no woman in this country has “even close to the star power” with which Winfrey “easily” commands in the USA.
With her cultural, political and even everyday performances, she has dominated the US public for what feels like an eternity. For decades she has been the almost all-powerful queen of all talk shows, is the verdict of the international media with rare agreement. She is smart and clever, attractive and educated, sensitive and persuasive. On top of that, she is extremely rich. Oprah Winfrey turns 70 on January 29th.
Her name was a typo
Her fairytale career is one of the picture book stories from the land of opportunity, because she comes from a humble background and was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, as an illegitimate child of underage parents. Her birth certificate was supposed to have the ancient biblical name Orpah (from the book of Ruth), but the registry office made a mistake and Orpah became Oprah.
She was first abused at the age of nine by a 19-year-old cousin. From then on, the child had to endure sexual violence from her uncle, cousin and a family friend. This drama overwhelmed her young mother and grandmother, with whom she grew up. She became pregnant at 14 and the child died shortly after birth.
It was all far too much for Oprah: As a teenager, she became addicted to food, alcohol and drugs. When she tried to escape her desolate home, her overwhelmed mother and grandmother sent the girl to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. With him, her fate changed for the better.
She later said, “If I had never left Milwaukee, everything would have been different.” She would actually have died at the age of 56, as she had long feared. “I think I would have weighed 216 kilos, I think I would have had diabetes and high blood pressure. And I would have choked on the thought that things could have been different…”
That’s how Oprah got on TV
She became a first-class and very disciplined student with her strict father; he gave her self-confidence. Finally, with the help of a scholarship, she studied communications, acting and rhetoric at Tennessee State University. And because she had previously attracted attention with her pleasant, strong voice at a beauty pageant, she also worked part-time at a small radio station, then at a local television station as a news anchor, and later as a reporter and co-host. This marked her career path: “For me, speaking was as easy as breathing.”
After a stint as a news anchor in Baltimore, Maryland, she moved to WSL-TV in Chicago in 1983 and became host of the morning talk show “AM Chicago.” Its success was tremendous, so much so that the show was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, ran on many TV channels and was eventually just called “Oprah”.
In her show, Winfrey not only discussed entertainment topics, but also serious topics such as poverty, drug addiction and child sexual abuse.
In the 1990s, “Oprah’s Book Club” was added, in which authors presented their books. An appearance with her was almost a guarantee of a bestseller; among other things, she pushed the autobiography of former President Bill Clinton (77).
“Oprah” became by far the most successful talk show, not just on American television. It was watched weekly by up to 21 million viewers in 105 countries. The business magazine “Forbes” voted her “most influential celebrity.”
Oprah Winfrey is starting her own media empire
In 2011 it was over – and Oprah Winfrey was only now really stepping on the gas. She founded her own pay-TV channel OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) with talk shows on topics such as health, money, psychology as well as cooking and reality shows. She also founded the TV channel “Oxygen”. She now also owns a production company and several magazines, including the magazine “O and O at Home”.
The center of her media empire has been her own show “Oprah’s Next Chapter” since 2012, which landed a ratings hit in 2021 with the program “Meghan and Harry on Oprah – The Interview”, which was broadcast in 67 other countries in addition to the USA and Great Britain.
In between, Oprah Winfrey produced several feature films such as “menschkind” or “The Wedding” and was often seen as an actress. She was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Color Purple” (1985).
She is a billionaire and donates a lot
Oprah Winfrey is considered one of the smartest businesswomen in the USA and was the first black female billionaire. Her assets – including she holds eight percent of the company Weight Watchers – are estimated at 2.8 billion dollars (around 2.6 billion euros).
On the other hand, she is revered for her generosity and social commitment, as Oprah Winfrey is considered one of the most generous philanthropists. According to estimates by Business Week magazine, she donated $300 million (around 276 million euros) in 2005 alone.
The talk icon is a fearless fighter for equal rights, disadvantaged children and against racism. When she was honored with the “Cecil B. deMille Award” for her lifetime achievement at the Golden Globes in 2018, she gave a brilliant speech, after which a veritable Oprah Winfrey fever broke out in the USA. Polls show that most Americans would have liked to see her as president.
The famous actress Meryl Streep (74) even demanded: “I want her to run. She no longer has any other choice.” Since then there have been repeated calls for her candidacy.
But Oprah Winfrey, who has been in a relationship with the entrepreneur Stedman Graham (72) since 1986 and has no children, has given an unequivocal rejection. It cannot exist in the political structures with “all the untruths, the nonsense, the crap, the nastiness, the dubious backroom stuff.” What’s more: “It’s not a clean business. It would kill me.”
I am an author and journalist who has worked in the entertainment industry for over a decade. I currently work as a news editor at a major news website, and my focus is on covering the latest trends in entertainment. I also write occasional pieces for other outlets, and have authored two books about the entertainment industry.