Oprah: A Quick Biography Oprah Gail Winfrey (born January 29, 1954) is the multiple-Emmy Award winning host of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the highest rated talk show in television history. She is also an influential book critic, an Academy Award-nominated actress, and a magazine publisher. According to Forbes magazine, she was the richest African American of the 20th century and the world's only black billionaire as of 2004. Early life Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi to a Baptist family. Her parents were unmarried teenagers. She was originally named Orpah Gail Winfrey, after one of the people in the Bible's Book of Ruth. However, Winfrey has claimed that because of problems spelling or pronouncing Orpah, the "r" and the "p" were reversed. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was a housemaid, and her father, Vernon Winfrey, was a coal miner and later worked as a barber before becoming a city councilperson. Winfrey's father was in the Armed Forces when she was born. After her birth, Winfrey's mother traveled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her Grandma Hattie Mae. Winfrey's grandmother taught her to read before the age of three and took her to the local church, where she was nicknamed "The Preacher" for her ability to recite Bible verses. When Winfrey was a child, her grandmother would take a switch and would hit her with it when she didn't do chores or if she misbehaved in any way. At age six and a half, Winfrey moved to a Milwaukee inner city ghetto with her mother, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother. Winfrey has stated that she was raped by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend. Despite her dysfunctional home life, Winfrey skipped two of her earliest grades, became the teacher's pet, and by the time she was 13 received a scholarship to attend a prestigious all white high school in the suburbs. Although Winfrey was very popular, she couldn't afford to go out on the town as frequently as her rich classmates. Like many teenagers at the end of the 1960s, Winfrey rebelled, ran away from home, and ran the streets. At age 14 her frustrated mother sent her to live with her father in Nashville, Tennessee. Vernon was strict but encouraging, and made her education a priority. Winfrey became an honors student, was voted "Most Popular Girl", and joined her High School Speech Team, and she placed second in the nation in Dramatic interpretation. She won an oratory contest which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically black institution, where she studied communications. At age 18, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. Winfrey's grandmother has said that ever since Winfrey could talk, she was "on stage". In her youth she played games interviewing her corncob doll and the crows on the fence of her family's property. But her true media career began at age seventeen, working at a local radio station while attending Tennessee State University. Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WTVF-TV. She moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to co-anchor the six o'clock news. She was then recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host of WJZ's local talk show, People Are Talking, which premiered on August 14, 1978. She also hosted Dialing for Dollars there as well. Career And Success In 1983, Winfrey relocated to Chicago, Illinois to host WLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago. The first episode aired on January 2, 1984. Within months after Winfrey took over, the show went from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show in Chicago. It was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to a full hour, and broadcast nationally beginning September 8, 1986, its first show about marrying the right person. Having surpassed Donahue in the local market Winfrey quickly doubled his national audience, her show replacing his as the number one day-time talk show in America. Their much publicized contest was the subject of enormous scrutiny. Time magazine wrote, "Few people would have bet on Oprah Winfrey's swift rise to host of the most popular talk show on TV. In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk. As interviewers go, she is no match for, say, Phil Donahue...What she lacks in journalistic toughness, she makes up for in plainspoken curiosity, robust humor and, above all empathy. Guests with sad stories to tell are apt to rouse a tear in Oprah's eye...They, in turn, often find themselves revealing things they would not imagine telling anyone, much less a national TV audience. It is the talk show as a group therapy session." Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986.TV columnist Howard Rosenberg said "She's a roundhouse, a full course meal, big, brassy, loud, aggressive, hyper, laughable, lovable, soulful, tender, low-down, earthy and hungry. And she may know the way to Phil Donahue's jugular." Newsday's Les Payne observed, "Oprah Winfrey is sharper than Donahue, wittier, more genuine, and far better attuned to her audience, if not the world." Martha Bayles of the Wall Street Journal wrote, "It's a relief to see a gab-monger with a fond but realistic assessment of her own cultural and religious roots." In the mid-1990s Winfrey adopted a less tabloid-orientated format, doing shows about heart disease in women, geopolitics with Lisa Ling, spirituality and meditation, and gift- giving and home decorating shows. She often interviews celebrities on issues that directly involve them in some way, such as cancer, charity work, or substance abuse. In addition, she interviews ordinary people who have done extraordinary things or been involved in important current issues. In 1992 Winfrey hosted a rare prime-time interview with Michael Jackson which became the fourth most watched event in American television history, with an audience of one hundred million. Perhaps Winfrey's most famous recent show was the first episode of the nineteenth season of The Oprah Winfrey Show in the fall of 2004. During the show each member of the audience received a new G6 sedan; the 276 cars were donated by Pontiac as part of a publicity stunt. The show received so much media attention that even the taxes on the cars became controversial. During a lawsuit against Winfrey, she hired Dr. Phil McGraw's company Courtroom Sciences, Inc. to help her analyze and read the jury. Dr. Phil made such an impression on Winfrey that she invited him to appear on her show. He accepted the invitation and was a resounding success. McGraw appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show for several years before launching his own show, Dr. Phil, in 2002, which was created by Winfrey's production company, Harpo Productions in partnership with Paramount which produced the show. Winfrey recently made a deal to extend her show until the 2010 – 2011 season, by which time it will have been on the air for twenty-five years. She plans to host 140 episodes per season, until her final season, when it will return to its current number, 130. The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Concert was hosted by Oprah and Tom Cruise. There were musical performances by Cyndi Lauper, Andrea Bocelli, Joss Stone, Chris Botti, Diana Krall, Tony Bennett and others. The concert was broad-casted in the United States on Dec. 23, 2004 by E!. An unofficial Winfrey fan-club also organized a petition drive in 2005 to nominate Oprah for the Nobel Peace Prize. As well as hosting and appearing on television shows, Winfrey co-founded the women's cable television network Oxygen. She is also the president of Harpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards). This text was adapted from Wikipedia without permission on August 28, 2006 without permission.
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