Oprah-Winfrey.com Biography

Date of Birth: 
January 29, 1954

Place of Birth: 
Kosciusko, Mississippi

Filmography

1999
Tuesdays With Morrie

1999
The Real Ellen Story

1998
David and Lisa

1998
Beloved

1997
Before Women
Had Wings

1990
Overexposed

1989
Women of
Brewster Place

1988
Pee-Wee's
Playhouse Christmas

1987
Throw Momma
from the Train

1986
Native Son

1985
The Color Purple



Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey has risen from poverty and a troubled youth to become the most powerful and influential woman in television and, according to Forbes Magazine, the world's most highly paid entertainer. Though primarily recognized as a talk show hostess, Winfrey also occasionally acts in television movies and feature films.

Winfrey's parents were teens when she was born in rural Mississippi and never married. She was originally named Orpah after a woman from the "Book of Ruth" but a spelling mistake on the birth certificate changed it to Oprah. She spent her childhood growing up in abject poverty on her deeply religious grandmother's farm. When she was older, Winfrey moved in with her mother in Milwaukee, WI. This proved a difficult time as Winfrey alleges she was repeatedly sexually molested by male relatives. Winfrey became a bit of a wild child during her early teens, experimenting with sex and drugs until at age 14 she gave birth to a premature baby. It died shortly after, and upon recovering, Winfrey chose to live with her father in Nashville. It was under his stern guidance, that Winfrey found discipline, stability and the inspiration to excel in school and change her life.

When she was 19, Winfrey became a part-time radio reporter for station WVOL, Nashville and also began studying speech and performing arts at Tennessee State University. She dropped out in 1972 during her sophomore year to become an Anchor at Nashville's WTVF-TV. She was the first black woman to hold that position. In 1976, she moved to WJZ-TV and after a stint as a reporter was promoted to co-anchor. Two years after her arrival, Winfrey was slotted (with some trepidation by producers who weren't sure how audiences would respond to a host who was neither white nor thin) to host their talk show People Are Talking. Their worries were unfounded for the charming, empathetic Winfrey's show was a hit and remained so for eight years.

In 1984, Winfrey took a major risk and accepted a job hosting a Chicago morning talk show, one that aired at the same time as the nationally top-rated, Chicago-based Phil Donahue talk show. This time it was her fears that had no basis for soon she found herself neck and neck in the ratings with Donahue. Her show, too went nationwide through King World Syndicate and as she expanded the operation, the money began rolling in and with the purchase of a large downtown production facility, was able to become the third woman in the American entertainment industry--after Mary Pickford and Lucille Ball-- to own her own studio. She named it Harpo, which is of course, Oprah spelled backwards. Using her considerable business acumen, Winfrey translated her show into a multi-million dollar business, making her the wealthiest black woman in the US.

Her show was ground-breaking for several reasons, but most of all because Oprah was unafraid to bare her soul and her own past experiences in front of audiences whereas most talk show hosts remained reserved in regards to their personal lives. Though it was difficult, she made public her past abuse, her drug problem during her '20s and her struggle with obesity. In this latter area, Oprah, who is beautiful no matter what size she is, took a lot of heat from unkind critics who were unable to cope with the notion that a round woman could possibly be considered attractive, intelligent and vital. She endured cruel jokes and jibes until she finally decided to lose weight, first with a radical liquid diet-- which only temporarily took off her weight-- and then with a rigorous fat-free diet and exercise regimen that has kept her weight off.

Like Donahue and the other talk show hosts of the day, Winfrey's program tended towards sensationalism designed to appeal to our most morbid curiosities. Subject-wise, she had begun hitting all time lows by 1994. That year, she was to turn 40 and was thinking heavily about which direction her life might turn, both professionally and personally. There was a question whether or not she would even continue taping the show. She ultimately decided to stay on the air, but only after publicly promising to move her show to a higher, more uplifting level.

I addition to her reign as "Queen of the daytime talk shows," Winfrey has also proven herself a gifted actress, winning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress with her film debut as Sofia in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985). In 1989, she executive-produced and starred in Donna Deitch's acclaimed television movie The Women of Brewster Place which later became a short-lived series. Winfrey is actively involved in producing high-quality television movies. Her 1997 drama Before Women Had Wings provides an excellent example of the level to which she aspires. On television, Winfrey has also launched a book club in which she endorses novels written by lesser known authors. As proof of her influence, most of the books she has chosen end up best-sellers.

Winfrey's commitment towards making the world a better place is backed up by her generosity. Each year she donates millions to several charities, including her own Family for Better Lives foundation and Tennessee State University. She is actively involved in lobbying for children's rights and in 1994 was present when President Clinton signed her proposed bill to create a national database of convicted child abusers. -- Sandra Brennan

Source: AllMusicGuide.com -->


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