Oprah, poor, black and female, started from scratch and attained megastardom through sheer hard work. She is today the richest African American of the 20th century. She is well educated, highly creative, smart, intelligent and competitive, with a golden heart.
She values and respects all. Her natural style, matchless values, and exceptional talent have earned her recognition in the entertainment industry and gained her widespread popularity.
She became world-famous as a talk show host, actress, American media executive, television producer and as a philanthropist.
Oprah Winfrey is the richest female television host of all time and a glorious inspiration for downtrodden folk.
Oprah Winfrey’s early life, childhood, and education
Born in Mississippi in 1954, she was the daughter of a teenage single mother and a soldier and grew up in the kind of poverty and hardship that was common in the rural South at the time. Her parents split up shortly after she was born, and as a child she has said she wore dresses made from sacks and kept roaches as pets.
She was clearly very bright, as she was taught to read by her grandmother before she was three. When she was six, her already straitened circumstances got far worse: she moved to inner-city Milwaukee.
There she was raped by a cousin and an uncle, and she ran away from home at 13. At 14 she became pregnant, but the child died shortly after birth.
Perhaps surprisingly Winfrey’s luck changed when she was sent to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey, who believed in education and discipline. At East Nashville High School she began to shine in a number of areas.
She was an honors student, a talented orator, and an accomplished actress. She won a scholarship to Tennessee State University and, aged 17, won a beauty pageant as Miss Fire Prevention.
As a result of this, she visited a local radio station and was offered a job reading the afternoon headlines. She clearly had the right stuff: at 19, she became the first black female newscaster in Nashville.
Oprah Winfrey’s Career
In 1976, Oprah Winfrey moved to Baltimore to host the six o’clock news. At first, this was something of a disaster. She was given an ill-advised makeover and was even asked to change her name to Suzy, which she refused to do.
She wasn’t the greatest TV journalist either – she found it hard to be objective and often became emotionally involved in the news she was meant to be reporting, crying at sad stories. Soon, she suffered a rare setback: she was demoted from news anchor to co-host of a morning talk show called People Are Talking, which was first aired in 1978.
However, as we now know, this turned out to be a life-changing blessing in disguise. As she later said, she greatly preferred telling people’s stories to report objective news: ‘It was like breathing to me. Like breathing. You just talk.’
When it came to ‘just talking’, Winfrey clearly could do it. In 1983, she moved to Chicago to host the flagging AM Chicago programme. Soon it became the most-watched talk show in the city, eclipsing Donahue’s number one show, and was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show.
When the music guru Quincy Jones saw her he arranged for her to audition with Spielberg; the result was her playing the part of Sofia in The Color Purple, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1986, her show went national, and the success she had enjoyed in Chicago was repeated nationwide. An American icon had been created.
To understand why Oprah was such a success, it’s necessary to remember that, back in the early 1980s, chat shows were very much a male preserve. Informality was creeping in; Donahue had pioneered the walking-and-talking-with-the-mike technique that broke down the physical barriers between host and audience, but it was Oprah who dismantled the emotional barriers. Although she’s very intelligent in an academic sense, her emotional intelligence must be off the scale.
She has a natural warmth, incredible empathy, and an instinctive understanding of human nature – people just want to open up to her. Even though the show is broadcasting to a global audience of millions, the discussions between host and guest retain the intimate feel of two friends having a chat.
Moreover, Oprah wears her heart on her sleeve. Her revelations about herself have helped make it feel all the more real. With such a hard background she really can empathize with people who are going through terrible periods in their lives – there’s nothing faked about it.
Moreover, her frankness about her lifelong battle with her weight, which has been played out very visibly over the years, has endeared her greatly to her overwhelmingly female audience; the shame she feels over her yo-yoing weight is real.
Indeed, a key ‘Oprah moment’ occurred in 1988 when she brought a child’s wagon onto the stage with her, carrying 67 pounds of fat to demonstrate what she’d lost. She’s got incredible drive too – and she needs it. With around 200 episodes a year, it’s not as though she has a lot of time off, and that is before any of her numerous other business activities or appearances are taken into account.
It’s perhaps worth noting here that, seven years after Oprah launched herself on the world, another hugely influential chat show, The Jerry Springer Show, also made its debut in Chicago. Indeed, for a while, the two appeared to be locked in a battle of the chat shows. In the 1990s, she said she deplored the vulgar direction chat shows were taking and that she wasn’t going to try to ‘out-Jerry Jerry’.
Oprah had business smarts as well as emotional nous though. Realizing that with her popularity came power, she decided to become the CEO of the product that was Oprah rather than simply being paid a very high wage.
In 1986, she set up Harpo Productions (Harpo is Oprah spelt backwards) and took control of the show. The same year, the show was syndicated nationwide and earned $163 million. Her share of this was $39 million.
She put this down to having a smart lawyer at the time, saying that she never thought such control was possible until he suggested it: ‘Everyone needs someone in their life to say “yes, you can do it”’ (Australian Women’s Weekly, 2005). That smart lawyer, Jeff Jacobs, is still with her as President of Harpo – and is the little-seen business mind behind the brand.
Since then, Oprah’s influence, reach and fortune have grown hugely, and there is no doubt that much of it has been for the good. Her book club is famous for persuading chat show viewers – who are not famous readers – to read, and many of her recommendations have been far from pulpy feel-good novels.
When she recommended Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, it sold more in three months than it had in 20 years. When the author James Frey’s memoir A Million Little Pieces turned out to be as much a work of fiction as fact, Oprah’s reaction and Frey’s very public drubbing held the nation – even the world – transfixed.
Indeed, such is the power of Oprah that even not appearing on her show can boost sales. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections was selected to be a pick; then in an interview he expressed concern that being an Oprah pick would alienate male readers.
His invite to appear was rescinded, and the surrounding hoo-ha drew a great deal of attention to the book, which went on to become a huge bestseller. At a later awards ceremony, Franzen thanked Oprah.
Oprah’s greatest TV moments read like a litany of popular culture’s greatest hits. When Michael Jackson agreed to a rare interview with her in 1993, it was one of the most watched television programmes ever made.
In 2004, she famously gave a car away to every member of the studio audience – the cost of the cars was small change compared to the publicity it generated.
In 2005, Tom Cruise memorably went nuts on Oprah, first jumping all over her couch and then declaring his undying love for Katie Holmes. And, in 2010, when Sarah Ferguson disgraced herself in a newspaper sting, she sought out Oprah as a confessor and a redeemer.
It’s not all trivia and People magazine froth though. She has tackled racism in the South. In 1993, she was instrumental in the passing of the National Child Protection Act, which advocated the establishment of a national database of convicted child abusers – when it was signed into law it was widely referred to as ‘Oprah’s Bill’.
Her ability to gauge the national mood is outstanding. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she went straight down to New Orleans and listened to the survivors’ stories – she empathized with them (for their present is her past) and entered the hell of the Superdome, demanding that something be done. Her reaction was contrasted very favourably with that of George W Bush, who managed little more than a fly-over.
She’s more than just a mirror held up to the national mood too. She often swims against the tide, and to great effect. For instance, in a country where the Christian Right often seems to have a stranglehold on populist public discourse, she has long been a champion of gay rights. Perhaps her single most influential act ever, though, was in the political arena.
She came out very early in support of Barack Obama – when her name was better known than his – and the Oprah effect is widely credited with being a key factor in his victory over Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Her supporting him was not without controversy or cost to her either – many of her female fans cried traitor when she endorsed him ahead of Clinton.
Interestingly, if there’s one demographic that Oprah has struggled to reach, it’s the male sex. The format and the content of her show are both famous for being something men don’t really get.
Long after she’d become an astonishing success, her profile among men remained low, and they tended to trivialize what she did. What eventually got the unfair sex to take her seriously was her enormous wealth – and her enormous ability to affect national events, up to and including presidential elections.
Along with her influence, the business has grown too. Her O magazine (she is on every cover) was the most successful magazine start-up ever and currently has a circulation of around 2.5 million; she owns a chunk of Oxygen Media, a cable company aimed at women; she makes a small fortune from speaking; and her website enjoys 70 million views a month.
In 2008, she announced the Oprah Winfrey Network, a joint venture with the Discovery Channel. Underpinning all of this is the Oprah brand with its mix of empathy, personal growth and self-discovery.
And it’s a brand she protects religiously – whether it’s refusing all requests to endorse products or making employees sign non-disclosure agreements. She has also kept Harpo almost entirely her own – she owns a little over 90 percent, while Jacobs owns just under 10 percent.
She is not without her detractors though, and criticisms of her have been largely par for the course. In terms of the media, there have been claims that she is responsible for dumbing down and has an obsession with banal weight-loss fads, touchy-feely twaddle and self-help gurus who are often little more than charlatans.
Critics also say that she tends to pull her punches with celebrities and politicians she likes and that she is responsible for promoting and celebrating the kind of emotional incontinence typified by Princess Diana’s death. Predictably there are also allegations that she’s not quite the woman of the people she claims to be and has a taste for the high life.
In 2010 the biographer Kitty Kelley, the so-called ‘First Lady of Scandal’, released her Oprah biography. This contained a number of more substantive allegations; probably the most damning have concerned Oprah being cold and manipulative.
But in the grand scheme of celebrity revelations, they are very small beer and are unlikely to do any real damage to the towering edifice that is brand Oprah. Moreover, it is an indication of the esteem in which Oprah is held that most of the United States’ best-known talk shows turned down the opportunity to interview Kelley about the book.
The writer herself was very candid about how the response was a sign of Oprah’s power. She said: ‘I don’t think for a moment that Oprah got on the phone and said, “Barbara, don’t have Kitty on. She doesn’t have to. She is that powerful.”’
Oprah recently announced what will be the biggest career change for her in decades. In 2009 she said that she would be ending the Oprah Winfrey Show in September 2011. This is probably a very smart move on her part, as although the show remains incredibly popular its ratings have slipped considerably in the 2000s, along with all of network TV’s as the media have fragmented.
In 2010, she announced that she would be hosting her own evening show, called Oprah’s Next Chapter, on the Oprah Winfrey Network; this would be a huge boost for the Network. But some commentators have suggested that a career in politics might be a more suitable second act for a woman who is still only in her 50s.
As Jon Friedman noted on the MarketWatch website, ‘I suspect that Oprah has bigger dreams than simply making another billion bucks.’
Oprah Winfrey Daily Routine
Oprah Winfrey opines that there’s no place like home. In a piece for Harper’s Bazaar, Natasha Silva-Jelly has given an in-depth profile of her daily routine as of 2018:
7:10 A.M. Her perfect day is when she can wake up surrounded by nature in her own home.
8:00 A.M. After brushing her teeth, she takes out her five dogs, which are always eager to get out into the yard. Then she makes her favorite espresso. She mixes the caffeinated and decaffeinated espresso with some milk and a little hazelnut. As she waits for the brew to froth, she pulls out a card from her 365 Gathered Truths box. She reads five of them each morning. She considers it’s a beautiful way to start each day. It is a collection of great words of wisdom like, “Wealth is measured not only by dollars and cents, but really by the meals we share, the laughter we enjoy, love we make, the hopes we nurture and the dreams we experience.”
8:30 A.M. Every day she spends some time in a series of spiritual exercises. After reading Gathered Truths, she checks out “Bowl of Saki” on her phone. The message is delivered to her in-box every morning. It contains the teachings of the Middle Eastern sect of Sufi saints. They believe that all religions are one, all paths lead to God and all point to the same north star.
Then she meditates. Every morning, she observes about 20 minutes of silence sitting in her breakfast chair. On a warmer day, she goes outdoors. Her sprawling house is surrounded by more than 3,000 trees and the grounds resembles a park. For meditation, she goes to a special rock that’s carved into the shape of a seat. Sometimes she sits underneath the 12 live oak trees that she calls “the Apostles.” This is her favorite place on earth.
9:00 A.M. After some meditation, she works out for an hour. She prefers to do “resistance-flexibility” exercise, which is a low-impact strength-training program. In it, two, sometimes three, people keep pushing against you as you try to push against them. She has her team of stretchers who come to her place to help her do it. After exercise, she goes for a run. It is followed by 30 minutes on the treadmill and then a giant loop around her home. Oprah lives on significant acreage, so she manages to jog for a solid two miles without even leaving her property.
10:30 A.M. On this particular day she had a little trunk show in her living room. Brunello Cucinelli, the luxury creative director of made in Italy Brunello Cucinelli brand, came up from Los Angeles with their spring line.
Every week on Thursday, she is in the garden after her workout. Thursday is harvest day at her farm when they pick the fruit, cut the herbs and dig up the potatoes. This routine usually takes 40 minutes to an hour.
12:30 P.M. Winfrey and her longtime partner, Stedman Graham always prefer to eat their lunch in the garden. They have a green thumb and take pride in eating vegetables from their own garden. A rule that they follow is, if it doesn’t grow in their garden, then they cannot eat it. She generally has a very light and simple lunch consisting of soup and salad. One of her daughters (a former student of her Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa) was visiting and they had fabulous crab cakes flown in from Pappa’s Crab Cakes in Baltimore. If Stedman is away at work, she generally invites others over. She enjoys cooking, but only if it is for four people or less. If there are more than four guests, she starts to get confused about how much stuff to put in the dishes. She prefers to have a glass of rosé with lunch. Her top favorite is Promise “The Joy” rosé. It’s from Napa Valley. She likes her wine very chilled. When chilled wine goes into the glass you can see the humidity on the outside. She doesn’t like to have the wine if it’s too warm. Warm wine is the only thing she ever sends back at a restaurant.
1:30 P.M. She tries to take care of any business in the early afternoon hours so the rest of the day is free time for her. She attends to wire transfers, checks, and other financial matters. She has always exhibited financial prudence. Having grown up knowing the value of money, she never completely turns over all her money matters to anyone else. She considers it very important to know what’s coming in, what’s going out, to know how much the electricity bill is. She never wants to take the risk of delegating this task to someone else and then one day be surprised to find out how much money they have or don’t have. She also checks in daily with Gayle King about O magazine, with her production office in L.A., and with Mindy Grossman, the president and CEO of Weight Watchers. She personally and meticulously attends to all the business stuff she needs to take care of. She usually completes all this within two hours.
3:30 P.M. In the late afternoon, she does some form of exercise again like a run. Then she heads to her teahouse at sunset. She avoids drinking tea with caffeine in the afternoon as it makes her sleepless for long hours. At the teahouse she reads. Reading books, especially poetry, brings her exquisite joy. Bruce Springsteen’s show on Broadway touched her life in a profound way. She isn’t able to talk about it without crying. She finds it so deeply moving. It helps you to see the poetry in your own personal life. The show inspired her so much that she started reading poetry again. Winfrey loves to end every day reading poetry. She finds reading poetry, like The Way Under the Way by Mark Nepo, very calming and soothing.
6:00 P.M. Oprah and Stedman eat dinner at six, and then it’s time for another dog walk. If Stedman or the girls are around, she eats a proper meal. If she is alone, she may just have a bowl of soup or a protein shake. She loves to spend the evening sitting around the fire with the family, drinking herbal tea and reading a novel. Her first preference is reading a novel versus watching a movie. She can go for weeks without turning on the TV. However, she loves watching a good movie. She watches high-quality movies, especially those that are candidates for Oscar nominations. She entertains her girls with the classics. Many of the girls are from out of the country and are not familiar with many of the classics. Watching these classic films help them learn expressions they need to know. She screens movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill a Mockingbird and Midnight Cowboy for them. Everyone must watch these evergreen classics!
She recollects all the pleasant memories. She had great fun working in the movie A Wrinkle in Time, about celestial beings from another planet. It was an adventure for her, to work in the weird costume, hairstyle and makeup. During the shoot, she put herself in a meditative state and enjoyed it thoroughly. Her experience of being in South Island, New Zealand was mind blowing. Every day was amazing and peaceful. She was living on a turquoise lake in a cabin. It was surrounded by alpine trees and mountains with eagles flying overhead in the clear sky. Happiness was in the air and the people were so happy!
9:30 P.M. In the evening, she has a bath before bed. It’s a ritual for her. She’s a bathing professional. She has a wide range of several salts, beads, bubble baths, and oils. When she was in Provence a couple of summers ago, she got the exquisite pure lavender oil she loves using. Oprah spends a lot of time, energy and money in creating homes that nurture her and that are spiritual shelters for her. She also has a ranch in Maui, but this Promised Land is her all-time favorite. The trees, the land, and the open sky fortify her immensely. It is where she feels very connected to nature and her higher planes, that is next to impossible in the concrete jungle, in a city surrounded by buildings. Recently, when she traveled to Milwaukee, where she grew up, she kept asking herself, “Has it always been this gray?” Actually, she never noticed it then because she was always in a hurry going to work. Every day she left before daybreak and got home 14 hours later when it was dark. She never paid attention to the sky.
Her views of a perfect day
For her now, a perfect day is not just a single thing; it’s a series of small, insignificant things. It’s paying attention to every detail and aspect of the day and having a great appreciation for the little things like the crisp air on your face in the morning, the crystal clear reflection of mountains and clouds in a lake, the sun, the sky, feeling the touch of grass under your naked feet. It is this that actually adds up to that big thing called a meaningful life.
Oprah’s philosophy of life is, “Live the life of your dreams, your best life.”
Lessons from Oprah Winfrey
Her words of wisdom and practical advice to inspire the youth to attain success in life are listed below.
Take responsibility for your life and future
Focus on the small, positive happenings in your life. Don’t wait for your “big break.” Take one life-transforming step at a time. The path and the process are as important as the destination.
Declutter your life
This creates opportunities, creativity, and a sense of well-being. It helps you to get rid of the energy drains and chaos.
If you are thankful for what you have, then you’ll attract more. On the other hand, if you keep complaining about what you don’t have, you will never be happy.
Paying attention is the key
Take care to surround yourself with people who help you grow. Overcome adversary and become a benefactor to others.
Always have a desire to give to others and always be willing to give back. Use your life to make others’ lives better.
Refuse to abide by the judgments of others. Learn to love yourself and your work. Real integrity is doing the thing you know is right. Do your best in the present, live your life on your own terms.
Oprah Winfrey’s vision
Oprah Winfrey is a glorious example and living proof that the American dream is alive and well. This woman of many talents didn’t let poverty, sexual abuse, parental neglect or racism hold her back. She has turned her “wounds into wisdom,” as she was often quoted as saying.
She’s a media mogul with an expanded love for people; and a strong penchant for following her basic instincts has won the hearts of millions of Americans. She became a celebrity through her great impact and influence on people.
Oprah uses the power of media to change lives. She is acclaimed as a taste-maker who changes society’s mood. People who watch Oprah shows are easily affected by Oprah’s views and change even their own political opinions accordingly.
Though her appearance and looks have changed strikingly over the last two decades, her imprint on television is beyond comparison. She is a trend setter in the entertainment business. Her talk show has inspired all kinds of imitations.
Yet, to date, her personality, fans, wealth, fame and influence are matchless. Change is natural and also a necessity. Over the years Oprah has changed her behavior to be better. She stopped focusing on dysfunction and started emphasizing positive topics and people too learned from her positive attitude.
This practical shift has made her a media tycoon and cultural icon. Through the synergy of her talk show, Web site, book club, radio channel, magazine, personal growth tours, Facebook page, YouTube channel, and cable TV network, Winfrey as a shaper of American culture is not only the “The Queen of All Media” nor one of the most trusted brand names in America but also a billionaire on Forbes’s list of world billionaires. She refuses to rest on her past laurels.
Her focus and goals have always been to motivate and inspire others. She continues to set examples for the world to see, learn, and hopefully, follow.
Winfrey is the epitome of strength. When wildfires and mudslides damaged homes in her Montecito community in winter 2018, she proclaimed, “We’re going to do what we do. We’re going to come together and we’re going to do what great Americans do all the time. We’re going to help each other. We’re going to help each other out wherever needed”.
Her motivating words to those aspiring for success are, “You have to pay attention to your life, because it’s speaking to you all the time. No matter what you’re going through, you can still succeed.”
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