Oprah was born to a single mother and grew up in poverty, spending some time living at her grandmother’s home in Mississippi while her mother worked. Eventually, she was sent to live with her biological father, Vernon, in Tennessee, who was strict with her but also pushed her to do her best. In this environment, Oprah thrived and became an honor student who won prizes and excelled in class.
After winning the Miss Black Tennessee pageant at the age of 17, she was offered a job at a radio station while still in high school, and she continued to work there for her first couple years in college. And so, her career in media began.
In 1976, she moved to Baltimore, MD and accepted a position as a co-anchor at WJZ-TV News. Unfortunately, she was fired, being seen as “unfit for television news” and too emotionally invested in her stories by the producer. He did offer her a position on a daytime show, People Are Talking, where she did work until January 1984, when she moved to Chicago to accept a position as a host for a morning program on WLS-TV. By 1985, she had turned the half-hour morning show from terrible ratings to one of the best shows in the area. It was then renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, which would become a sensation for years to come. In fact, it initially followed a business model of other talk shows, but Oprah had her own plan for the show. She believed the focus should be on self-help and spiritual living instead of gimmicks through exaggerated stories. And, needless to say, it worked.
Her efforts are not just for-profit companies though; she is also well-known for her philanthropy. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a girls-only boarding school in South Africa that provides educational opportunities they not otherwise have. She has invested $40 million into the academy and continues to work with the philanthropy to help the young women in Africa.
How Did Oprah Get Rich?
The self-made media mogul did not have an easy start, and she still continues to work hard to this day. Oprah’s net worth is currently $3.2 billion, much of which can be attributed to her television shows, both as the host and producer, throughout the years. (Yes, you read that correctly.) She is one of the richest women in the world and also helped to start the careers of individuals like Rachel Ray and Dr. Phil. By taking ownership of her show and then starting her own production company, Oprah was able to capitalize on the wealth The Oprah Winfrey Show was generating. Her production company produced numerous spinoff shows for popular guests on her program, – specifically Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil, and Rachael Ray. Her business also diversified into producing other media like movies, magazines, and radio shows.
In less than ten years, Oprah’s net worth ballooned to $340 million, and she surpassed Bill Cosby as the wealthiest African-American. In 2006, Oprah was the highest-compensated TV personality in the U.S., gaining an estimated $260 million in earnings that year. In addition to her multiple sources of income, her philanthropy and television personalities she’s helped launch, Oprah’s net worth is also greatly enhanced by her real estate and holdings in public companies. She owns a home that she refers to as the “Promised Land.” She spends most of her time there but also owns an apartment in Chicago, a house in New Jersey, an estate in Florida, a ski house in Colorado, a house in Douglasville, Georgia and land on Maui, Hawaii and Antigua. In addition, in 2015 Oprah purchased 10% ownership of Weight Watchers International, Inc. – currently worth approximately $78 million
The Oprah Winfrey Show ended May 25, 2011.
Malignant Narcissist or Entrepreneurial Humanitarian?
Like many public figures, Oprah draws her fair share of criticism. In 2010 famous biographer Kitty Kelly penned a trashy, gossipy, salacious and scandalous biography on Oprah. In it she alleged that Oprah’s claims of being molested as a youth were questionable, that Oprah was rejected by a past boyfriend for being African American and that Oprah’s youth was marked by a heavy flirtation with drugs. Kelly also claims that Oprah is narcissistic – demanding that her staff open bags of popcorn to cover the smell of jet fuel while Oprah is traveling. While unflattering, Kelly’s information is accurate. The book is backed up by about 850 interviews with close associates of Oprah – including the celebrities father and other family members. Readers of Kelly’s biography say it makes you “feel a bit dirty”. The book retails for $30.00 on Amazon. Get a copy of Oprah: A Biography here.
Photo: Flickr: Vic