Oprah is one of those people who doesn’t even need a surname. Her face may be one of the most famous and recognizable today — and as she already said, “she can’t remember the last time she met someone who didn’t know who she was.”
Born Orpah Gail Winfrey (that’s her real name, no typo) in the small town of Kosciusko, Mississippi in 1954, her young parents couldn’t raise her, so she grew up with her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee.
While her mother went up north to find work and make money, grandma Hattie taught many things to Oprah when she was a little girl. At 5, she went to kindergarten but quickly moved to the first grade due to her ability to read and write well.
When Oprah’s grandmother got sick, she was sent north to live with her mother and her half-sister in a boarding house in Milwaukee. When she turned 7, a year later, she was sent to live with her stepmother and father in Nashville.
She settled in Nashville, skipped a grade again, and got involved with the church — she happened to start showing her ability with public speaking.
At 9-years-old, Oprah went on to visit her mother and her now two siblings. She decided to stay with them. That’s when she had her first experience with sexual abuse. The TV mogul tells when she was babysitting her siblings she was molested by her 19-years-old cousin.
As time went by, she suffered other rapes from a family friend and her uncle. At 14-years, Oprah became pregnant. The girl kept all the sexual abuse to herself and externalized it in other ways — through stealing, skipping school and running away.
Until it got to a point that her mother couldn’t handle anymore. Without knowing what was going on with her daughter, she sent Oprah back to her father’s watchful eyes, back in Nashville.
The teen girl managed to hide her pregnancy from everyone until she took the courage to tell her father on the very same day she went into labor. The baby, however, didn’t survive and died in the hospital two weeks later. Oprah wrote in her magazine in 2007:
“I was so ashamed, I hid the pregnancy until my swollen ankles and belly gave me away.”
At the time, she hit rock bottom and she said she intended to kill herself:
“I thought there’s no way other than killing myself. I was just planning on how to do it. If I’d had the Internet, I might not be alive because now you can just Google how to do it.”
In recent years, the TV host said that she carried the guilty and the shame for so many years about her miscarriage. In 1990 her family sold the story to a tabloid for $19,000, which devastated her.
Her father told his daughter that the miscarriage was her “second chance,” which made Oprah shift her perception. She started to see it as an opportunity to leap and she took those words as a personal mantra in which she believes helped her to achieve the level of success she’s currently at.
Despite all the hardship, her father provided her a loving and safe home. It’s hard to believe that the suicidal and pregnant teen was able to turn her life around, but it turns out she did.
Being part of beauty pageants contests would later make her comfortable with the public eye. She went on to win the title of Miss Black Tennessee in 1972 at 17.
She got used to being on stage and made it to television very quickly. Oprah became the first African American woman as a news anchor in Nashville.
At the young age of 19 years old, she found her work for life. In another article on her website, she compared being in front of the cameras with breathing. Moved by her strong drive and intuition, her astronomical career at television has just begun.
From Channel 5, Oprah got the attention of executives from all over the country. At the time, she moved to Baltimore and worked as an evening news anchor alongside Jerry Turner. Unfortunately, as she said, her memories of Jerry Turner aren’t “very fond ones.”
In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, she revealed that Turner would try to embarrass her whenever he could:
“At every chance, he could get, he would embarrass me or, like, try to make me feel bad about where I went to school. That’s when I first learned that, oh, where you went to school is an important thing”
Turner’s teasing opened the opportunity that Oprah needed. She switched from evening to morning television, but this time she got the co-host role on a talk show, called “People Are Talking.”
A talk show job opened in Chicago in 1984 and Oprah landed host chair at the “AM Chicago.” Her audience numbers were so impressive that she surpassed the legend Phil Donahue and in 1985, the show was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Due to her astronomical success, she didn’t want to lose sight of her vision over fame. In 1988, she founded Harpo Studios, her own production company.
And because she is just a passionate, driven and determined woman, she kept going all in. Against all odds, she took the bold decision to end up “The Oprah Winfrey Show” at its best performance to dedicate herself to another project, The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
It took a while to develop into its full potential, and according to her, she made a lot of mistakes and often asked herself if ending her show was the best decision. But as she learned early on with her father, instead of looking at it as a problem, she looked at it as another opportunity.
Among many other projects such as her Book Club, acting, producing, TV Host, one of her favorite activities is to give back to people. Oprah found her own charity organization in which she’s already raised over $51-million for many causes.