Today’s Celebrity Spotlight shines on the life and career of Oprah Winfrey. Throughout her journey from her difficult childhood to becoming the richest African-American woman of the 20th century, this famous media mogul has proven time and time again that life is what you make it and anything is possible. (Image Credit: Bam Studios)
Oprah Winfrey’s life did not have an auspicious beginning. In fact, to say the tide was against her would be an understatement. She grew up in extremely poor neighborhoods in the South, alternating between the homes of her mother, father, and grandmother. During that time, not only did she battle poverty, she also endured sexual abuse. However, she persevered.
When living with her strict father, she developed her skill for academics. Her focus on education paid off. During her sophomore year of college, this future celebrity landed a job as co-anchor of the evening news in Nashville. Notably, she was the first female African-American to hold the position. Following that success, she moved to Baltimore after graduation to work on a morning news program. With her enjoyable personality and talent for conversation, the network soon switched her to a talk show. Impressively, the show was able to displace Phil Donahue in the ratings, although he was the title-holder in the format.
A Chicago Start
In 1984, Oprah Winfrey moved to Chicago to anchor a morning show that was low in the ratings. Just one year later, she had turned it around. And from then on, it was known as The Oprah Winfrey Show. Right out of the gate, the show gained national recognition. In fact, The Oprah Winfrey Show won the Emmy for the Best Talk Show in 1986. And notably, this now-famous celebrity was honored with the Emmy for Best Talk Show Host.
Building an Empire
From the beginning of The Oprah Winfrey Show, there was no stopping the star. The show ran for 25 seasons, won 47 Daytime Emmy Awards, featured countless interviews of Hollywood celebrities and notable personalities, and highlighted myriad intriguing human interest stories. But the show was just the beginning of this celebrity’s media empire. Many show segments were wildly successful and took on a life of their own.
For example, in an effort to encourage her viewers to read more, the famous star started Oprah’s Book Club which recommended a wide variety of books that she had enjoyed. It quickly became the world’s largest book club. And every year, fans looked forward to the release of Oprah’s Favorite Things, a list of carefully-curated items chosen specifically to bring joy! Despite the show’s end, these segments are still fans-favorites and continue in other media like O, The Oprah Magazine. First published in 2000, the content of the woman’s magazine is geared toward personal growth. And like all things Oprah, it has a phenomenal fan base!
But the star’s biggest triumph was the start of her own network, OWN. Created to replace Discovery Health Channel, OWN features a variety of scripted and non-scripted programming. Initially, the original shows capitalized on the celebrity’s connection to prolific writer, actor, and producer Tyler Perry. However, in recent years, the network has branched out to include other original programming, some of which are produced by the celebrity herself.
A Successful Hollywood Actress
While much of this celebrity’s fame comes from her media presence, she is also quite a skilled actress. Her first movie role was in The Color Purple (1985), a celebrated film by Steven Spielberg that tackles domestic violence, racism, and sexism. So impressive was her debut that she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
The Oprah Winfrey Show began the following year and did not leave the celebrity with much time to pursue acting. Though she did take major roles in some dramas and lent her voice to a few animated features. However, with her eponymous show now ended, she has taken more opportunities in Hollywood. One such role was as Mrs. Which in 2018’s movie adaptation of the young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time.
Some of the other notable television programs and movies on her resume include: The Women of Brewster Place (1989), Brewster Place (1990), Beloved (1998), The Princess and the Frog (2009), The Butler (2013), Selma (2014), Greenleaf (2016-2017), and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017).
A Philanthropic Celebrity
During the tenure of her show, Oprah Winfrey became synonymous with giving. Often, members of her studio audience would find themselves the recipient of surprise gifts. And these gifts were not mere trinkets. In fact, on the premiere of her 19th season, the celebrity gave every person in her audience a brand new car! Not only did this further endear Oprah Winfrey in the hearts of fans, it also coined the pop culture phrase “And you get a car!”
But even beyond her show, Oprah Winfrey built a reputation of philanthropy. Oftentimes, this giving star pioneers educational causes. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa is one such endeavor. Since opening for its first class in 2007, the school has received praise from students, parents, and international political leaders.
Oprah Winfrey is currently the face of Weight Watchers. Always honest about her struggles with weight and physical fitness, the partnership is a perfect fit. In fact, she believes in their process so much that she is a large financial investor in the brand. But Oprah’s quest to bring wellness to the masses isn’t stopping with point counting. In 2017, she started O, That’s Good!, her own line of healthy refrigerated and frozen foods. And not surprisingly, 10% of the proceeds get donated to charities that fight hunger!
But that’s not all that this celebrity powerhouse is up to. In 2018, she inked a deal with Apple to produce content for their upcoming streaming channel. No word on what programs we will see, but with Oprah Winfrey at the helm, we can expect great things!