Oprah Winfrey

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Real Name: Oprah Gail Winfrey
Birthday: January 29, 1954 
Birth Place: Kosciusko, Mississippi
Education: East Nashville High School, Nashville, TN, 1971


Commanding. Motivating. Compassionate. These are just a few of the words that can be used to describe talk show celebrity Oprah Winfrey. With all her success, money and awards and honors, the Academy Award nominated actress is known for her good heart and hope for change. She grew out of poverty and abuse to become a leading campaigner for change, and in 2007 opened "The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls" in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

Oprah Winfrey was born on Jan. 19, 1954 in Kosciusko, Missippi to unmarried parents Vernita Lee and Vernon. Her grandmother, Hattie Mae, raised her on a Mississippi farm with no indoor plumbing, nothing to eat, and old worn out cloths.  But she was able to read the Bible, sing and speak publicly in church by the time she was six years old. 

Four years later, Oprah moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her mother. It was while living in this inner city ghetto, living a terrible existence with molestation and rape from a cousin, an uncle and a family friend. It began when she was only nine years old and continued through her teen years. 

Oprah always had big dreams, even as a young lady fresh out of college. She wanted to be a movie star and celebrity. Despite the poor odds, at the age of 19 she became Nashville’s first female, and black television news anchor for WTVF–TV. 

After Winfrey left WTVF–TV, she moved to Baltimore's WJZ–TV to co–anchor the evening news. She was a natural on television. She then made the move to the bigger market in Chicago, Illinois in 1984, hosting the morning show “A.M. Chicago.” Within a year, it had been extended to a one–hour talk format and was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” 

It would be the start of her media and entertainment empire. In 1986, the show became the highest–rated talk show in television history. Three years later, she created "Harpo Productions, Inc.", her own production company and a highlight in her life.

Oprah Winfrey received an Academy Award nomination for her movie debut as the abused Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple” (1985), based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning book. Winfrey followed as the mother of an accused murderer in “Native Son” (1996), starring Matt Dillon, and produced and starred in the television miniseries, “The Women of Brewster Place” (1989).. Both movies were produced at her Chicago movie studio and television production complex. Winfrey then took the role of a Chicago housing project resident determined that her children would receive an education in the television movie “There Are No Children Here” (1993). 

Even as her projects outside of show explored the troubles she faced growing up, as well as current events that needed awareness – from Hurricane Katrina to childhood obesity – it was her own show where she created a technique of reaching out to millions of people. At the start 1998, Winfrey started “change your life television,” featuring self–help segments led by John Gray, Suze Ormond and others, as well as a daily segment on getting in touch with one's spirit. That year, she also won her seventh Emmy Award for “Outstanding Talk Show Host.”

Oprah Winfrey was becoming one of the most powerful celebrities in Hollywood!

One of her goals was to get America reading again, and she encouraged book sales by starting “Oprah's Book Club,” a segment of her show that started in 1996. New books became instant bestsellers. Her show was not without problems, when her selection of James Frey’s supposed memoir "A Million Little Pieces" was exposed as a work of lies. In 2006, the upset host had Frey on her show to apologize to the American public.

Another popular segment was her “Oprah’s Favorite Things” shows, which aired around Thanksgiving and took home the show’s best ratings. Oprah is known  to give gifts to her entire audience, giving appliances, computers, diamonds, even cars. Winfrey gave a new twist to gift giving in 2006 when a “Pay It Forward” challenge was given to the audience, where each member of the audience received $1,000 worth of gift cards to donate to charity. 

The tabloids and Hollywood press also love her. She was the target on several issues, from weight to homosexuality. When Winfrey was called a celebrity who lost “the battle of being overweight,” she lost 60 pounds and got in shape through personal training and good nutrition – even showing a wheelbarrow filled with 60 pounds of fat to show how much weight she had lost. Another rumor was that Oprah was in a lesbian relationship with her best friend Gayle King. Both women claimed their relationship was a special bond between two straight women. She then focused on current issues involving homosexuals, from the AIDS crisis to teens who struggled with coming out of the closet. 

Oprah then tried her hand at producing by signing deals with ABC and Disney. The first project for ABC was “Oprah Winfrey Presents Before Women Had Wings” (1997), a television movie where she starred as a woman who gives help to a child running away from an alcoholic home, and the 1998 miniseries “The Wedding” starring Halle Berry, and based on Dorothy West’s novel about a rich black family living on Martha's Vineyard. 

For the 1999 season, Winfrey produced “David and Lisa,” featuring Sidney Poitier, and “Tuesdays with Morrie,” from the book by Mitch Albom. She then took a starring role in the film version of Toni Morrison's Pulitzer prize winning book “Beloved” with Danny Glover (1998), where she portrayed a slave haunted by the ghost of the child she murdered.

A celebration of Black history and women was the focal point of her television special “Legends Weekend” (2005). Filmed at her home in Montecito, California, she invited 25 living legends of history, literature and the arts, to honor their contributions to society. Poet and writer Maya Angelou, novelist Alice Walker, and the late Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King were among the guests. 

Oprah started "Oprah’s Angel Network" in 1988 to aid poor families and raised over $80 million dollars so far, as well as raising money for victims of natural and manmade disasters – from the families of 9/11 to those effected by Hurricane Katrina - she gave $10 million of her own money to the hurricane victims. In 2005, "Business Week" listed her as one of the Top 50 Most Generous Philanthropists, the first African-American ever.

Winfrey also helped start the television careers of Dr. Phil McGraw, whose appearances on her show led to McGraw's own show “Dr. Phil” (2002– ), and served as the producer of chef Rachael Ray’s talk show (2006– ).

As a producer of television movies, Winfrey always cast big name celebrities in key roles, with Elizabeth Shue starring in the coming of age drama “Amy & Isabelle” (2001), and Academy Award winner Halle Berry starring in “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (2005), based on the novel by Zora Neale Hurston. In 2006, Oprah lent her voice talents to the animated comedy "Charlottes Web" with Julia Roberts, the classic tale of Wilbur the pig who is scared of the end of the season, because he knows that come that time, he will end up on the dinner table. He hatches a plan with Charlotte, a spider that lives in his pen, to ensure that this will never happen.

Building on her voice recognition, Oprah Winfrey worked in the Jerry Seinfeld animated comedy "Bee Movie" (2007) with Renee Zellweger, about a bee who has just graduated from college, and is disillusioned at his lone career choice: making honey. On a special trip outside the hive, Barry's life is saved by Vanessa, a florist in New York City. As their relationship blossoms, he discovers humans actually eat honey, and subsequently decides to sue them.

Her latest television venture was the 2008 "makeover" series "Your Money Or Your Life" (2008), a television series where a family facing a crisis is aided by an "action team" who moves in to provide the family with a total makeover.



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