Winfrey, Oprah

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Winfrey, Oprah

Oprah Winfrey, 1954–, African-American television host, actress, and media magnate, b. Kosciusko, Miss., as Orpah Gail Winfrey, grad. Tennessee State Univ. (1976). She began her career as a Nashville radio reporter at age 17, worked in television news at 19, and moved (1976) to Baltimore to coanchor a news show. In 1977 she became cohost of a Baltimore morning chat show and in 1984 settled in Chicago to host another talk show. Her charm, easy manner, warmth, gift of gab, and unpretentious style earned the program an enthusiastic audience and soaring ratings. Soon the most popular local talk show, it was syndicated nationally in 1986, becoming the highest-rated such program, and ended only in 2011. Also a talented actress, Winfrey made her motion-picture debut in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple (1985), and a variety of other movie and television roles followed.

Winfrey subsequently built a media empire. In 1988 she established Harpo Studios, a production company responsible for numerous telefilms and movies, e.g., Beloved (1998, in which she starred). In an effort to promote reading, she founded (1996) Oprah's Book Club, which recommended books to her talk-show viewers and has produced spectacular best sellers, making her a force in American publishing. In 1999 she established Oxygen Media, which produces women's programs on cable television and the Internet, and in 2000 she joined with the Hearst Corp. in creating O: The Oprah Magazine, a monthly women's lifestyle publication. In a joint venture with the Discovery channels, she launched her own network, OWN (the Oprah Winfrey Network), in 2011. One of the country's wealthiest women (her estimated worth in the early 2000s was well over $1 billion), Winfrey is also an active philanthropist with a particular interest in women's and children's issues and education.

See B. Adler, ed., The Uncommon Wisdom of Oprah Winfrey: A Portrait in Her Own Words (1997); biographies by H. S. Garson (2004) and K. Kelley (2010); study by E. Illouz (2003).

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