Today, Forbes estimates Winfrey’s net worth at $3 billion, and she is the only black woman on the publication’s list of the 400 richest people in America.
Before she became a media mogul and the queen of daytime TV, Winfrey suffered a tumultuous childhood.
She was shuffled between family members, spending her first few years on her grandmother’s farm in rural Mississippi while her unwed teenage mom looked for work, according to the Academy of Achievement.
When her grandmother fell ill, 6-year-old Winfrey was sent to live with her mother in a Milwaukee boarding house, where she would not only grow up around extreme poverty, but also endure years of sexual and physical abuse.
She was raped for the first time at age 9 by her 19-year-old cousin, writes Oscar Bamwebaze Bamuhigire in his book “The Healing Power of Self Love.” It would be the first of several episodes.
At age 14, Winfrey broke free and went to live with her dad in Nashville, Tennessee, where her success would start to take course.
Her dad provided direction, discipline, and a sense of structure that Winfrey had never known, according to the Academy of Achievement. The stable and education-centered environment he created allowed her to thrive academically and socially at East Nashville High School, where she became an honor roll student and was voted the most popular girl in her class.
It was at East Nashville High where she would discover her passion for media. She joined the speech team and worked for a local black radio station after school.
By her senior year she had secured a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She left college early, however, at age 19 to pursue a career in media.
Her gamble paid off.
She became the first black female news anchor before the age of 20 in Nashville, starting with a few gigs as a local anchor before landing a co-anchor position in Baltimore. She was sexually harassed and humiliated at her job in Baltimore, according to DailyWorth, but didn’t need to quit — she was fired seven and a half months after joining.
Winfrey didn’t stay down for long. She landed a gig hosting the then-stagnant morning talk show, “AM Chicago.”
Within a few months, Winfrey turned “AM Chicago” from the lowest-rated talk show in Chicago to the highest-rated one, writes the Academy of Achievement. Three years later the show would be renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
She made a savvy, career-transforming move in 1986 when she founded Harpo Productions and negotiated ownership of the “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which brought in $300 million a year during its peak. Her company later produced lucrative spinoff shows, including “Dr. Phil” and “Rachael Ray.”
While best known for her award-winning talk show, Winfrey has also been involved in films, television series, and plays. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 1985 drama “The Color Purple.”
She also published her own magazine, The Oprah Magazine; started a radio channel, Oprah Radio; and most recently partnered with Discovery Communications to launch a cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Now 61, Winfrey has a lifestyle that she could only have dreamed of during her traumatic childhood.
She flies in her own $42 million, custom-designed Global Express XRS jet.
Her impressive real-estate portfolio includes a $52 million estate in Montecito, California, which she nicknamed “The Promised Land;” a 15,000-square-foot duplex in Chicago; a farmhouse in Kula, Hawaii; 63 acres of land near Maui’s Hamoa Beach; a vacation home on the shores of Antigua; a shore home in Lavallette, New Jersey; a ski villa in Telluride, Colorado; and a home in Douglasville, Georgia.
She even has her own street: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley renamed the blocks in front of Harpo Studios “Oprah Winfrey Way.”
Winfrey also has given millions of dollars to charity, mostly directed towards three foundations: The Angel Network, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and The Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation.
Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty, was raped at age 9 and 13, ran away from home, and gave birth at 14 to a son who died soon after, but she still went on to become the world’s 1st African-American billionaire.