Oprah Winfrey Wiki Article


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Oprah Winfrey Oprah Winfrey (born Orpah Gail Winfrey; January 29, 1954) is an American
media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Winfrey is best
known for her self-titled, multi-award-winning talk show, which has become the highest-rated
program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. She has been
ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century, the greatest black philanthropist
in American history, and was for a time the world's only black billionaire. She is also,
according to some assessments, the most influential woman in the world. Winfrey was born into
poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in an inner-city
Milwaukee neighborhood. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood, claiming to
be raped at age nine and becoming pregnant at 14; her son died in infancy. Sent to live
with the man she calls her father, a barber in Tennessee, Winfrey landed a job in radio
while still in high school and began co-anchoring the local evening news at the age of 19. Her
emotional ad-lib delivery eventually got her transferred to the daytime-talk-show arena,
and after boosting a third-rated local Chicago talk show to first place, she launched her
own production company and became internationally syndicated. Credited with creating a more
intimate confessional form of media communication, she is thought to have popularized and revolutionized
the tabloid talk show genre pioneered by Phil Donahue, which a Yale study claims broke 20th
century taboos and allowed LGBT people to enter the mainstream. By the mid 1990s, she
had reinvented her show with a focus on literature, self-improvement, and spirituality. Though
criticized for unleashing confession culture, promoting controversial self-help ideas, and
an emotion-centered approach she is often praised for overcoming adversity to become
a benefactor to others. From 2006 to 2008, her support of Barack Obama, by one estimate,
delivered over a million votes in the close 2008 Democratic primary race. Early life Winfrey
was originally named "Orpah" after the biblical character in the Book of Ruth, but her family
and friends "didn't know how to pronounce it", and called her "Oprah" instead. Winfrey
was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to an unmarried teenage mother. She later said that
her conception was due to a single sexual encounter and the couple broke up not long
after. Her mother, Vernita Lee (born c. 1935), was a housemaid. Winfrey had believed that
her biological father was Vernon Winfrey (born 1933), a coal miner turned barber turned city
councilman who had been in the Armed Forces when she was born. Decades later, Mississippi
farmer and World War II veteran Noah Robinson Sr. (born c. 1925) claimed to be her biological
father. A genetic test in 2006 determined that her maternal line originated among the
Kpelle ethnic group, in the area that today is Liberia. Her genetic make up was determined
to be 89 percent Sub-Saharan African, 8% Native American, and 3% East Asian; however, the
East Asian may, due to the imprecisions of genetic testing, actually be Native American
markers. After Winfrey's birth, her mother traveled north and Winfrey spent her first
six years living in rural poverty with her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee (April 15, 1900
– February 27, 1963), who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato
sacks, for which the local children made fun of her. Her grandmother taught her to read
before the age of three and took her to the local church, where she was nicknamed "The
Preacher" for her ability to recite Bible verses. When Winfrey was a child, her grandmother
would hit her with a switch when she did not do chores or if she misbehaved in any way.
At age six, Winfrey moved to an inner-city neighborhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with
her mother, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother had been, due in large
part to the long hours Vernita Lee worked as a maid. Around the time Winfrey moved in,
Lee had given birth to another daughter, Winfrey's younger half-sister, Patricia who later (on
February 2003, at age 43) died of causes related to cocaine addiction. By 1962, Lee was having
difficulty raising both daughters so Winfrey was temporarily sent to live with Vernon in
Nashville, Tennessee. While Winfrey was in Nashville, Lee gave birth to a third daughter.
Lee gave this daughter, later also named Patricia, up for adoption in the hope of easing the
financial straits that had led to Lee's being on welfare. Winfrey did not learn she had
a second half-sister until 2010. By the time Winfrey moved back in with Lee, Lee had also
given birth to a boy named Jeffrey, Winfrey's half-brother, who died of AIDS-related causes
in 1989. Winfrey has stated she was molested by her cousin, her uncle, and a family friend,
starting when she was nine years old, something she first claimed to her viewers on a 1986
episode of her TV show, when sexual abuse was being discussed. When Winfrey discussed
the alleged abuse with family members at age 24, they refused to accept what she said.
Winfrey once commented that she had chosen not to be a mother because she had not been
mothered well. At 13, after suffering years of abuse, Winfrey ran away from home. When
she was 14, she became pregnant, her son dying shortly after birth. She later said she felt
betrayed by the family member who had sold the story to the National Enquirer in 1990.
She began going to Lincoln High School; but after early success in the Upward Bound program,
was transferred to the affluent suburban Nicolet High School, where she says her poverty was
constantly rubbed in her face as she rode the bus to school with fellow African-Americans,
some of whom were servants of her classmates' families. She began to steal money from her
mother in an effort to keep up with her free-spending peers, to lie to and argue with her mother,
and to go out with older boys. Her frustrated mother once again sent her to live with Vernon
in Nashville, Tennessee, though this time she did not take her back. Vernon was strict
but encouraging, and made her education a priority. Winfrey became an honors student,
was voted Most Popular Girl, and joined her high school speech team at East Nashville
High School, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation. She won an oratory
contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, a historically
black institution, where she studied communication. Her first job as a teenager was working at
a local grocery store. At age 17, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant.
She also attracted the attention of the local black radio station, WVOL, which hired her
to do the news part-time. She worked there during her senior year of high school, and
again while in her first two years of college. Winfrey's career choice in media would not
have surprised her grandmother, who once said that ever since Winfrey could talk, she was
on stage. As a child she played games interviewing her corncob doll and the crows on the fence
of her family's property. Winfrey later acknowledged her grandmother's influence, saying it was
Hattie Mae who had encouraged her to speak in public and "gave me a positive sense of
myself". Working in local media, she was both the youngest news anchor and the first black
female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. She moved to Baltimore's WJZ-TV in 1976 to
co-anchor the six o'clock news. She was then recruited to join Richard Sher as co-host
of WJZ's local talk show People Are Talking, which premiered on August 14, 1978. She also
hosted the local version of Dialing for Dollars there as well. Television In 1983, Winfrey
relocated to Chicago to host WLS-TV's low-rated half-hour morning talk show, AM Chicago. The
first episode aired on January 2, 1984. Within months after Winfrey took over, the show went
from last place in the ratings to overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show in
Chicago. The movie critic Roger Ebert persuaded her to sign a syndication deal with King World.
Ebert predicted that she would generate 40 times as much revenue as his television show,
At the Movies. It was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, expanded to a full hour, and broadcast
nationally beginning September 8, 1986. Winfrey's syndicated show brought in double Donahue's
national audience, displacing Donahue as the number-one daytime talk show in America. Their
much publicized contest was the subject of enormous scrutiny. TIME magazine wrote: TV
columnist Howard Rosenberg said, "She's a roundhouse, a full course meal, big, brassy,
loud, aggressive, hyper, laughable, lovable, soulful, tender, low-down, earthy and hungry.
And she may know the way to Phil Donahue's jugular." Newsday's Les Payne observed, "Oprah
Winfrey is sharper than Donahue, wittier, more genuine, and far better attuned to her
audience, if not the world" and Martha Bayles of The Wall Street Journal wrote, "It's a
relief to see a gab-monger with a fond but realistic assessment of her own cultural and
religious roots." In the early years of The Oprah Winfrey Show, the program was classified
as a tabloid talk show. In the mid 1990s Winfrey then adopted a less tabloid-oriented format,
hosting shows on broader topics such as heart disease, geopolitics, spirituality and meditation,
interviewing celebrities on social issues they were directly involved with, such as
cancer, charity work, or substance abuse and hosting televised giveaways. In addition to
her talk show, Winfrey also produced and co-starred in the 1989 drama miniseries The Women of
Brewster Place, as well as a short-lived spin-off, Brewster Place. As well as hosting and appearing
on television shows, Winfrey co-founded the women's cable television network Oxygen. She
is also the president of Harpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards). On January 15,
2008, Winfrey and Discovery Communications announced plans to change Discovery Health
Channel into a new channel called OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network. It was scheduled to launch
in 2009, but was delayed, and actually launched on January 1, 2011. The series finale of The
Oprah Winfrey Show aired on May 25, 2011. In 1993, Winfrey hosted a rare prime-time
interview with Michael Jackson, which became the fourth most watched event in American
television history as well as the most watched interview ever, with an audience of 36.5 million.
On December 1, 2005, Winfrey appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote
the new Broadway musical The Color Purple, of which she was a producer, joining the host
for the first time in 16 years. The episode was hailed by some as the "television event
of the decade" and helped Letterman attract his largest audience in more than 11 years:
13.45 million viewers. Although a much-rumored feud was said to have been the cause of the
rift, both Winfrey and Letterman balked at such talk. "I want you to know, it's really
over, whatever you thought was happening", said Winfrey. On September 10, 2007, David
Letterman made his first appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as its season premiere
was filmed in New York City. In 2006, rappers Ludacris, 50 Cent and Ice Cube criticized
Winfrey for what they perceived as an anti-hip hop bias. In an interview with GQ magazine,
Ludacris said that Winfrey gave him a "hard time" about his lyrics, and edited comments
he made during an appearance on her show with the cast of the film Crash. He also claimed
that he wasn't initially invited on the show with the rest of the cast. Winfrey responded
by saying that she is opposed to rap lyrics that "marginalize women", but enjoys some
artists, including Kanye West, who appeared on her show. She said she spoke with Ludacris
backstage after his appearance to explain her position, and said she understood that
his music was for entertainment purposes, but that some of his listeners might take
it literally. In September 2008, Winfrey received criticism after Matt Drudge of the Drudge
Report reported that Winfrey refused to have Sarah Palin on her show allegedly due to Winfrey's
support for Barack Obama. Winfrey denied the report, maintaining that there never was a
discussion regarding Palin's appearing on her show. She said that after she made public
her support for Obama, she decided that she would not let her show be used as a platform
for any of the candidates. Although Obama appeared twice on her show, these appearances
were prior to his declaring himself a candidate. Winfrey added that Palin would make a fantastic
guest and that she would love to have her on the show after the election, which she
did on November 18, 2009. In 2009, Winfrey was criticized for allowing actress Suzanne
Somers to appear on her show to discuss hormone treatments that are not accepted by mainstream
medicine. Critics have also suggested that Winfrey is not tough enough when questioning
celebrity guests or politicians that she appears to like. Lisa de Moraes, a media columnist
for The Washington Post, stated, "Oprah doesn't do follow-up questions unless you're an author
who's embarrassed her by fabricating portions of a supposed memoir she's plugged for her
book club." Other media In 1985, Winfrey co-starred in Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple as
distraught housewife, Sofia. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
for her performance. The film went on to become a Broadway musical which opened in late 2005,
with Winfrey credited as a producer. In October 1998, Winfrey produced and starred in the
film Beloved, based on Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name. To prepare
for her role as Sethe, the protagonist and former slave, Winfrey experienced a 24-hour
simulation of the experience of slavery, which included being tied up and blindfolded and
left alone in the woods. Despite major advertising, including two episodes of her talk show dedicated
solely to the film, and moderate to good critical reviews, Beloved opened to poor box-office
results, losing approximately $30 million. While promoting the movie, co-star Thandie
Newton described Winfrey as "a very strong technical actress and it's because she's so
smart. She's acute. She's got a mind like a razor blade." In 2005, Harpo Productions
released a film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. The
made-for-television film was based upon a teleplay by Suzan-Lori Parks, and starred
Halle Berry in the lead female role. In late 2008, Winfrey's company Harpo Films signed
an exclusive output pact to develop and produce scripted series, documentaries and movies
for HBO. Oprah voiced Gussie the goose for Charlotte's Web (2006) and the voice of Judge
Bumbleden in Bee Movie (2007) co-starring the voices of Jerry Seinfeld and Renée Zellweger.
In 2009, Winfrey provided the voice for the character of Eudora, the mother of Princess
Tiana, in Disney's The Princess and the Frog and in 2010, narrated the US version of the
BBC nature program Life for Discovery. Winfrey has co-authored five books. At the announcement
of a weight loss book in 2005, co-authored with her personal trainer Bob Greene, it was
said that her undisclosed advance fee had broken the record for the world's highest
book advance fee, previously held by the autobiography of former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Winfrey
publishes magazines: O, The Oprah Magazine; from 2004 to 2008, Oprah also published a
magazine called O at Home. In 2002 Fortune called O, the Oprah Magazine the most successful
start-up ever in the industry. Although its circulation had declined by more than 10 percent
(to 2.4 million) from 2005 to 2008, the January 2009 issue was the best selling issue since
2006. The audience for her magazine is considerably more upscale than for her TV show, the average
reader earning well above the median for U.S. women. Winfrey's company created the Oprah.com
website to provide resources and interactive content relating to her shows, magazines,
book club, and public charity. Oprah.com averages more than 70 million page views and more than
six million users per month, and receives approximately 20,000 e-mails each week. Winfrey
initiated "Oprah's Child Predator Watch List", through her show and website, to help track
down accused child molesters. Within the first 48 hours, two of the featured men were captured.
On February 9, 2006, it was announced that Winfrey had signed a three-year, $55 million
contract with XM Satellite Radio to establish a new radio channel. The channel, Oprah Radio,
features popular contributors to The Oprah Winfrey Show and O, The Oprah Magazine including
Nate Berkus, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Bob Greene, Dr. Robin Smith and Marianne Williamson. Oprah
& Friends began broadcasting at 11:00 am ET, September 25, 2006, from a new studio
at Winfrey's Chicago headquarters. The channel broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week
on XM Radio Channel 156. Winfrey's contract requires her to be on the air 30 minutes a
week, 39 weeks a year. The 30-minute weekly show features Winfrey with friend Gayle King.
Personal life Winfrey currently lives on "The Promised Land", her 42-acre (170,000 m2)
estate with ocean and mountain views in Montecito, California. Winfrey also owns a house in Lavallette,
New Jersey; an apartment in Chicago, an estate on Fisher Island, Florida, a house in Douglasville,
Georgia; a ski house in Telluride, Colorado; and property on Maui, Hawaii and Antigua.
Her base during filming of Winfrey's show is Chicago, so she spends time in the neighborhood
of Streeterville. A self-described promiscuous teen who was a victim of sexual abuse, Winfrey
gave birth at the age of 14, to a boy who died shortly after. Winfrey's high school
sweetheart Anthony Otey recalled an innocent courtship that began in Winfrey's senior year
of high school, from which he saved hundreds of love notes; Winfrey conducted herself with
dignity and as a model student. The two spoke of getting married, but Otey claimed to have
always secretly known that Winfrey was destined for a far greater life than he could ever
provide. She broke up with him on Valentine's Day of her senior year. In 1971, several months
after breaking up with Otey, Winfrey met William "Bubba" Taylor at Tennessee State University.
According to CBS journalist George Mair, Taylor was Winfrey's "first intense, to die for love
affair". Winfrey helped get Taylor a job at WVOL, and according to Mair, "did everything
to keep him, including literally begging him on her knees to stay with her." Taylor however
was unwilling to leave Nashville with Winfrey when she moved to Baltimore to work at WJZ-TV
in June 1976. "We really did care for each other", Winfrey would later recall. "We shared
a deep love. A love I will never forget." In the 1970s, Winfrey had a romantic relationship
with John Tesh. Biographer Kitty Kelley claims that Tesh split with Winfrey over the pressure
of having an interracial relationship. When WJZ-TV management criticized Winfrey for crying
on the air while reporting tragedies and were unhappy with her physical appearance (especially
when her hair fell out as the result of a bad perm), Winfrey turned to reporter Lloyd
Kramer for comfort. "Lloyd was just the best", Winfrey would later recall. "That man loved
me even when I was bald! He was wonderful. He stuck with me through the whole demoralizing
experience. That man was the most fun romance I ever had."
According to Mair, when Kramer moved to NBC in New York, Winfrey had a love affair with
a married man who had no intention of leaving his wife. Winfrey would later recall: "I'd
had a relationship with a man for four years. I wasn't living with him. I'd never lived
with anyone—and I thought I was worthless without him. The more he rejected me, the
more I wanted him. I felt depleted, powerless. At the end I was down on the floor on my knees
groveling and pleading with him". Winfrey became so depressed that on September 8, 1981,
she wrote a suicide note to best friend Gayle King instructing King to water her plants.
"That suicide note had been much overplayed" Winfrey told Ms. magazine. "I couldn't kill
myself. I would be afraid the minute I did it; something really good would happen and
I'd miss it." According to Winfrey, her emotional turmoil gradually led to a weight problem:
"The reason I gained so much weight in the first place and the reason I had such a sorry
history of abusive relationships with men was I just needed approval so much. I needed
everyone to like me, because I didn't like myself much. So I'd end up with these cruel
self-absorbed guys who'd tell me how selfish I was, and I'd say 'Oh thank you, you're so
right' and be grateful to them. Because I had no sense that I deserved anything else.
Which is also why I gained so much weight later on. It was the perfect way of cushioning
myself against the world's disapproval." Winfrey later confessed to smoking crack cocaine with
a man she was romantically involved with during the same era. She explained on her show: "I
always felt that the drug itself is not the problem but that I was addicted to the man."
She added: "I can't think of anything I wouldn't have done for that man." Winfrey was allegedly
involved in a second drug-related love affair. Self-proclaimed former boyfriend Randoph Cook
claimed they lived together for several months in 1985 and did drugs. In 1997, Cook tried
to sue Winfrey for $20 million for allegedly blocking a tell-all book about their alleged
relationship. Also, in the mid 1980s, Winfrey briefly dated movie critic Roger Ebert, whom
she credits with advising her to take her show into syndication. In 1985 before Winfrey's
Chicago talk show had gone national, Haitian filmmaker Reginald Chevalier claims he appeared
as a guest on a look-alike segment and began a relationship with Winfrey involving romantic
evenings at home, candlelit baths and dinners with Michael Jordan and Danny Glover. Chevalier
claims Winfrey ended the relationship when she met Stedman Graham. Winfrey and her boyfriend
Stedman Graham have been together since 1986. They were engaged to be married in November
1992, but the ceremony never took place. Winfrey's best friend since their early twenties is
Gayle King. King was formerly the host of The Gayle King Show and is currently an editor
of O, the Oprah Magazine. Since 1997, when Winfrey played the therapist on an episode
of the sitcom Ellen in which Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet, Winfrey and King have
been the target of persistent rumors that they were gay. "I understand why people think
we're gay", Winfrey says in the August 2006 issue of O magazine. "There isn't a definition
in our culture for this kind of bond between women. So I get why people have to label it—how
can you be this close without it being sexual?" "I've told nearly everything there is to tell.
All my stuff is out there. People think I'd be so ashamed of being gay that I wouldn't
admit it? Oh, please." Winfrey has also had a long friendship with Maria Shriver after
they met in Baltimore. Winfrey considers Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird
Sings, her mentor and close friend; she calls Angelou her "mother-sister-friend" Winfrey
hosted a week-long Caribbean cruise for Angelou and 150 guests for Angelou's 70th birthday
in 1998, and in 2008, threw her "an extravagant 80th birthday celebration" at Donald Trump's
Mar-A-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. Born in rural poverty, then raised by a mother
on welfare in a poor urban neighborhood, Winfrey became a millionaire at age 32 when her talk
show went national. Winfrey was in a position to negotiate ownership of the show and start
her own production company because of the success and the amount of revenue the show
generated. At age 41, Winfrey had a net worth of $340 million and replaced Bill Cosby as
the only African American on the Forbes 400. Although black people are just under 13% of
the U.S. population, Winfrey has remained the only African American to rank among America's
400 richest people nearly every year since 1995. With a 2000 net worth of $800 million,
Winfrey is believed to be the richest African American of the 20th century. Due to her status
as a historical figure, Professor Juliet E.K. Walker of the University of Illinois created
the course "History 298: Oprah Winfrey, the Tycoon." Winfrey was the highest paid TV entertainer
in the United States in 2006, earning an estimated $260 million during the year, five times
the sum earned by second-place music executive Simon Cowell. By 2008, her yearly income had
increased to $275 million. Forbes' international rich list has listed Winfrey as the world's
only black billionaire from 2004 to 2006 and as the first black woman billionaire in world
history. According to Forbes, in September 2010 Winfrey was worth over $2.7 billion
and has overtaken former eBay CEO Meg Whitman as the richest self-made woman in America.
Influence Winfrey was called "arguably the world's most powerful woman" by CNN and Time.com,
"arguably the most influential woman in the world" by the American Spectator, "one of
the 100 people who most influenced the 20th Century" and "one of the most influential
people" from 2004 to 2011 by TIME. Winfrey is the only person in the world to have appeared
in the latter list on all eight occasions. At the end of the 20th century Life listed
Winfrey as both the most influential woman and the most influential black person of her
generation, and in a cover story profile the magazine called her "America's most powerful
woman". In 2007 USA Today ranked Winfrey as the most influential woman and most influential
black person of the previous quarter century. Ladies Home Journal also ranked Winfrey number
one in their list of the most powerful women in America and senator Barack Obama has said
she "may be the most influential woman in the country". In 1998 Winfrey became the first
woman and first African-American to top Entertainment Weekly's list of the 101 most powerful people
in the entertainment industry. Forbes named her the world's most powerful celebrity in
2005, 2007, 2008 and 2010 In 2010 Life magazine named Winfrey one of the 100 people who changed
the world, along side such luminaries as Jesus Christ, Elvis Presley and Lady Mary Wortley
Montagu. Winfrey was the only living woman to make the list. Columnist Maureen Dowd seems
to agree with such assessments: "She is the top alpha female in this country. She has
more credibility than the president. Other successful women, such as Hillary Clinton
and Martha Stewart, had to be publicly slapped down before they could move forward. Even
Condi has had to play the protegé with Bush. None of this happened to Oprah – she is
a straight ahead success story. Vanity Fair wrote: "Oprah Winfrey arguably has more influence
on the culture than any university president, politician, or religious leader, except perhaps
the Pope. Bill O'Reilly said: "this is a woman that came from nothing to rise up to be the
most powerful woman, I think, in the world. I think Oprah Winfrey is the most powerful
woman in the world, not just in America. That's – anybody who goes on her program immediately
benefits through the roof. I mean, she has a loyal following; she has credibility; she
has talent; and she's done it on her own to become fabulously wealthy and fabulously powerful.
In 2005 Winfrey was named the greatest woman in American history as part of a public poll
as part of The Greatest American. She was ranked No.9 overall on the list of greatest
Americans, however polls estimating Winfrey's personal popularity have been inconsistent.
A November 2003 Gallup poll estimated that 73% of American adults had a favorable view
of Winfrey. Another Gallup poll in January 2007 estimated the figure at 74%, although
it dropped to 66% when Gallup conducted the same poll in October 2007. A December 2007
Fox News poll put the figure at 55%. According to Gallup's annual most admired poll, Americans
consistently rank Winfrey as one of the most admired women in the world. Her highest rating
came in 2007 when she was statistically tied with Hillary Clinton for first place. In a
list compiled by the British magazine New Statesman in September 2010, She was voted
38th in the list of "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures 2010". The Wall Street Journal coined
the term "Oprahfication", meaning public confession as a form of therapy. By confessing intimate
details about her weight problems, tumultuous love life, and sexual abuse, and crying alongside
her guests, Time magazine credits Winfrey with creating a new form of media communication
known as "rapport talk" as distinguished from the "report talk" of Phil Donahue: "Winfrey
saw television's power to blend public and private; while it links strangers and conveys
information over public airwaves, TV is most often viewed in the privacy of our homes.
Like a family member, it sits down to meals with us and talks to us in the lonely afternoons.
Grasping this paradox, ...She makes people care because she cares. That is Winfrey's
genius, and will be her legacy, as the changes she has wrought in the talk show continue
to permeate our culture and shape our lives." Observers have also noted the "Oprahfication"
of politics such as "Oprah-style debates" and Bill Clinton being described as "the man
who brought Oprah-style psychobabble and misty confessions to politics." Newsweek stated:
"Every time a politician lets his lip quiver or a cable anchor 'emotes' on TV, they nod
to the cult of confession that Oprah helped create. Winfrey's disclosures about her weight
(which peaked at 108 kg (238 lb)) also paved the way for other plus-sized women in media
such as Roseanne Barr, Rosie O'Donnell and Star Jones. The November 1988 Ms. observed
that "in a society where fat is taboo, she made it in a medium that worships thin and
celebrates a bland, white-bread prettiness of body and personality [...] But Winfrey
made fat sexy, elegant – damned near gorgeous – with her drop-dead wardrobe, easy body
language, and cheerful sensuality."
While Phil Donahue has been credited with pioneering the tabloid talk show genre, Winfrey's
warmth, intimacy and personal confession, popularized and changed it. Her success at
popularizing of the tabloid talk show genre, had opened up a thriving industry that has
included Ricki Lake, The Jenny Jones Show, and The Jerry Springer Show. Sociologists
such as Vicki Abt criticized tabloid talk shows for redefining social norms. In her
book Coming After Oprah: Cultural Fallout in the Age of the TV talk show, Abt warned
that the media revolution that followed Winfrey's success was blurring the lines between "normal"
and "deviant" behavior. In the book Freaks Talk Back, Yale sociology professor Joshua
Gamson credits the tabloid talk show genre with providing much needed high impact media
visibility for gay, bisexual, transsexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and doing more
to make them mainstream and socially acceptable than any other development of the 20th century.
In the book's editorial review Michael Bronski wrote "In the recent past, lesbians, gay men,
bisexuals, and transgendered people had almost no presence on television. With the invention
and propagation of tabloid talk shows such as Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Oprah, and
Geraldo, people outside the sexual mainstream now appear in living rooms across America
almost every day of the week." Gamson credits the tabloid talk show with making alternative
sexual orientations and identities more acceptable in mainstream society. Examples include a
Time magazine article describing early 21st century gays coming out of the closet younger
and younger and gay suicide rates plummeting. Gamson also believes that tabloid talk shows
caused gays to be embraced on more traditional forms of media. Examples include sitcoms like
Will & Grace, primetime shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Oscar nominated feature
films like Brokeback Mountain. During a show in the 1980s, members of the studio audience
stood up one by one, gave their name and announced that they were gay in observance of National
Coming Out Day. Also in the 1980s Winfrey took her show to West Virginia to confront
a town gripped by AIDS paranoia because a gay man living in the town had HIV. Winfrey
interviewed the man who had become a social outcast and the town's mayor who drained a
swimming pool in which the man had gone swimming, and debated with the town's hostile residents.
"But I hear this is a God fearing town", Winfrey scolded the homophobic studio audience; "where's
all that Christian love and understanding?" During a show on gay marriage in the 1990s,
a woman in Winfrey's audience stood up to complain that gays were constantly flaunting
their sex lives and she announced that she was tired of it. "You know what I'm tired
of", replied Winfrey, "heterosexual males raping and sodomizing young girls. That's
what I'm tired of." Her rebuttal inspired a screaming standing ovation from that show's
studio audience. Winfrey promotes openly gay celebrities on her show, such as her hairdresser
Andre Walker, makeup artist Reggie Wells, and decorator Nate Berkus, who inspired an
outpouring of sympathy from middle America after grieving the loss of his partner in
the 2004 tsunami on the show. In April 1997, Winfrey played the therapist in "The Puppy
Episode" on the sitcom Ellen to whom the character (and the real-life Ellen DeGeneres) said she
was a lesbian. In 1998, Mark Steyn in the National Review wrote of Winfrey "Today, no
truly epochal moment in the history of the Republic occurs unless it is validated by
her presence. When Ellen said, 'Yep! I'm gay,' Oprah was by her side, guesting on the sitcom
as (what else?) the star's therapist." The power of Winfrey's opinions and endorsement
to influence public opinion, especially consumer purchasing choices, has been dubbed "The Oprah
Effect". The effect has been documented or alleged in domains as diverse as book sales,
beef markets, and election voting. Late in 1996, Winfrey introduced the Oprah's Book
Club segment to her television show. The segment focused on new books and classics, and often
brought obscure novels to popular attention. The book club became such a powerful force
that whenever Winfrey introduced a new book as her book-club selection, it instantly became
a best-seller; for example, when she selected the classic John Steinbeck novel East of Eden,
it soared to the top of the book charts. Being recognized by Winfrey often means a million
additional book sales for an author. In Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America
(2005), Kathleen Rooney describes Winfrey as "a serious American intellectual who pioneered
the use of electronic media, specifically television and the Internet, to take reading
– a decidedly non-technological and highly individual act – and highlight its social
elements and uses in such a way to motivate millions of erstwhile non-readers to pick
up books." When author Jonathan Franzen's book was selected for the Book Club, he reportedly
"cringed" and said selected books tend to be "schmaltzy". After James Frey's A Million
Little Pieces was found to contain fabrications in 2006, Winfrey confronted him on her show
over the breach of trust. In 2009, Winfrey apologized to Frey for the public confrontation.
During a show about mad cow disease with Howard Lyman (aired on April 16, 1996), Winfrey said
she was stopped cold from eating another burger. Texas cattlemen sued her and Lyman in early
1998 for "false defamation of perishable food" and "business disparagement", claiming that
Winfrey's remarks sent cattle prices tumbling, costing beef producers $11 million. On February
26, after a two month trial in an Amarillo, Texas court, a jury found Winfrey and Lyman
were not liable for damages. During the lawsuit, Winfrey hired Phil McGraw's company Courtroom
Sciences, Inc. to help her analyze and read the jury. McGraw made such an impression on
Winfrey that she invited him to appear on her show. He accepted the invitation and appeared
regularly on The Oprah Winfrey Show before launching his own show, Dr. Phil, created
in 2002 by Winfrey's production company, Harpo Productions, in partnership with CBS Paramount,
which produced the show. Winfrey's ability to launch other successful talk shows such
as Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Rachael Ray has also been cited as examples of "The Oprah Effect".
Winfrey endorsed presidential candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election, the
first time she endorsed a political candidate running for office. Winfrey held a fundraiser
for Obama on September 8, 2007, at her Santa Barbara estate. In December 2007, Winfrey
joined Obama for a series of rallies in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire,
and South Carolina. The Columbia, South Carolina event on December 9, 2007, drew a crowd of
nearly 30,000, the largest for any political event of 2007. An analysis by two economists
at the University of Maryland, College Park estimated that Winfrey's endorsement was responsible
for between 423,123 and 1,596,995 votes for Obama in the Democratic primary alone, based
on a sample of states that did not include Texas, Michigan, North Dakota, Kansas, or
Alaska. The results suggest that in the sampled states, Winfrey's endorsement was responsible
for the difference in the popular vote between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The governor
of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, reported being so impressed by Winfrey's endorsement that
he considered offering Winfrey Obama's vacant senate seat describing Winfrey as "the most
instrumental person in electing Barack Obama president", with "a voice larger than all
100 senators combined". Winfrey responded by stating that although she was absolutely
not interested, she did feel she could be a senator. In 2002, Christianity Today published
an article called "The Church of O" in which they concluded that Winfrey had emerged as
an influential spiritual leader. "Since 1994, when she abandoned traditional talk-show fare
for more edifying content, and 1998, when she began 'Change Your Life TV', Oprah's most
significant role has become that of spiritual leader. To her audience of more than 22 million
mostly female viewers, she has become a post-modern priestess—an icon of church-free spirituality."
The sentiment was echoed by Marcia Z. Nelson in her book The Gospel According to Oprah.
Since the mid 1990s, Winfrey's show has emphasized uplifting and inspirational topics and themes
and some viewers claim the show has motivated them to perform acts of altruism such as helping
Congolese women and building an orphanage. A scientific study by psychological scientists
at the University of Cambridge, University of Plymouth, and University of California
used an uplifting clip from the Oprah Winfrey Show in an experiment that discovered that
watching the 'uplifting' clip caused subjects to become twice as helpful as subjects assigned
to watch a British comedy or nature documentary. On the season premier of Winfrey's 13th season
Roseanne Barr told Winfrey "you're the African Mother Goddess of us all" inspiring much enthusiasm
from the studio audience. The animated series Futurama alluded to her spiritual influence
by suggesting that "Oprahism" is a mainstream religion in 3000 AD. Twelve days after the
September 11 attacks, New York mayor Rudy Guliani asked Winfrey to serve as host of
a Prayer for America service at New York city's Yankee stadium which was attended by former
president Bill Clinton and New York senator Hillary Clinton. Leading up to the U.S.-led
2001 invasion of Afghanistan, less than a month after the September 11 attacks Winfrey
aired a controversial show called "Islam 101" in which she portrayed Islam as a religion
of peace, calling it "the most misunderstood of the three major religions". In 2002, George
W. Bush invited Winfrey to join a US delegation that included adviser Karen Hughes and Condoleezza
Rice, planning to go to Afghanistan to celebrate the return of Afghan girls to school. The
'Oprah strategy' was designed to portray the war on terror in a positive light, however
when Winfrey refused to participate, the trip was postponed. Leading up to the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq, Winfrey's show received criticism for allegedly having an anti-war
bias. Ben Shapiro of Townhall.com wrote: "Oprah Winfrey is the most powerful woman in America.
She decides what makes the New York Times best-seller lists. Her touchy-feely style
sucks in audiences at the rate of 14 million viewers per day. But Oprah is far more than
a cultural force, she's a dangerous political force as well, a woman with unpredictable
and mercurial attitudes toward the major issues of the day." In 2006, Winfrey recalled such
controversies: "I once did a show titled Is War the Only Answer? In the history of my
career, I've never received more hate mail – like 'Go back to Africa' hate mail. I
was accused of being un-American for even raising the question." Liberal filmmaker Michael
Moore came to Winfrey's defence, praising her for showing antiwar footage no other media
would show and begging her to run for president. A February 2003 series, in which Winfrey showed
clips from people all over the world asking America not to go to war, was interrupted
in several east coast markets by network broadcasts of a press conference in which President George
W. Bush and Colin Powell summarized the case for war. In 2007, Winfrey began to endorse
the self-help program The Secret. The Secret claims that people can change their lives
through positive thoughts or 'vibrations', which will then cause them to attract more
positive vibrations that result in good things happening to them. Peter Birkenhead of Salon
magazine argued that this idea is pseudoscience and psychologically damaging, as it trivializes
important decisions and promotes a quick-fix material culture, and suggest Winfrey's promotion
of it is irresponsible given her influence. In 2007, skeptic and magician James Randi
accused Winfrey of being deliberately deceptive and uncritical in how she handles paranormal
claims on her show. In 2008 Winfrey endorsed author and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle
and his book, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, which sold several million
extra copies after being selected for her book club. During a Webinar class, in which
she promoted the book, Winfrey stated "God is a feeling experience and not a believing
experience. If your religion is a believing experience [...] then that's not truly God."
Frank Pastore, a Christian radio talk show host on KKLA, was among the many Christian
leaders who criticized Winfrey's views, saying "if she's a Christian, she's an ignorant one,
because Christianity is incompatible with New Age thought." Winfrey was named as the
2008 Person of the Year by animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
(PETA) for using her fame and listening audience to help the less fortunate, including animals.
PETA praised Winfrey for using her talk show to uncover horrific cases of cruelty to animals
in puppy mills and on factory farms, and Winfrey even used the show to highlight the cruelty-free
vegan diet that she tried. Winfrey also refuses to wear fur or feature it in her magazine.
In 2009 Winfrey filmed a series of interviews in Denmark highlighting its citizens as the
happiest people in the world. In 2010 Bill O'Reilly of Fox News criticized these shows
for promoting a left-wing society. The viewership for The Oprah Winfrey Show was highest during
the 1991-1992 season, when about 13.1 million U.S. viewers were watching each day.  By
2003 ratings declined to 7.4 million daily viewers. Ratings briefly rebounded to approximately
9 million in 2005 and then declined again to around 7.3 million viewers in 2008, though
it remained the highest rated talk show. In 2008, Winfrey's show was airing in 140 countries
internationally and seen by an estimated 46 million people in the US weekly. According to the
Harris poll, Winfrey was America's favorite television personality in 1998, 2000, 2002–2006,
and 2009. Winfrey was especially popular among women, Democrats, political moderates, Baby
Boomers, Generation X, Southern Americans and East Coast Americans. Outside the U.S.,
Winfrey has become increasingly popular in the Arab world. The Wall Street Journal reported
in 2007 that MBC 4, an Arab satellite channel, centered its entire programming around reruns
of her show because it was drawing record numbers of female viewers in Saudi Arabia.
In 2008 the New York Times reported that The Oprah Winfrey Show, with Arabic subtitles,
was broadcast twice each weekday on MBC 4. Winfrey's modest dress, combined with her
triumph over adversity and abuse has caused some women in Saudi Arabia to idealize her.
Oprah has furthered her reputation for generosity through gifts. In 2004, every person in her
Oprah show audience was given a new car (donated by General Motors). Some 302 "ultimate fans"
accompanied Oprah to Australia (donated by Australian tourism bodies). In Australia,
Oprah gave away $1 million worth of computer gear to a needy school (donated by IBM and
Hewlett Packard). She gave away $250,000 to a cancer sufferer and his family (donated
by Xbox). She gave away 6000 pearl necklaces (donated by West Australian pearl producer
MG Kailis) and 6000 diamond pendants (donated by Rio Tinto). In 1998, Winfrey created the
Oprah's Angel Network, a charity that supported charitable projects and provided grants to
nonprofit organizations around the world. Oprah's Angel Network raised more than $80,000,000
($1 million of which was donated by Jon Bon Jovi). Winfrey personally covered all administrative
costs associated with the charity, so 100% of all funds raised went to charity programs.
The charity stopped accepting donations in May 2010 and was later dissolved. Winfrey's
show raises money through promotion of her public charity and she personally donates
more of her own money to charity than any other performer in America. In 2005 she became
the first black person listed by Business Week as one of America's 50 most generous
philanthropists, having given an estimated $303 million as of 2007. Winfrey was the
32nd most philanthropic. She has also been repeatedly ranked as the most philanthropic
celebrity. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Oprah created the Oprah Angel Network Katrina
registry which raised more than $11 million for relief efforts. Winfrey personally gave
$10 million to the cause. Homes were built in Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama
before the one year anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Winfrey has also helped
250 African-American men continue or complete their education at Morehouse College in Atlanta,
Georgia. Winfrey was the recipient of the first Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2002
Emmy Awards for services to television and film. To celebrate two decades on national
TV, and to thank her employees for their hard work, Winfrey took her staff and their families
(1065 people in total) on vacation to Hawaii in the summer of 2006. Main article: Oprah
Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls In 2004, Winfrey and her team filmed an episode of
her show, Oprah's Christmas Kindness , in which Winfrey travelled to South Africa to
bring attention to the plight of young children affected by poverty and AIDS. During the 21-day
trip, Winfrey and her crew visited schools and orphanages in poverty-stricken areas,
and distributed Christmas presents to 50,000 children, with dolls for the girls and soccer
balls for the boys, and school supplies. Throughout the show, Winfrey appealed to viewers to donate
money to Oprah's Angel Network for poor and AIDS-affected children in Africa. From that
show alone, viewers around the world donated over $7,000,000. Winfrey invested $40 million
and some of her time establishing the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Henley
on Klip south of Johannesburg, South Africa. The school set over 22 acres, opened in January
2007 with an enrollment of 150 pupils (increasing to 450) and features state-of-the-art classrooms,
computer and science laboratories, a library, theatre and beauty salon. Nelson Mandela praised
Winfrey for overcoming her own disadvantaged youth to become a benefactor for others. A
minority of critics considered the school elitist and unnecessarily luxurious. Winfrey,
who has no surviving biological children, described maternal feelings towards the girls
at Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls: Winfrey teaches a class at the school via
satellite.