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Oprah Winfrey Biography

Elaine J. Hom, BusinessNewsDaily Contributor

From humble beginnings, Oprah Winfrey has gone on to become a business leader and entrepreneur.

Oprah Winfrey is the highest-paid performer on television, the richest self-made woman in America, and the richest African-American of the 20th century. Under her production company, Harpo Productions, Winfrey has become a television pioneer, an editorial director, a producer and actress, a satellite radio producer, a Broadway producer, and philanthropist. As of February 2013, Winfrey's net worth is $2.7 billion.

While Winfrey's life has not been easy (Winfrey was sexually abused for years as a child by numerous male relatives and family friends), she has become a hero and icon to women with her perseverance and hard work. "The big secret in life is that there is no big secret," she said. "Whatever your goal, you can get there if you're willing to work." Much of Winfrey's success has come from her self-reliance and willingness to work around the clock.

In 1986, Winfrey launched the "Oprah Winfrey Show" as a nationally syndicated talk show. Placed on 120 channels and with an audience of 10 million people, the show grossed $125 million by the end of its first year. Winfrey used her success to champion causes close to her heart, including a campaign to create a national database of convicted child abusers. She testified before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of the National Child Protection Act, and President Clinton signed the "Oprah Bill" into law in 1993, creating the national database.

Key to success

Winfrey took her success and branched out with new entertainment ventures that went far beyond talk-show programming. Taking on this many ventures could be risky for any company. But Winfrey's personal philosophy and vision for her brand have helped line up numerous successful undertakings, in addition to her incredibly successful show. According to Winfrey, the key to success is living in the moment and knowing who you, as both a person and a business, really are. "My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your life but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment," she said. "As you become more clear about who you really are, you'll be better able to decide what is best for you, the first time around."

In 1999, she co-founded Oxygen Media, a company dedicated to producing programming for women. Her monthly magazine, O: The Oprah Magazine debuted in 2000 to much success, followed by a second magazine, O at Home. Twenty years after her Academy Award-nominated movie debut in The Color Purple, Winfrey produced the Tony Award-winning hit musical based on the movie. She continued working and hosting the show before deciding to end her contract after 24 seasons and being aired in more than 100 countries.

After the show ended, Winfrey focused her efforts on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a joint venture with Discovery Communications. The network made headlines in 2013 when it aired an exclusive interview between Winfrey and disgraced athlete Lance Armstrong, in which Armstrong came clean about performance-enhancing substances. The interview helped legitimize Winfrey's presence post-Oprah Winfrey Show and proved that she is still a major player in the broadcasting business.

Down-to-earth style

As an entrepreneur, Winfrey is known for her down-to-earth style and easygoing nature in her interactions with fans and her business dealings. While she has amassed quite the fortune, she has made it a point to remain a professional businesswoman who hasn't forgotten her humble roots. "Though I am grateful for the blessings of wealth, it hasn't changed who I am," she says. "My feet are still on the ground. I'm just wearing better shoes."

Much of Winfrey's success has been channeled into her philanthropic efforts. Under her, Oprah's Angel Network has raised more than $80 million for charitable programs, including building schools, creating scholarships, and helping families in need. Winfrey also opened the $40 million-plus Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

Despite her wealth, Winfrey is known for her integrity in both her business decisions and personal life choices. "Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody's going to know whether you did it or not," she said. In the '90s, when television was going the route of trashy tabloids and exploitative topics, Winfrey vowed to produce only quality programming designed to help the mind, body, and spirit – and stuck to it. When fraud was alleged of one of her book club picks, she had the author on the show to confront his deceit. When allegations of abuse emerged at the school Winfrey helped found in South Africa emerged, she publicly apologized to the parents of the children and gave all of the students her personal telephone number, her email address, and her mailing address so that they could contact her if needed. This kind of integrity helped viewers feel more connected to her and helped build a loyal following.

Another passion of Winfrey's was fit living and weight loss. Her personal weight loss struggles became a focal point of her show as she lost an estimated 90 pounds and competed in the Marine Corps Marathon in 1995. Thanks to Winfrey's openly publicized weight loss success, her personal chef, Rosie Daley, and trainer, Bob Greene, published best-selling books. Through the next 15 years, Winfrey continued to struggle with her weight. "Getting my lifelong weight struggle under control has come from a process of treating myself as well as I treat others in every way," she said. By using her personal struggle to highlight a common struggle for all women, Winfrey was able to launch another lucrative part of her career. Winfrey co-authored a book on weight loss, which received a publisher's advance fee reported to be the highest in history.

Giving a boost

Daley and Greene were not the only ones to benefit from Winfrey's success. Dr. Phil McGraw and Dr. Mehmet Oz were frequent guests on her show, and now have shows of their own, produced by Harpo Productions. When Winfrey launched "Oprah's Book Club" in 1996, the publishing world got a huge boost. Her selections became instant bestsellers, helping many unknown authors, and viewers across America discovered a newfound love for reading. In 1999, the National Book Foundation awarded her the 50th anniversary gold medal for her service to books and authors. 

Winfrey resides with her fiancé, Stedman Graham, in her Montecito, Calif., home, which she paid $50 million for in 2001. Dubbed "The Promised Land," the property has been customized to match her style. Winfrey also owns property in Chicago, New Jersey, Florida, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, and Antigua.

Oprah Winfrey quotes

"I define joy as a sustained sense of well-being and internal peace - a connection to what matters."

"I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become."

"If you want your life to be more rewarding, you have to change the way you think."

"Every time you state what you want or believe, you're the first to hear it. It's a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don't put a ceiling on yourself."

"Before you agree to do anything that might add even the smallest amount of stress to your life, ask yourself: What is my truest intention? Give yourself time to let a yes resound within you. When it's right, I guarantee that your entire body will feel it."

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