36 Oprah Winfrey Facts: A Look at Her Life and Success

, Staff Writer
Updated January 15, 2021
Oprah Winfrey at the 2014 45th NAACP Image Awards
    Oprah Winfrey at the 2014 45th NAACP Image Awards used under Getty editorial license
    Kevin Winter / Getty Images Entertainment / Getty Images
    Used under Getty Images editorial license

Instantly recognizable from just her first name, Oprah is one of the most widely-known, wealthiest and beloved figures worldwide. From her less-than-privileged childhood to her remarkable career in the entertainment industry and beyond, Oprah Winfrey is an icon of the modern world. Get inspired by this selection of key Oprah Winfrey facts detailing her life and extraordinarily successful career.

Facts About Oprah's Education and Early Career

Oprah grew up poor, in very difficult circumstances. Oprah's roots in broadcasting trace back to her time in high school.

  • Oprah Winfrey spent some of her primary and secondary school years in public schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and some in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • At East Nashville High School, she fell in love with public speaking. She joined the speech team and won a scholarship to Tennesse State University, a historically black institution (HBCU).
  • Oprah also won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant when she was a 17-year-old high school student.
  • Oprah starting working in broadcasting while still in high school. She worked as an on-air newsreader for WVOL, a Nashville radio station.
  • She attended Tennessee State University in Nashville, where she studied Speech Communication and Performing Arts.
  • Oprah left college prior to graduating (she was one credit short). She returned and completed her degree in 1986.
  • In 1974, while still in college, Oprah became Nashville's first African American news co-anchor. She worked for CBS affiliate WLAC, which later became WTVF.
  • In 1976, she moved to Baltimore, Maryland to work as a reporter and anchor for WJZ-TV. This is where she met longtime friend Gayle King.

Oprah's Talk Show Days

After Oprah left Nashville, she remained in broadcasting and found her way to her calling as a talk show host.

  • While at WJZ in Baltimore, Oprah was moved from the anchor desk to other roles, eventually becoming co-host of the People Are Talking talk show.
  • That 1978 career move became a turning point in Oprah's career, as her gifts as a talk show host launched her to superstardom, not in Baltimore, but in Chicago.
  • In 1984, Oprah accepted a position with WLS-TV in Chicago to host a morning talk show called AM Chicago that had been struggling in the ratings.
  • With Oprah in front of the camera, AM Chicago climbed to the top of the ratings. A year later, the show's name was changed to The Oprah Winfrey Show.
  • In 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show was made available to a national audience and quickly became the most popular syndicated talk show in the United States.
  • In 1986, Oprah launched Harpo Productions, Inc. Within two years, full production responsibility for her talk show was transitioned to Harpo.
  • In 1987, Oprah won the Daytime Emmy for Oustanding Host of a daytime television program. The show also received Emmy awards for Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction. Many Emmy awards followed over the years.
  • In 1988, Oprah became the youngest person to ever receive the “Broadcaster of the Year” award from the International Radio and Television Society (IRTS).
  • When Harpo took over production of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1988, Oprah became the first woman to own and produce her own talk show.

Beyond the Oprah Winfrey Show

Oprah's achievements aren't limited to her groundbreaking talk show and broadcast journalism career.

  • Oprah ventured onto the big screen in 1985 by playing Sofia in The Color Purple. She received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her role in this film.
  • Oprah has numerous other film credits, both as an actress and a producer.
  • Oprah became a published author in 1998, with Journey to Beloved. She has published several additional titles, all of which are listed on her author page.
  • Oprah's philanthropic efforts are widely recognized. She has made significant donations to many causes, including scholarship programs.
  • In 2002, she established The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation, a no-cost residential school for talented girls in South Africa.
  • Oprah became a magazine publisher in 2000, when she launched O, The Oprah Magazine.
  • In 2003, Oprah became the world's first female Black billionaire.
  • In 2011, Oprah launched Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). The network began as a 50/50 joint venture between Harpo and Discovery Communications, Inc.
  • In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Oprah a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  • Discovery purchased a majority stake in OWN in 2017. Discovery purchased more shares in 2020; the company now owns 95% of OWN.
  • Following the buyout, Oprah continues in her role as OWN's chief executive officer (CEO) and chief creative officer.
  • In 2020, Oprah launched a new show on Apple TV, The Oprah Conversation.

Facts About Oprah's Personal Life

Life isn't all work for Oprah. Discover a few highlights of the media mogul's personal life.

  • Oprah and Gayle King have been best friends since the pair met in 1976.
  • While the pair is not married, Oprah and Steadman Graham have been a couple since 1986.
  • Oprah's primary residence is an enormous, 42-acre estate called "The Promised Land" in Montecito, California.
  • She owns multiple homes, including two more properties in Montecito and homes in Colorado, Hawaii and Washington State.
  • Throughout her career, Oprah has been very open about her battle with her weight. Not surprisingly, she now is a spokesperson for Weight Watchers.
  • Oprah Winfrey finds it really irritating when people chew or smack gum.
  • Oprah has said that her absolute favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Oprah Winfrey Facts Tell A Success Story

Oprah Winfrey is a true success story. Not only has she enjoyed a long and lucrative career, but she has also made many contributions to help improve life for people who are less fortunate. The Oprah Winfrey facts listed above are just a few of her many accomplishments. Discover a selection of inspirational sayings from Oprah Winfrey to learn more about her motivation and outlook on life and success.