The Oxford Biblical Studies Online and Oxford Islamic Studies Online have retired. Content you previously purchased on Oxford Biblical Studies Online or Oxford Islamic Studies Online has now moved to Oxford Reference, Oxford Handbooks Online, Oxford Scholarship Online, or What Everyone Needs to Know®. For information on how to continue to view articles visit the subscriber services page.

Related Content

Related Overviews


More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • History
  • Regional and National History


Show Summary Details


Oprah Winfrey

(b. 1954) American chat-show host and film actress

Quick Reference

(1954– )

Black US chat-show host, actress, and producer who was the highest-paid entertainer in the USA in 1997.

Born on a farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to unmarried teenage parents, Oprah Winfrey was raised in poverty by her grandmother. After moving to Milwaukee to live with her mother in the mid-1960s, she was sexually abused and raped by relatives and had a baby at the age of fourteen. Her child died soon after, and Winfrey went to live with her father in Nashville.

Having graduated with a degree in speech and performing arts from Tennessee State University, in 1977 Winfrey joined WJZ-TV television station as co-anchor on the news programme; the following year she became co-host of a chat show, People Are Talking. In 1984 she moved to WLS-TV to host A. M. Chicago. Her spontaneity and sincerity – together with her willingness to talk openly about her own problems, including her battle against obesity – put guests at their ease. Such was the success of her approach that in 1985 the show was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and quickly gained a reputation for tackling the controversial issues previously avoided by daytime television. In 1986 Winfrey founded and became owner and producer of Harpo Productions, gaining complete control over her show. By 1997 The Oprah Winfrey Show had millions of regular viewers in over a hundred countries and had won three Emmy Awards.

In 1985 Winfrey made her big-screen debut in Spielberg's The Color Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker, and received an Academy Award nomination. She has also acted in the films Native Son (1986), Throw Momma from the Train (1987), and Beloved (1998; from the novel by Toni Morrison), as well as starring in the US television mini-series The Women of Brewster Place (1989). She has published an autobiography, Oprah (1993), and a diet book, In the Kitchen with Rosie (1996).

Reference entries