Oprah Winfrey turns 65 on Jan. 29, 2019! In celebration of her big birthday, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at her life in photos. From her humble beginnings in Mississippi to her media mogul success, keep reading to see some of Oprah's most iconic moments…
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Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954 in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother, Vernita Lee. Raised primarily by her grandmother and mother, Oprah struggled as a child and grew up in poverty. She was sexually abused during her childhood and became pregnant when she was only 14 years old. Her son was born prematurely and died shortly after birth. Despite her difficulties, Oprah prevailed as a teen and young adult…
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As an adolescent, Oprah Winfrey was sent to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey, in Nashville, where she excelled. She became an honors student, was voted most popular girl at school and joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation. She also competed in various pageants, winning Miss Fire Prevention in 1971 (pictured here). Oprah also won an oratory contest, winning herself a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She also later took home first place in the Miss Black Tennessee pageant.
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After graduating from Tennessee State University, Oprah Winfrey became the first black female news anchor at Nashville's WLAC-TV. She went on to co-anchor "Eyewitness News" on WJZ in Baltimore, Maryland, and host WJZ's local talk show "People Are Talking." She is shown here in a headshot for WJZ in 1978.
In 1984, Oprah Winfrey moved to Chicago and began hosting the low-rated morning news show "AM Chicago." But it soon became a huge success just a few short months after Oprah's takeover. "AM Chicago" overtook "Donahue" as the highest rated talk show in Chicago and Oprah's star continued to rise.
One year later, Oprah Winfrey starred in Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple." Although she had virtually no acting experience, she was a natural. She earned rave reviews from critics and audiences and "The Color Purple" went on to become a beloved classic.
Oprah Winfrey received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for best supporting actress for her performance as distraught housewife Sofia in "The Color Purple." She's pictured here at the 1986 Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills.
On the heels of her acting success, Oprah Winfrey achieved another great feat. Her show, "AM Chicago," was renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show," expanded to a full hour and broadcast nationally. The syndicated show brought in double competitor Phil Donahue's national audience, taking over as the No. 1 daytime talk show in America in 1986. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" would go on to become the highest rated daytime talk show in American television history.
Oprah Winfrey also found love in 1986. She began dating businessman and author Stedman Graham after meeting him at a charity event in Chicago. They became engaged in 1992 but have still never wed. Oprah is pictured here planting a kiss on her love outside a New York City restaurant in June 1987.
In 1987, Oprah Winfrey won the first of many Emmys for her work on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Her talk show went on to win a whopping 47 Daytime Emmy Awards before the media giant decided to stop submitting her show for consideration in 2000.
In 1988, Oprah had what she called her worst interview experience ever. She sat down with Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor, who refused to answer any questions about her personal life. Instead, Liz gave short, terse responses. "That's kind of hard to do when you're Elizabeth Taylor and you've been married seven times," Oprah shared on her website years later. "It's still painful to watch. For many reasons — including my bad hair." Liz later apologized to Oprah and the two sat down for another, more open interview in 1992. The pair are shown here in 2002.
Oprah Winfrey also made headlines in 1988 for her dramatic weight loss. On the episode "Diet Dreams Do Come True," she opened up about her weight — wheeling out a wagon full of fat to represent the 67 pounds she lost on the Optifast diet. She also rocked a now-famous pair of size 10 Calvin Klein jeans to show off her slim figure. Oprah later called the moment her "ego in a pom pom salute." She's seen here just a few days after the infamous episode with her partner, Stedman Graham.
In 1990, Oprah Winfrey became a full-fledged businesswoman. She launched her own production company, Harpo Studios. "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was filmed at her TV production studio on the West Side of Chicago from then on, and Harpo Studios grew to encompass Harpo Films, Harpo Radio and Harpo Print, LLC, over the years. Today, the company is known as Harpo Productions.
In February 1993, Oprah Winfrey solidified her status as the greatest interviewer ever when she snagged a primetime interview with international superstar Michael Jackson. The King of Pop was at the top of his game at the time, having performed at the Super Bowl just days before. He also had not given an interview in 14 years. The episode went on to become the most watched interview ever, as well as the fourth-most watched event in American TV history, with an audience of 36.5 million.
Through her many years of success, Oprah Winfrey has had a close confidante by her side (and we're not talking about Stedman Graham). Gayle King is Oprah's closest gal pal and the two have been inseparable since they met in 1976. In fact, the two are so close that the public have long speculated that they're lovers. Both ladies have denied any type of romantic relationship and their close bond still stands today. While speaking to Barbara Walters in 2010, Oprah referred to Gayle as "the mother I never had. She is the sister everybody would want. She is the friend that everybody deserves. I don't know a better person. I don't know a better person." Oprah, Gayle and Stedman are pictured here at the Daytime Emmys in 1994.
In 1988, Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in the film "Beloved," which is based on Toni Morrison's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. She promoted the movie heavily on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" but "Beloved" bombed at the box office. The film showcased Kimberly Elise and Thandie Newton early in their acting careers. Thandie told Vogue at the time that Oprah was "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 2000, Oprah Winfrey expanded into publishing: She launched her own magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, and established Harpo Print, LLC. The magazine was an instant success with 2.7 million copies circulated. Today, the publication reaches 2.3 million readers. Fun fact: Oprah has appeared on the cover of every issue since its inception. She's pictured here at the O, The Oprah Magazine launch party in New York City.
Oprah Winfrey also gave her bestie, Gayle King, a professional alley-oop around this time. Oprah named Gayle the editor-at-large for O, The Oprah Magazine — a title she still holds to this day. The twosome are shown here at the first anniversary party for the magazine in April 2001.
In 2002, Oprah Winfrey expanded the Harpo Productions business with the launch of "Dr. Phil." Clinical and forensic psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw had been a frequent guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" over the years and soon developed a fan base of his own. Oprah saw an opportunity and created "Dr. Phil," a talk show hosted by Phil. The show still airs today and was renewed in 2018 for an additional six seasons.
In 2003, all of Oprah Winfrey's hard work and business savvy paid off. Forbes magazine named her the first black woman billionaire in the world. Today, Oprah (seen here at the 2003 Annual National Salute to Black Achievers in Industry) has doubled her fortune: She has an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion.
"YOU get a car! And YOU get a car!" Officially a billionaire, Oprah decided to give back some of that wealth to her beloved fans. In 2004, Oprah famously gifted her "The Oprah Winfrey Show" audience with brand new Pontiac G6 sedans, each valued at $28,500. The giveaway would go down in pop culture as one of Oprah's most iconic moments.
The car giveaway was soon overshadowed by an ever bigger pop culture moment: the Tom Cruise interview. In 2005, the actor famously appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and proceeded to jump on Oprah's couch and shout his love for then-girlfriend Katie Holmes. "He's gone! He's gone! The boy is gone," Oprah said at the time. Tom later called the incident, "My year of jumping dangerously."
Oprah Winfrey continued to grow her businesses in 2006, launching Oprah Radio on SiriusXM and producing "The Rachael Ray Show" starring celebrity chef Rachael Ray. Oprah Radio was shut down in 2015 after Sirius decided not to renew the deal, but "The Rachael Ray Show" continues to thrive.
One year later, Oprah Winfrey opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a boarding school for girls in grades 8 to 12 in South Africa. Inspired by a discussion she had with Nelson Mandela in 2000, Oprah began working on plans for a school in 2002. The school's inaugural class of 72 girls graduated in 2011.
In 2008, Oprah Winfrey stepped outside of her comfort zone, formally endorsing and campaigning for a political candidate for the first time in her public career. She threw her support behind then-presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama. Her influence is credited with turning the tide of the Democratic primary, helping the politician secure the popular vote to beat rival Hillary Clinton. In fact, the University of Maryland, College Park estimates that Oprah's endorsement was responsible for 420,000 to 1.6 million votes for Obama in the primary. As we all know, President Obama went on to win the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
All good things must come to an end. In 2009, Oprah Winfrey announced that she would be ending her talk show in 2011 following its 25th season and launching her own network, The Oprah Winfrey Network, better known as OWN. She is pictured here interviewing Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon during a live taping of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in New York City in September 2009.
Oprah Winfrey made sure to go out with a bang! In December 2010, she pulled off the ultimate final season giveaway, surprising 300 audience members with an eight-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Sydney, Australia for a series of special episodes. Oprah is shown here with some of her lucky fans during a tour of Uluru, Australia.
Oprah Winfrey also managed to interview President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during her final season — her first-ever interview with a sitting president and first lady. Barack made sure to compliment America's favorite host during the interview, saying, "You've got a big heart, and you share it with people. Nobody knows how to connect better than you do. We are just blessed and grateful to have you in our lives." Awww!
In May 2011, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" officially came to an end after 25 seasons. A two-part farewell special was recorded at the United Center in Chicago in front of an audience of 13,000. Aretha Franklin, Tom Cruise, Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Beyoncé, Tom Hanks, Maria Shriver, Will Smith, and Madonna all made appearances. The final episode was a smaller event, recorded in the West Side TV studio, and broadcast nationwide. In fact, the finale was so monumental it was shown in movie theaters and became the highest rated episode in more than 17 years. Oprah is shown here at the United Center in tears as she concludes her run as America's No. 1 talk show host.
After saying farewell to "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Oprah officially launched her own network, The Oprah Winfrey Network, in 2011. OWN struggled to find its footing in its first few years as it dealt with low ratings and engagement, but it eventually started to thrive with hit shows like "Iyanla: Fix My Life" and "The Haves and the Have Nots."
In November 2013, Oprah Winfrey was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The honor was presented by Oprah's good friend, President Barack Obama, making the moment that much more special. The pair are pictured here in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Oprah Winfrey has accomplished something very few in Hollywood ever pull off: a long-lasting relationship. in 2016, Oprah and Stedman Graham celebrated 30 years together as loving partners. The couple never married, a decision Oprah credits with keeping their relationship together. "Live life on your own terms," she told Vogue about her partnership. "The only time I brought [marriage] up was when I said to Stedman, 'What would have happened if we had actually gotten married?' And the answer is: 'We wouldn't be together.' We would not have stayed together, because marriage requires a different way of being in this world. His interpretation of what it means to be a husband and what it would mean for me to be a wife would have been pretty traditional, and I would not have been able to fit into that."
OWN truly flourished in 2016 when Oprah began working with Ava Duvernay and Craig Wright. "Queen Sugar," created and produced by Ava, premiered on OWN that September. The series received critical acclaim for its imagery and acting and "Queen Sugar" fans gave OWN some of its highest ratings ever. The show was also recognized for featuring female directors for every episode of the series. Craig's "Greenleaf" premiered in June 2016 and also gained a huge following of devoted fans.
Oprah Winfrey started 2018 with a major win. She was honored with the Golden Globes' Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement and gave a riveting speech that brought many to tears. "So I want tonight to express gratitude to all the women who have endured years of abuse and assault, because they — like my mother — had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue," Oprah said. "In my career, what I've always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave: to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome. And I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning — even during our darkest nights."
The same year, Oprah Winfrey picked up acting once again, starring in Ava Duvernay's "A Wrinkle in Time" alongside Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling. The sci-fi flick underperformed at the box office, only grossing $132 million worldwide, but was celebrated for its message of diversity and female empowerment.
In May 2018, Oprah Winfrey showed just how regal she is. The media mogul attended the breathtaking royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, now known as Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Amazing!
Next up, Oprah Winfrey (seen here speaking during the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in South Africa in December 2018) is wading back into the political world… as an interviewer. The former talk show host is scheduled to interview a possible 2020 presidential candidate, former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, in February 2019. We all saw what the Oprah influence did for President Obama…