The Untold Truth Of Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey is, without a doubt, one of the most influential Americans out there, and she has been for decades. The talk show host-turned media mogul has led a storied life, making a name for herself as a creator, a philanthropist, and the boss of her own network. Without her presence on television for years, the pop culture landscape would have looked very different, as she all but created hew own brand of entertainment.


Although Oprah may be one of the few celebs who's known simply by one name (think Madonna, Beyoncé, Prince, and Bono, for example), she's still a mortal human being just like the rest of us — okay, a human with three sprawling homes in Santa Barbara (via Town & Country). But if there's one person who deserves riches and happiness, it's Oprah.

So what else is there to know about the queen of talk shows? How come Oprah never got married? And what was she like before all of the fame and fortune? This is the untold truth of Oprah Winfrey.

Oprah Winfrey is the richest Black woman in the world

Who do you think about when you conjure the wealthiest people in the world in your mind? Certainly Jeff Bezos would be a contender, given that he's worth a whopping $184 billion; Elon Musk is even richer than Bezos now, as he's worth $185 billion as of January 2021, according to CNBC. We can't even begin to wrap our minds around how much money that truly is, as it just seems impossible to imagine having even a fraction of that.


But don't sleep on Oprah Winfrey, as she's literally the richest Black woman on the globe, with a net worth of $2.7 billion as of 2020, as noted by Yahoo! Finance. She also held the title of richest Black person in the world during the 20th century, after becoming the first-ever Black multi-billionaire in North America. That's quite the accomplishment!

When it comes to distributing her riches, Oprah doesn't disappoint; she's been dubbed "the greatest Black philanthropist in American history." Clearly Oprah knows how to give back, and she does it early and often — though Oprah still enjoys her wealth and leads a lavish lifestyle too. She deserves to, after all!

Oprah Winfrey was born into poverty

Oprah Winfrey may be a billionaire several times over today, but that's certainly not how things started out for the media mogul — far from it. As noted by The Guardian, Oprah was born on Jan. 29, 1954, "into the poorest possible circumstances." Her parents were unmarried teenagers, housemaid Vernita Lee and soldier Vernon Winfrey. During her earliest years, Oprah lived with her grandmother, often wearing clothing sewn out of potato sacks and having bugs as pets. She even had a doll that was fashioned from a dried corn cob, showing how little Oprah had access to as a child.


As to how going from literal rags to abundant riches impacted her, you may be tempted to think that Oprah has forgotten where she's from. But on a 2001 episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, she proved that she owns every part of her identity, including her impoverished upbringing. "Being a person who has come from an outhouse and very poor circumstances, I can assure you that the more money you get, it really doesn't change you unless you're the kind of person who is defined by money," she proclaimed. Wise words.

Oprah Winfrey is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse

One thing that Oprah Winfrey has been open about that you might have missed is that she's a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. According to The Guardian, it started when she was just 9 years old, when she moved from Mississippi to live with her mother in Milwaukee. There she was raped by a cousin, as well as sexually abused by other family members and family friends. How absolutely horrific.


In 1991, Winfrey spoke to The Washington Post about her the abuse, which was a devastating betrayal of trust. "The last time I was sexually molested was by my uncle," she revealed. "And I adored this uncle. Just adored him. And I could not, in my mind, up until two weeks ago, make him be the bad guy."

For a long time, Oprah believed that the abuse was her fault — that's what her uncle told her, after all — but years later she understands that he was culpable, and she was innocent. "Now I know what I have been saying for years, and that is: children are never to blame," she added. Talk about bravery.

From an early age, Oprah Winfrey was a gifted orator

While Oprah Winfrey has a tough childhood marked by poverty and abuse, that doesn't mean it was devoid of joy. In fact, Oprah proved herself to be quite the talent by the tender age of 3, when she was already able to read. Oprah showcased that talent at church, where she would deliver religious recitations on stage. "And all the sisters sitting in the front row would fan themselves and turn to my grandmother and say, 'Hattie Mae, this child is gifted,'" she recalled in an interview with the Academy of Achievement. "And I heard that enough that I started to believe it."


While Oprah wasn't exactly sure what "gifted" meant, she was made to feel special when she would perform for those around her. "So anytime people came over, I'd recite. I'd recite Bible verses and poetry," she continued, adding, "And people would say, 'Whew, that child can speak!' And so that's, you know, whatever you do a lot of, you get good at doing it." And that's how Oprah wound up pursuing a career in broadcasting years later.

Oprah Winfrey almost became a teacher

While Oprah Winfrey was very clearly destined to have a career in the media, she did have another aspiration when she was young. "For a while, I wanted to be a school teacher," she told the Academy of Achievement. "In the fourth grade, Mrs. Duncan was my greatest inspiration." Part of that was because Mrs. Duncan nurtured Oprah's innate speaking talents and helped Oprah learn how to have real confidence. That was despite her classmates making fun of her and calling her "preacher," thanks to her sermon-like speeches.


Mrs. Duncan left such a mark on Oprah that she had her as a guest on her show back in the early '90s on an episode that featured "favorite teachers." That day, Oprah found herself in tears. "First of all, it was the first time that I realized that Mrs. Duncan had a name other than Mrs. Duncan," she continued. "You know, your teachers never have names." When Oprah discovered Mrs. Duncan's first name was Mary, she said, "I couldn't believe it." Never underestimate the power of a good teacher!

Oprah Winfrey championed the National Child Protection Act of 1991

In 1991, Oprah Winfrey made a big move: She went to Washington, D.C. to champion the National Child Protection Act, as noted by The Washington Post. There, she testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, advocating for legislation that "would create a national registry of convicted child abusers, so that day-care centers could run background checks on prospective employees." And that legislation was drafted by a major Chicago law firm that Oprah herself hired to do so.


Oprah was clear in front of the committee that the act would protect children from predators, something clearly near and dear to her heart. "I am committed to using all of my will to follow through on this legislation, and on the issue of child abuse," she told the committee. "I intend to make this my second career." 

Oprah spent a considerable amount of money bringing the National Child Protection Act of 1991 from idea to a reality, but in her heart she knew it was the right thing to do. Then-President Bill Clinton signed the nicknamed "Oprah Bill" into law on Dec. 20, 1993, as noted by

Oprah Winfrey received an honorary doctorate... twice

Given all that Oprah Winfrey has accomplished in her life, it's not surprising to learn that she's been given an honorary doctorate. However, what is a little bit of a shock is that Oprah was bestowed such an eminent distinction not once, but twice! 


First, Duke University awarded Oprah with an honorary doctorate back in 2009, as noted by Duke Today. Naturally, Oprah had some humble wisdom for that year's graduates. "Of all of the wonderful things that have happened to me, including receiving an honorary degree from Duke — you really haven't completed that circle of success unless you have helped someone else to move forward," she declared in her commencement speech.

Then in 2013, the elite Harvard University also conferred the honor upon Oprah, who was clearly tickled to receive it. "Not too many girls from rural Mississippi have made it all the way here to Cambridge," she explained in her speech, as reported by USA Today. "I consider today to be a defining milestone." We do too, Oprah — congrats on the well-deserved degrees!


Oprah Winfrey was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

The year 2013 was clearly a banner one for Oprah Winfrey. The reason? In addition to receiving an honorary doctorate from Harvard, Oprah was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-president Barack Obama. According to the White House website, Oprah was given the medal for her impactful and long-running talk show, her philanthropic endeavors, and the opportunities she created for girls and women. "In more than 4,500 episodes of her show, her message was always, 'you can — you can do, and you can be, you can grow, and it can be better,'" Obama shared during the ceremony. "And she was living proof, rising from childhood poverty and abuse to the pinnacle of the entertainment universe."


Previously, Oprah has received other high honors, such as the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award in 2002 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. Honestly, we love to see it.

This is why Oprah Winfrey never married Stedman Graham

One thing you might not know about Oprah Winfrey is that she's been in a committed partnership for decades with author and businessman Stedman Graham. The pair got engaged all the way back in the early '90s, but that's where things get a little complicated. "In 1993, the moment after I said yes to his proposal, I had doubts," Oprah penned in an article in O, The Oprah Magazine. "I realized I didn't actually want a marriage. I wanted to be asked." 


It's not that Oprah and Graham don't love each other — it's so obvious that they do — but marriage just isn't what works best for their unique partnership. "I wanted to know he felt I was worthy of being his missus, but I didn't want the sacrifices, the compromises, the day-in-day-out commitment required to make a marriage work," Oprah continued. "My life with the show was my priority, and we both knew it." She added that had they gone through with getting married, they likely wouldn't have lasted.

Oprah also explained that Graham is more than just "Oprah's man," as he's a prolific author and educator.

This is how Oprah Winfrey got into the talk show business

When Oprah Winfrey started her career in the media, she was a news anchor in Nashville and then in Baltimore. But as Oprah tells it, she wasn't very good, and she nearly lost her job. "So when I was called in and put on the edge of being fired, and certainly demoted, and knew that firing was only a couple weeks away, I was devastated," she lamented in an interview with the Academy of Achievement. "I was 22 and embarrassed by the whole thing because I had never failed before."


But with this failure came a new opportunity for Oprah, one that changed her life. "Because they had no place else to put me, they put me on a talk show in the morning," she continued. After trying that role out, she said she realized this was where she wanted her career to go, noting it was "like breathing to me." The rest, as they say, is history.

Oprah Winfrey has also starred in movies

While Oprah Winfrey really got rich and famous thanks to her talk show career, she's also appeared in films and television shows as an actress. Notably, she was in The Color Purple, Beloved, Selma, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and A Wrinkle in Time, to name just a few (via IMDb).


Acting is something that Oprah loves because it transports her outside of her own individuality. "For me, the turn-on is the ability to express another person's life," she told the Academy of Achievement. "If you can internalize, and then manifest externally, the essence of another being, that is the ultimate in understanding."

Oprah also appreciates being able to get to know other people in an intense and transformative way while acting, as it allows the actor to truly get to know the characters on a deeper level. She explained, "It's like almost for a while getting to live somebody else's life, without having to experience all of the 'experience' that comes with creating another life."

Oprah Winfrey once discovered she had a long-lost sister

The year 2010 was a monumental one for Oprah Winfrey, but not because of her career or accomplishments. This time, Oprah learned that she had family that she never knew about. "So imagine my shock just a few months ago," she revealed on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, as explained on "It was the end of October, right before Thanksgiving, [when] I found out that I have another sister living just 90 minutes away in Milwaukee." Can you imagine what that must have been like?


Oprah brought her half-sister, Patricia Lofton, onto her show soon after and introduced her to all of her viewers and fans. She also thanked her sister for persisting for years that she and Oprah meet — on their terms. Apparently, Patricia has pushed Oprah's mother and other relatives to help her meet her famous half-sister. Oprah noted, "She never once thought to go to the press. She never once thought to sell this story." Someone is definitely cutting onions in here because we are in tears.

Oprah Winfrey lost a sister to addiction

As if finding out you have a long-lost sister isn't enough of a shock, it turns out Oprah Winfrey's sister, Patricia Lofton, surprised Oprah in another way. "What's even more unbelievable is that she has the same name as my first sister who passed away, Patricia," she revealed on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, as shared on "It was so uncanny to us and to everybody in this family how much this Patricia looked like, moved like, talked like Pat. It was a Beloved moment, if you know what I mean: the daughter who comes back from the dead."


Sadly, Oprah's late sister struggled with addiction, something Oprah tried hard to help her with. Notably, Oprah helped her sister go to rehab twice over the years. Oprah shared, "And when she came out, she just didn't survive it." As reported by KCBD NewsChannel 11, Oprah's sister Patricia Lloyd was found dead in her home in 2003. She was 43 years old. We're so sorry for your loss, Oprah.

This is the story behind Oprah Winfrey's name

Oprah Winfrey is a name that's known around the world, thanks to her incredible career and iconic status. To that end, it's a good thing that Oprah never changed her name to "Suzie," as her bosses suggested she do at the beginning of her career. Can you even imagine that?


Interestingly enough, there's a story behind Oprah's unique and powerful name: It was biblical in origins. "My Aunt Ida had chosen the name, but nobody really knew how to spell it, so it went down as 'Orpah' on my birth certificate," she explained in a chat with Academy of Achievement. "But people didn't know how to pronounce it, so they put the 'P' before the 'R' in every place else other than the birth certificate." Of course, the name that ended up sticking was Oprah, the moniker that we know her by today.