The Stunning Transformation Of Oprah Winfrey

There's only one Oprah Winfrey. In fact, nowadays, the talk show host, actor, and philanthropist is typically known by just her first name, putting her in the pantheon of single-moniker mega-stars such as Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Cher. Originally finding worldwide fame fronting "The Oprah Winfrey Show," the Mississippi native may have always seemed destined for stardom, but it's worth noting Winfrey came from incredibly humble beginnings.


One of the biggest reasons Winfrey continues to be so beloved with millions of fans all over the world is because they really feel like they know her. After all, for decades, we've watched her struggle through hardships and fight for causes close to her heart, all while remaining staunchly true to who she is. It's unsurprising, then, that the TV personality is simply "Oprah" these days, even if, as CBR points out, the name on her birth certificate is actually "Orpah." 

Put simply, she's one of a kind. This is how the inimitable Oprah Winfrey went from humble origins to one of the most recognizable names, and faces, in the world.

She always had hope

Oprah Winfrey has the ultimate rags-to-riches story, and it is so inspiring to think of where she came from. Orpah Gail Winfrey (no, that isn't a typo) was born on January 29, 1954. Her aunt wanted her named for Orpah in the biblical book of Ruth, so that's how it's spelled on her birth certificate. But people weren't sure how to pronounce it, so her name became Oprah. Winfrey's young mother was unwed and poor, so she sent Winfrey to live with her grandmother until she was 6 years old.


Even though Winfrey was surrounded by love as a young child, they didn't have much else. Her grandmother worked as a maid and told Winfrey that she would also grow up to be a maid too. According to a profile by The Observer (via The Guardian), during this time, she wore clothes made from potato sacks, which resulted in people cruelly calling her "Sack Girl." But even as a young child, Winfrey knew she was meant for much greater things.

She overcame her abusive childhood

Once Oprah Winfrey's young mother felt ready to take her back, Winfrey moved out of her grandmother's house and in with her mother. When Winfrey returned to live with her mother, life took a dark turn. She was still living in poverty, but now she couldn't even feel safe in her own home. Starting at age 9, Winfrey was sexually abused by family members and eventually became pregnant at age 14. It was at that time that she first considered suicide.


"I hit rock-bottom," Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter. "I became pregnant and hid the pregnancy. I'd intended to kill myself actually. I thought there's no way other than killing myself. I was just planning on how to do it. If I'd had the Internet, I might not be alive because now you can just Google how to do it."

During her pregnancy, her mother actually decided to kick her out of the house. She was supposed to go to a detention center for girls, but fortunately they were full and could not accept her. It was at this time that she was sent to live with her father, who helped her turn things around.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).


If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Losing a child changed her life

So here she was pregnant at 14 and moving to a new state to live with a new parent. Fortunately, Oprah Winfrey's father provided a safe and loving home for her. Winfrey hid her pregnancy before she ended up giving birth to a son who later died from complications of being born prematurely. Experiencing all this at age 14 would have broken most people, but Winfrey's father told her that this was going to be her "second chance" at life. She could now move forward and leave her painful past behind her.


"I was, in many ways, saved by that, and I made a decision that I was going to turn it around," she told The Hollywood Reporter. Winfrey did turn it around and left her painful past behind her.

She did beauty pageants

It's hard to believe that the suicidal and pregnant 14-year-old was able to turn her life around, but she did. Oprah Winfrey started trusting herself and her own instincts and followed her passions to the public eye. "I haven't planned one thing — ever. I have just been led by a strong instinct, and I have made choices based on what was right for me at the time," she told Makers.


Winfrey started participating in beauty pageants and she went on to win the title of Miss Black Tennessee in 1972 when she was 17. Once she got the taste of the limelight, there was no turning back.

She became a news anchor at age 19

Once Oprah Winfrey became comfortable on stage as a beauty queen, she made the leap to television at a very young age. Winfrey went on to become the first African American female news anchor in Nashville. She didn't waste any time either. She actually left Tennessee State University to take the job at the ripe old age of 19. "I remember leaving class to go take a phone call from Channel 5's Chris Clark," Winfrey said on her show. During her interview, she was asked if she knew how to run a camera and write a news story. "I think I lied and said, 'Sure I can,'" she admitted.


From her very first television appearance, Winfrey knew she had found her life's work. "It just felt like breathing," she said. "It felt like this is where I'm supposed to be." She went all in with her television career and quickly gained the attention of news executives around the country.

She started her morning show career in Baltimore

After getting started as a Nashville news anchor, Oprah Winfrey moved to Baltimore in 1976 and, at first, continued working in evening news. She began her time in Baltimore as the co-anchor of WJZ's 6 p.m. weekday newscast alongside Jerry Turner. Unfortunately, as she told the Baltimore Sun, Turner didn't make it easy for her. 


"First of all, he wanted to be alone from the beginning. And then, if he had to have a co-host, he didn't want a young, green-behind-the-ears one like me," Winfrey told the Baltimore Sun. "At every chance he could get, he would embarrass me or, like, try to make me feel bad about where I went to school. That's when I first learned that, oh, where you went to school is an important thing, because he'd go, 'Where'd you go to school again? What little college or university?' So I would have to say my memories of Jerry Turner are not fond ones."

But then Winfrey made the switch to morning television when she signed on for the role of co-host of Baltimore's "People Are Talking." Going from news to talk show turned out to be exactly what she needed.


She found a kindred spirit in Gayle King

Nowadays, Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King are a dynamic duo whom we couldn't imagine existing without one another. As the talk show host shared in an edition of O, the Oprah Magazine, per Oprah Daily, she knew immediately King was a kindred spirit. The two originally met back in 1976, while working together at Baltimore news station WJZ. Since they were both young Black women trying to make it as journalists, the duo bonded quickly.


At the time, Winfrey recalled thinking, "Something about this relationship feels otherworldly to me, like it was designed by a power and a hand greater than my own." She added sagely, "Whatever this friendship is, it's been a very fun ride — and we've taken it together." In a joint interview for, both women admitted they understand why fans might think there's a romantic element to their relationship, since the twosome is so close.

Hilariously, Winfrey quipped, "The truth is, no matter where I am, whether Stedman [Graham] is there or not, Gayle's in the other room. I mean, she's always coming in and asking, 'Whatcha doin'?" Naturally, they wouldn't have it any other way.

Her ratings earned her The Oprah Winfrey Show

Oprah Winfrey was clearly meant for the talk show world, so when a talk show job opened in Chicago in 1984, she went for it. She was offered her own show called "AM Chicago," so she packed up and became a midwesterner. Winfrey was going up against morning talk show legend Phil Donahue and quickly surpassed his viewer numbers, shocking everyone. Her ratings were so impressive that in 1985 the show was renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show." This was a clear turning point in her career.


She made her big screen debut with The Color Purple

Oprah Winfrey's talk show success gained attention from executives all over the entertainment world, including director Steven Spielberg. She was cast in the 1985 film "The Color Purple" and even received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress. Winfrey revealed just how much she wanted a part in this movie. "I always wanted to be an actress. I never wanted anything in my life more than I wanted to be in 'The Color Purple,'" she told Variety. "And have never allowed myself to want anything as much again."


Winfrey wanted to be in the movie so much that, compared to what she was making for her talk show, she took a serious pay cut to be part of it. She went on to act in a few more films after that, but kept her focus on her morning show.

She refused to be a tabloid talk show host

Oprah Winfrey refused to bow to pressure from higher-ups to make her talk show more scandalous in the '90s, when the likes of "The Jerry Springer Show" were dominating the airwaves. In reality, per Biography, her ratings actually dropped as a result of her refusal to bend, but, naturally, sticking to her guns has since paid off massively.  


CNBC reports the talk show host founded Harpo Studios in 1986, and, to date, the successful production company has handled everything from "Dr. Phil" to "Rachael Ray," alongside high-profile films, including Ava DuVernay's civil rights drama "Selma." Crucially, Winfrey refused to take her company public.

The TV icon admitted, "It crossed my mind, but it didn't stay there very long because I like being in control of my own destiny." Winfrey elaborated, "I like being able to have a say in what does or does not happen, and I don't want to be controlled by anybody, or have to respond to anyone else's ideas about what I should be doing."

In 2015, the studio relocated from Chicago to LA, where Harpo took its rightful place as part of OWN, per The Hollywood Reporter


She wasn't sure Stedman Graham was the one

Gayle King might be her soulmate, but Oprah Winfrey has another important person in her life. The "Color Purple" star has been happily dedicated to partner Stedman Graham for several decades. In an essay for Oprah Daily, Winfrey shared that the two first crossed paths in 1986, but Graham appeared to be dating somebody else at the time, so she paid little attention to him.


However, Winfrey recalled, "One day, though, we were both visiting a mutual friend who was ill and later died of AIDS. The guy with the girlfriend had come to the friend's home alone, and so had I. We left together, and I asked if he wanted to get a beer" — even though Graham didn't drink, as she later discovered. Although he seemed nice, and was certainly handsome, Winfrey pegged Graham for a player and steered well clear. She said, "I proceeded with caution, even with a friendship." 

A short while later, the talk show host discovered Graham was single and, moreover, had been asking whether she was too. They started dating and simply never stopped.

She boldly shared her weight loss story

Since its early days, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has explored cutting-edge diets and weight loss strategies. But Oprah Winfrey doesn't just talk the talk — a lot of her discussions around weight loss stem from her own experience. Winfrey's public, decades-long weight loss story has inspired millions. But her journey wasn't always linear, and it certainly wasn't always a success. In 2023, the TV star opened up about being ridiculed for her size. "For 25 years, making fun of my weight was national sport," Winfrey said in 2023 during her program, "An Oprah Special: Shame, Blame and the Weight Loss Revolution" (via USA Today). 


In 1988, the media mogul debuted her newly trim waistline and declared that she'd lost 67 pounds due to a "liquid protein medically-supervised fast" (via YouTube). To exemplify her weight loss, Winfrey piled 67 pounds of animal fat into a wagon and displayed it onstage during her show. Years later, the talk show host came clean about her dieting journey, revealing that her dramatic weight loss wasn't exactly what it seemed. "In an effort to combat all the shame, I starved myself for nearly five months," Winfrey shared. She added, "And after losing 67 pounds on a liquid diet, the next day, y'all — the very next day — I started to gain it back." 

After years of fluctuating weight, Winfrey told People, "I'm absolutely done with the shaming from other people and particularly myself."


She decided not to marry Stedman Graham

There's nobody Oprah Winfrey could imagine herself being with more than long-time partner Stedman Graham, sweetly describing him in an essay for Oprah Daily as "appropriately named because he's steady as a mountain," noting that he's "even-tempered, accountable, trustworthy, patient." However, although they're total #couplegoals and plan to stay together until the end of their days, Winfrey has no desire to marry Graham.


While he proposed back in 1993 and she accepted, as the talk show host revealed, she immediately had second thoughts. Winfrey shared, "I realized I didn't actually want a marriage. I wanted to be asked. 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. My life with the show was my priority, and we both knew it."

Funnily enough, the couple reckons if they had made it official, their relationship wouldn't have lasted this long.

Her book club changed book sales

Oprah Winfrey started her famous book club in 1996, and it quickly became clear just how famous she was. An endorsement from her sent unknown authors into serious fame. Winfrey would choose 10 books per year and then interview the authors on air after the club finished the book. "It's the ultimate book club; it's very broad and very deep," Jonathan Galassi, president of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, told the LA Times. "It's been a wonderful enhancement to publishing fiction."


Winfrey's book club literally changed author Janet Fitch's life. After releasing her novel "White Oleander," she was blown away by the sales from Oprah's Book Club. "I'd spent basically 20 years just living a writer's life," Fitch told the LA Times. "Oprah said it would go over a million by the time it was all over, and it was true." After seeing its success, Hollywood producers turned the book into a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer.

However, the book club was not always a feel-good event. When author James Frey fabricated much of his memoir "A Million Little Pieces," Winfrey brought him back on the show to discuss the controversy and wasn't shy about the fact that she disapproved. "I feel duped," Winfrey told Frey. "But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers." The lesson here? Never ever try to con Oprah Winfrey.


A stumble, but not a fall

When Oprah Winfrey and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" were on top of the world, she made a bold decision. She chose to walk away from it. In 2011, Winfrey chose to end her hit show to focus on her own network, The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). However, her TV success didn't immediately carry over to the network.


"I, in the beginning, made a lot of mistakes. I made the wrong choices. And I have to this day gone over and over in mind, 'Should I have waited 'til I completely ended 'The Oprah Winfrey Show'?' Yes. That would be the answer, because I needed to be there," Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter. "This whole idea that you can start something from scratch that carries your name and bears your brand ... and not be there for daily input and expect other people to get that is ... it's just a false notion."

But Winfrey didn't let the humble beginning get her down. She looked at the problem, determined to find a solution. "So now I know that ... The turnaround came when I had my own come-to-Jesus meeting with myself ... 'Stop looking at this as a problem that you've created and look at it for the opportunity that it is,'" she shared she was thinking during that moment. "'How many people in their lifetime get an opportunity to have a platform — call it whatever you will, a network — that has their name on it?'"


She invested in real estate

It's clear from her life that Oprah Winfrey doesn't do anything halfway. She goes all in, even when the odds are against her. So it's not surprising that she has amassed such a fortune. Winfrey went from being told she was going to grow up to be a maid to accumulating some insanely glamorous real estate.


Her favorite estate is the 64-acre mansion and gardens in California. She purposely looked for a home that had the feel of a southern plantation. "I was calling it Tara II," she told People, but her friend (fitness guru Bob Greene) suggested she change it. "You need a better name," he told her. "The fact that you are an African-American woman from Mississippi and you get to have this ... it's deep." Winfrey heard him loud and clear. "So I go, 'Yeah! It's like a dream.' And he's like, 'Yeah! It's a promise! It's the Promised Land!' So I feel that every day."

When she needs a break from the Promised Land, she jets off to Maui for a more relaxed feeling. "She already has a large home in Santa Barbara — this seems to go back to something real and personal," her designer Ellie told O magazine. "It's a great house for her and two or three friends." And when beach time gets old, Winfrey can stay at her $14 million Telluride ski home. Not a bad way to spend life.


She moved west

Oprah Winfrey's award-winning show was born and raised in Chicago, but eventually it was time to leave that city behind. In March 2015, Winfrey closed up shop in Chicago and consolidated her business in Los Angeles. Her show was finished, and her cable network was being run in California, so it was time to make the move.


"The time had come to downsize this part of the business and to move forward," Winfrey told The Hollywood Reporter. "It will be sad to say goodbye, but I look ahead with such a knowing that what the future holds is even more than I can see."

She continues to be an activist

If you have followed any part of Oprah Winfrey's career, it's pretty clear that she loves to give back. Have you ever watched one of the episodes of "Oprah's Favorite Things"? These episodes featured women literally shrieking and crying with delight as Winfrey gave away the latest gifts and even cars. 


She has always had a strong mission to give back, and it is evident in her charity Oprah's Angel Network, which has raised over $51,000,000 for many causes, including girls' education. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Winfrey with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her charitable work.

She embraces aging as a gift

Oprah Winfrey has evolved in the public eye. And now that she's simply "Oprah," known and beloved the world over, the talk show host isn't sweating the small stuff. In an essay for, she shared, "Getting older is the best thing that ever happened to me." As far as Winfrey is concerned, "I wake up every morning rejoicing that I'm still here with an opportunity to begin again and be better."


Although the beloved TV personality acknowledged some days are harder than others, overall, she's delighted to still be around and to still be of use to people. Winfrey even admitted, "I feel the greater work is yet to come." As she's aged, the "Color Purple" star has learned to cast aside what doesn't serve her, reasoning money doesn't bring happiness and there's nothing more joyful in life than learning something new. 

During a "Master Class" session, via Elle, Winfrey shared that, following numerous interviews she's conducted over a decades-long career, she's certain "that the biggest regret of anybody's life is not fully living it." Worrying about stuff Winfrey can't control, like aging, simply isn't something she has the space for in her life anymore.


She used her platform to advocate for weight loss drugs

When weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy exploded in popularity at the end of 2023, Oprah Winfrey quickly weighed in on the phenomenon. In an interview with People, she revealed that she'd been using these medications to help control her weight. "I realized I'd been blaming myself all these years for being overweight, and I have a predisposition that no amount of willpower is going to control," Winfrey explained. She added: "The fact that there's a medically approved prescription for managing weight and staying healthier, in my lifetime, feels like relief, like redemption, like a gift, and not something to hide behind and once again be ridiculed for." Following the admission, Winfrey threw her support behind weight loss medications. 


In another bold move, the superstar parted ways with Weight Watchers after serving almost a decade on their Board of Directors. In a Weight Watchers press release, Winfrey announced that she would be donating all of her company shares to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. "Weight health is a critically important topic and one that needs to be addressed at a broader scale," she wrote. "I plan to participate in a number of public forums and events where I will be a vocal advocate in advancing this conversation." While appearing on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" the media guru explained that she left Weight Watchers to avoid "any conflict of interest" from her work in weight loss. 


She's an authority on fitness and anti-aging

Oprah Winfrey turned heads during the premiere of the 2023 film "The Color Purple." While promoting the movie — for which she served as a producer — the TV legend wore an assortment of slinky outfits, wavy locks, and glammed-out makeup looks. With her trim figure and glowing complexion, fans couldn't help noticing that she looked younger than ever. While Winfrey probably doesn't spill all of her beauty secrets, she did dish about one of her favorite skincare brands. In 2023, the vivacious star revealed that she invested in a luxury skincare line called Darker Skin Tones by Dr. Barbara Sturm. "I have never done that before. Ever," she told What Women Wear. "So, that's how good the products are."


When it comes to her fitness routine, Winfrey says that she focuses on health and resilience rather than being skinny, and maintains a dynamic but simple health regimen. "I try to do at least one hour of exercise five or six days a week," she wrote in 2009 in O Magazine. "As I work out, eat healthfully, and reorder my life so there's time to replenish my energy, I continue to do the spiritual and emotional work to conquer this battle once and for all." In 2023, Winfrey revealed that she also keeps fit by hiking regularly.