Oprah Winfrey 奥普拉•温弗里
Since 2004, Time magazine has six times conducted a poll to name the 100 most influential people in the world. Only one person has appeared on all six lists, Oprah Winfrey.
Born in 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi, she was originally named Orpah after a character in the bible. This subtle alteration has been explained away a number of different ways. Oprah herself claims it was down to pronunciation difficulties by her relatives. In the light of her difficult childhood, however you can't help but ponder if she didn't choose to alter it herself. A woman who has so thoroughly embraced self-help and the importance of a positive mental attitude, would no doubt see a delightful symmetry in slightly changing her own name, signifying turning her life around, taking control and re-defining herself.
Her early years were spent living in abject poverty with a religious birch wielding grandmother, followed by years of sexual abuse from male relatives whilst living with her mostly absent mother, before finally being sent to live with her strict disciplinarian father in Tennessee. Taken all together, her life did not seem destined for a bright future. Living a rebellious lifestyle dabbling on and off with drugs, she hit her lowest point when at the young age of fourteen, she gave birth to a premature baby, who sadly didn't survive the pregnancy. Amazingly though, her father's rules did insure that his daughter's education didn't falter and it was the escape offered through books and her own natural intelligence that helped her to finally overcome her problems. 'I knew there was a way out. I knew there was another kind of life because I had read about it. I knew there were other places, and there was another way of being,' she said.
Having gained a scholarship to Tennessee State University, she left as an honours student with a degree in Speech and Performing Arts and set out to further her interests in media, nurtured by working at the university's radio station as a newscaster. Straight off the bat, she began to break the perceived mould for a young black woman in America, becoming the first black woman and the youngest person ever to work as a reporter for WTVF-TV in Nashville. Reporting the news didn't seem to be a perfect fit for her though, as she had a penchant for getting too emotionally involved in the stories she was reporting on, which didn't always please her superiors. It did, however, make her ideally suited for a more interactive platform instead, which she found in Baltimore working for WJZ-TV on their People are Talking segment whilst continuing to report the news.
Moving six years down the line to 1986, a talk show called AM Chicago on the WLS-TV station was trailing last in the ratings. Desperate to save themselves, they decided to bring in a talented up and comer whose name was on everyone's lips. In 1985 Steven Spielberg had picked Oprah to co-star in a new film based upon Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Colour of Purple, Oprah's performance garnered both Academy and Golden Globe nominations and coupled with her media experience, she was the go to girl for WLS-TV. From near oblivion in just one year Oprah was able to turn around the show's falling ratings, taking it straight to number one and in the process setting down the foundations for a new style of talk show. AM Chicago was gone, now it was the, 'The Oprah Winfrey Show'.
Oprah had been able to cut across the usual demographics and appealed to all ages, races and status holders. Her secret? She wasn't just talking, she was also listening. Her ability to empathise and her fearless courage in holding up her own dark past to the limelight, meant she could really connect with her guests and her audience. In 1986 the show went national; Oprah was suddenly appearing on television sets across America, repeating her earlier success, embraced whole heartedly by the America public.
Such was her success and her business acumen, that only two years after hosting the show, she was able to set up her own production company Harpo (Oprah backwards), and buy the full rights to Oprah Winfery Show, which she syndicated across the globe. Presently, according to figures on Oprah.com, the show is watched on 212 US stations and is broadcast in 145 countries around the world. Going from wearing homemade clothes made out of old potato sacks as a child to becoming a self-made millionaire at just thirty-two, is a staggering achievement for anyone, let alone a black female born in the 50's in America's racist south.
Her adept marketing skills have seen her branch into magazine publishing, books, education and a lifestyle channel for women. All with the underlying aim of improving people's lives, inspiring and praising good honest values, making the world a better place for present and future generations. The money for her really is secondary, success and getting her message across seems to be what motivates her.
As her business grew so did her wealth and power, becoming the first ever black billionaire in 2003 and the most powerful woman in media broadcasting. The staggering influence she has over a large portion of the American public means that anything she promotes on her shows is guaranteed to succeed, but her influence does not end in the studio.
In 1991 she had her congressman put forward a National Child Protection Act to create a database of all convicted child abusers. Never being afraid to stand up for what she believes in, she spoke before a congressional committee stating why such a bill was both necessary and morally right. There was no surprise when the 'Oprah Bill' was enacted into law in 1993.
The last show of the 25th season will mark the end of an era, as Oprah leaves the talk show circuit to concentrate on the founding of her own cable network suitable labelled 'OWN'. Don't expect to see less of Oprah though as, this is a woman who will not be settling down in obscurity but will go to her death bed fighting to up hold and promote all that is good in humanity.
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