Oprah Winfrey’s mother, Vernita Lee, died on Thanksgiving Day.
The 83-year-old passed away in her home in Milwaukee and has already been laid to rest in a private funeral, the family said in a statement.
Oprah is one of Vernita’s four children. She also had a daughter named Patricia Amanda Faye Lee, who she put up for adoption and later reconnected with. Her son, Jeffrey Lee, died in 1989, and her other daughter Patricia Lee Lloyd, died in 2003.
Oprah and Vernita always had a difficult relationship.
When Vernita gave birth to Oprah in 1954, she was an unmarried teen living on an isolated farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi.
As a result of her mum’s young age and inability to look after her, Oprah’s early life was punctuated by neglect, violence and sexual assault.
Her grandmother, who was her primary caretaker while her mum searched for work, would savagely beat the young girl at random.
“I grew up in an environment where children were seen and not heard,” she told David Letterman.
“I went to a well to get some water and carry it in a bucket. And I was playing in the water with my fingers, and my grandmother had seen me out the window and she didn’t like it.
“She whipped me so badly that I had welts on my back and the welts would bleed. And then when I put on my Sunday dress, I was bleeding from the welts. And then she was very upset with me because I got blood on the dress.
“So then I got another whipping for getting blood on the dress.”
When she was just six years old, Oprah was sent to live with her mum in a Milwaukee boarding house.
There, things only got worse.
She was raped for the first time when she was just nine years old.
“He (the rapist) took me to an ice cream shop — blood still running down my leg — and bought me ice cream,” she said during a speech at Indiana’s Ball State University in 2012.
She continued to be sexually assaulted for the next five years until, at the age of just 14, Oprah discovered she was pregnant.