How Oprah went from a life of poverty and abuse to a cultural icon worth almost $4 billion.

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential and inspiring women in the world.

She’s the only African American woman included on Forbes’ list of the 400 richest people in America.

She’s now worth an estimated $US 2.8 billion (AU$3.5 billion) and has properties in LA, Chicago, Hawaii, Georgia, and Antigua.

Oh, and if you ask those closest to her, she’s seriously considering running for the presidency in 2020.

But Oprah’s early life was a far cry from the success she enjoys today.

Born in 1954 to a teen mum on an isolated farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah’s early life was punctuated by neglect, violence and sexual assault.

Oprah’s grandmother, who was her primary caretaker while her mum searched for work, would savagely beat the young girl at random.

Listen: Why all the signs are pointing to Oprah running in 2020. (Post continues after audio...)

“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.

In response, her mum dropped her off at a detention home and left her there. Oprah would later escape and track down her dad in Nashville, Tennessee.

That’s when two things happened that changed her life forever.

First, she gave birth to a baby who passed away just two weeks later.

“I buried all of my feelings about it,” she told Letterman. “I really felt like that baby’s life — that baby coming into the world — really gave me new life. That’s how I processed it for myself.”

Secondly, her dad began to provide the direction, discipline and love Oprah had been desperately craving her whole life.

He introduced her to her great love of reading, making her read a new book every fortnight so she could write a book report about it.


He gave her a curfew and, most importantly, he gave her hope for a better life.

“As strict as he was, he had some concerns about me making the best of my life, and would not accept anything less than what he thought was my best,” Oprah said in her 2012 speech.

After years of hard work, Oprah was offered a full scholarship to Tennessee State University.

Just one year into her degree she dropped out to pursue a career in the media, joining the local TV station as a reporter and anchor.

It would prove to be the best decision she ever made.

At 24 years of age, Oprah would go on to host her first talk show, People Are Talking, in Baltimore, before moving to Chicago to take over a flailing half hour morning show.


That little morning show would soon become known as The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. (Post continues after audio…)

A few years later, Oprah founded Harpo Productions and took over the entire production of the show. In its peak, The Oprah Winfrey Show was bringing in $US300 million ($AUD 390 million) a year.

But Oprah didn’t stop there.

She started producing films, TV series and plays. She launched her own radio station and published her own magazine.

She interviewed the biggest names in Hollywood and the world’s best writers, thinkers and creators.

Oprah introduced her audience to books which would go on to be bestsellers, films that would win big during the award seasons, and charitable causes which would change people’s lives forever.

And she made people believe that they too could live their best life.

Despite the enormous highs and lows of her life, Oprah says she wouldn’t want to change a thing.

“I know what it feels like to not be wanted… you can use it as a stepping stone to build great empathy for people,” she told Letterman.

“Everybody has a story and your story is as equally as valuable and important as my story.

“My story just helped define and shape me as does everybody’s story.”