Sixty-four years ago, Oprah Winfrey was born “Orpah” in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to a housemaid named Vernita Lee. For the first six years of her life, she was raised in poverty by her grandmother, Hattie Mae, who helped fuel her passion for books. She went on to skip kindergarten to the first grade, after writing a letter to her teacher: “I don’t think I belong here ’cause I know a lot of big words.” Today, Winfrey is a successful talkshow host, a published author, longtime philanthropist, major film producer, and the only black female billionaire in history. Here, in honor of Oprah Winfrey’s 64th birthday (it was on the 29th), we look back at her most unforgettable moments.
Oprah Winfrey’s 10 Most Unforgettable Moments
The Beginning of the Highest-Rated Daytime Talk Show in America's History
Shortly after studying communication at Tennessee State University, a 22-year-old Winfrey was offered a job as a co-anchor on Baltimore’s WJZ-TV. Nearly one year in, Winfrey was fired and reportedly told by a producer she was “unfit for television news.” “It shook me to my very core,” Winfrey later said. Though the sudden boot was certainly devastating, Winfrey went on to launch a syndicated talkshow that dominated the airways for 25 years, cementing her status as one of the most influential women in the world.
The Most-Watched Television Interview In History
On February 10, 1993, Oprah sat down with Michael Jackson for his first television interview in 14 years. The intimate conversation, which took place at his Neverland Ranch, went on to be the most-watched interview in television history. Watched by more than 100 million viewers around the world, the King of Pop addressed his plastic surgery for the first time, issues with his vitiligo, and his career.
The Launch of Her Famous Book Club
In 1996, Winfrey launched her now famous Oprah's Book Club, a book discussion club segment of her talk show, with the novel The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard. The television show host began the book club by selecting her favorite thought-provoking novels for viewers to read and discuss each month. In total, the club has recommended 70 books during its 15 years. But the club wasn't without controversy. In late 2005, Winfrey selected James Frey's memoir A Million Little Pieces, which was later outed as being almost entirely fabricated. This resulted in Frey being publicly confronted in a highly acclaimed live broadcast of Winfrey's show.
"You Get a Car, and You Get a Car!"
In her 25 seasons on-air, Winfrey gifted Volkswagen Beetles, Caribbean cruises, and diamond watches to audience member – but the most unforgettable gifting episode in The Oprah Winfrey Show history came when she kicked off her 19th season by gifting 276 people in the audience with a Pontiac G6. The cars, worth nearly $30,000, were gifted to pre-selected audience members who were identified by producers as being in need of a new vehicle. Paramedics were even on hand to help in case any audience member fainted. "I wanted it to be bigger than Santa Claus and not to be an act of a fairy godmother, because that's not who I am," she later told USA Today.
In Those Calvin Klein Jeans
In 1998, Winfrey lost 30kg in four months. In a moment of triumph, she showed off her body in an episode of her television show, wearing a pair of size 10 Calvin Klein jeans, paired with a black form-fitting turtleneck, and a wagon with 30kg of animal fat in tow. The episode drew her biggest ratings to date, though the weight loss was temporary. Oprah later admitted, “Two hours after that show, I started eating to celebrate – of course, within two days those jeans no longer fit.”
A Few of Oprah's Favorite Things..
The "Favorite Things" episode helped catapult Spanx into a household name. In 2000, Winfrey named a then two-years-old body-shaping undergarment, Spanx, as her favorite product of the year. The unexpected endorsement helped turn the undergarment into a bestseller, finding fans in the likes of Kim Kardashian West, Tyra Banks, and Tina Fey.
When She Rocketed Onto the International Best-Dressed List
For the 76th Academy Awards in 2004, Oprah turned heads in a plunging gray Gianfranco Ferré wrap dress. Thanks to that dress, the talk show host landed on Vanity Fair’s 2004 international best-dressed list for the first time. Winfrey credits the Italian creative as one of her favorite designers, and she is in good company. Ferré has also dressed Princess Diana, Sophia Loren, and HM Queen Rania of Jordan, among many others.
If She Was the "Marrying Type," She'd Do It in Oscar de la Renta
Another major fashion moment came at the 2010 Metropolitan Museum of Arts Costume Institute Gala, when Winfrey turned heads in a custom Oscar de la Renta dress. She arrived arm in arm with Mr De la Renta, before climbing the steps to assume her role as the evening's host. Winfrey later said to Vogue that if she were to ever tie the knot, she would do so wearing an Oscar de la Renta design. "I had always thought, if I was going to be the marrying kind – which clearly I’m not – I had dreams of Roberta Flack singing at my wedding as I’m wearing an Oscar de la Renta gown. That was my plan. So I came close to that last night."
When She Accepted a Major Award for Selma
In February 2015, Winfrey accepted the award for outstanding motion picture at the NAACP Awards for Selma. The Ava DuVernay-directed civil rights drama, which stars David Oyelowo, Common, and Carmen Ejogo, tells the story of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and the events surrounding the 1965 Alabama voting rights marches. "This is more than a movie," Winfrey, who was a Selma producer, said while accepting the award. "It's important that we all know who we are so we know where we're going, and claiming the glory."
Her Powerful Golden Globes Speech
Winfrey was honored with the Cecil B DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes, and delivered the most powerful acceptance speech of the night, bringing the entire audience to their feet. As the first black female recipient of the Cecil B DeMille award, an honorary Golden Globe for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment, Winfrey captured the spirit of the #MeToo campaign in her rousing speech, stating that "I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon." On social media, many celebrities, including Bella Hadid, Pharrell Williams, and Mariah Carey went on to praise the mogul.