Oprah Winfrey’s 13 Most Powerful Moments
Oprah Winfrey has been a trailblazer ever since she first stepped foot in the entertainment industry. For over 40 years she has been redefining what it means to be not only a woman but an African-American woman in Hollywood and has given a voice to the voiceless and gave hope to millions because of her passion, dedication and hard work. Now, the self-made billionaire is being supported for a run at Presidency in 2020 even though she never publicly stated she was interested, but that is just how much the public loves her. From her personal life to her business, Oprah is one of the most incredible women on the planet and with every move and statement she just keeps becoming more and more awe-inspiring. Take a look back at her 13 most powerful moments so far:
13. Early Struggles
Oprah has always been a force to be reckoned with even well before she was in the public eye. For the first six years of her life, she lived with her maternal grandmother but she was very poor and when she was six she moved to the inner-city of Milwaukee with her mother but her mother struggled to raise Oprah and her sister and she was sent to live with her father in Nashville. Her upbringing was poor and difficult as she was often neglected and abused and at 13 she ran away from home and became pregnant at the age of 14. After her son was born prematurely, he died shortly after birth, and despite all of the hardships, Oprah persevered and pushed herself to succeed. After returning home she once again was sent to live with her father where she finally thrived, earning a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, winning the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant at 17 and getting hired to work at the local black radio station part-time while she was a senior in high school. Well before her name was an international brand, Oprah Winfrey was defying all the odds against her and was demonstrating the strength and fortitude she would model going forward in all aspects of her life. Learning of her truly difficult background is still shocking to many because of how unlikely her success would have seemed at the team, yet she made it happen.
12. A.M. Chicago
Before she became a well-known TV personality, Oprah Winfrey began her career at Nashville’s WLAC-TV where she was already blazing trails as not only the youngest news anchor but also the very first black female news anchor at the station. From there, it was easy to see her star potential and she continued to rise before she moved to Chicago to host WLS-TV’s very low-rated half-hour morning talk show AM Chicago. It didn’t take long for her mere presence to incite a major change and within months of her joining AM Chicago, the show went from last place to become the highest-rated talk show in Chicago. In 1985 it was officially re-titled The Oprah Winfrey Show, but little did anyone know what was yet to come. AM Chicago‘s transformation can be solely credited to Oprah and is one very early example of her powerful impact in any position she took on.
11. National Syndication
After The Oprah Winfrey Show‘s continued success, Oprah was offered an unprecedented new syndication deal and on September 8, 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show began its incredible run. Over the course of the next 25 years, the show would end up being watched by more than 40 million weekly across the U.S. Her success displaced Donahue as the number-one daytime talk show, and despite much scrutiny, Oprah and the show continued to thrive and it took no time at all for many to realize just how important this change in daytime talk show television was. Few people would have bet on Oprah Winfrey’s swift rise to host of the most popular talk show on TV. “In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk. As interviewers go, she is no match for, say, Phil Donahue … What she lacks in journalistic toughness, she makes up for in plainspoken curiosity, robust humor and, above all empathy. Guests with sad stories to tell are apt to rouse a tear in Oprah’s eye … They, in turn, often find themselves revealing things they would not imagine telling anyone, much less a national TV audience. It is the talk show as a group therapy session,” TIME magazine wrote. For a woman, much less an African-American woman, to not only dominate but effectually revolutionize the tabloid talk show was nothing short of groundbreaking, and Oprah was just getting started.
10. Power of Women Speech
Over the years, Oprah Winfrey has solidified herself as one of the most inspiring and eloquent public speakers of all time, and one of her best moments was her speech at the Variety Power of Women awards in 2015. The event honors women in the entertainment industry who use their platform to raise awareness and work toward charitable causes and among the many impressive honorees, it was Oprah who left everyone awe-struck as she brought down the house with a powerful and tearful speech. “I have always known this about celebrity,” Winfrey said, giving a nod to the public figures in the room. “The real power is understanding that what Salma has done, what Susan has done, what Gwyneth has done, what Rebecca has done, what Jim has done, is you, too, can do [it] because true philanthropy comes from living from the heart of yourself and giving what you have been given.” She added, “What we’ve done, you can do. The real empowerment comes when each person leaves this room and makes a decision.” She then teared up as she talked about her “daughters” from her girls’ school in Africa and referenced something she was once told by none other than Maya Angelou, “Your legacy is seen in those whose lives you touched.” Oprah has had many a stunning speech and statement over her illustrious career, but this was one of those standout moments in which her true power in being one of the most successful yet unaffected celebrities in the world shone.
9. TV Presence
While it was easy to see just the kind of powerhouse Oprah Winfrey was when she joined AM Chicago and subsequently launched The Oprah Winfrey Show, it was what came after, during the show, that has had a lasting impact. Despite being labeled “tabloid talk show” it resonated with regular audiences, and in turn celebrities like never before. Like no other host before, Winfrey landed some of the biggest stars of the time revealing some of their biggest secrets in completely jaw-dropping interviews which then changed the face of media, celebrities in the spotlight and tabloid reporting. In 1993, Michael Jackson appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in an extremely rare prime-time interview for the pop star and it became the fourth most-watched television event in American television history as well as the most watched interview ever with an astounding audience of 36.5 million. Statistics like those are some of the facts that prove Oprah and her show were much more than just another segment on television, it was an absolute phenomenon.
8. Revealing Her Secret
Some of Oprah’s biggest and most impactful moments haven’t been because of a huge speech at a major event or an astounding accomplishment, it has often been because of other things she has shared. In November 1986, as her popularity was on the rise, Winfrey fearlessly revealed that at only 9 years old she was assaulted and raped. “You see there really is no darker secret than sexual abuse. I’m telling you about myself so that maybe the closet where so many sexual abuse victims and their molesters hide might swing open just a crack today and let some light in,” she said on her program at the time, absolutely shocking fans. Once again, Winfrey was illuminating topics and sensitive subjects well before anyone was truly ready to talk about them. At the time she was making statements 20-30 years before they finally became commonplace. In sharing her own story, she became a voice and a symbol for so many sexual assault victims, especially those who were abused as children, who had remained silent. In 1991 Oprah testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in support of a national database of convicted child abusers, as a result of her involvement the “Oprah Bill” was signed into law in 1993.
7. Lifetime Achievement Award
One of Oprah Winfrey’s major career-defining moments was being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys in 1998. By 1998 she had already accomplished enough to earn her a Lifetime Achievement Award and yet she still had much more to offer the world in both her celebrity, her business and her humanitarian work. She once again delivered an enlightened speech, demonstrating her power to captivate audiences and have her words truly resonate with them. “Thank you. This is certainly one of life’s full circle moments for me because it is so true. We are all beacons of light for each other and I am glad Barbara Walters was there so that I could see that beacon of light to become all that I could be today.” She thanked many people, stating, “I want to thank everybody who’s nurtured me, who’s stood in the gap for me,” and sweetly paid tribute to her longtime partner Stedman Graham. “You are the sweetest man with the greatest integrity, thank you for helping me become everything that I am and everything that is to come.”
6. OWN Launch
It is no secret that he successes and accomplishment have been varied and truly great in the years since the launch of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Among them, she launched the Oxygen Network and her own magazine O, The Oprah Magazine in 2000, and one of her biggest business ventures of all was the launch of the OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in 2011. To come from nothing and experience terrible hardships and then work her way up to become the host of the biggest daytime talk show in TV history is one thing all its own, but it is Oprah’s continued business and growth which separates her from so many others. From the Oprah Winfrey Show to an an entire Oprah Winfrey Network is incredible, and one of the many reasons she is worth $2.8 billion dollars.
5. Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award
Oprah’s accolades and awards are extensive, but another major moment outlining her significance and outstanding work was when she was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 2011. Once again, Oprah was noted not as a celebrity but someone in a position of power and influence who continued to work for the greater good. The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award goes to “an individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to our industry.” In her acceptance speech, she stated, “I’d like to do more films, but to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award means more to me than any film, any acclaim, even an Oscar because what it says is you all get it.”
4. The Oprah Effect
The sheer power of her opinions which she shared through her platform became so influential that it was formally dubbed “The Oprah Effect.” Oprah’s influence on public opinion, specifically when it comes to consumerism has been documented in varying fields including book sales and beef markets, and “The Oprah Effect” also holds the distinction of helping Barack Obama win his Presidency in the 2008 election. It was the first time she had publicly endorsed a political candidate and after an analysis by two economists at the University of Maryland, College Park, it was determined that her endorsement alone was responsible for between 420,000 and 1.6 million voted for Obama and she was effectively described as “the most instrumental person in electing Barack Obama president with a voice larger than all 100 senators combined.” On top of the incredible power of The Oprah Effect, terms such as “Oprahification” and “rapport talk” were credited directly to Winfrey and her work with Oprahification being defined as public confession as a form of therapy. Time magazine documented this definitive change all because of Oprah, writing, “Winfrey saw television’s power to blend public and private; while it links strangers and conveys information over public airwaves, TV is most often viewed in the privacy of our homes. Like a family member, it sits down to meals with us and talks to us in the lonely afternoons. Grasping this paradox, … She makes people care because she cares. That is Winfrey’s genius, and will be her legacy, as the changes she has wrought in the talk show continue to permeate our culture and shape our lives.”
3. Presidential Medal of Freedom
Oprah Winfrey is clearly no stranger to being honored by the entertainment community, but she received one of her most prestigious awards of all time in 2013 when then-President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In that moment, getting recognized on that level, Oprah’s many accomplishments were noted and it was never more obvious just how widespread her influence and impact has been on a scope that is far outside of simply the Hollywood or entertainment industry level.
2. Oprah’s Book Club
Even something as simple as creating her own book created such a major effect that it is clear Oprah’s influence is incredible. She first revealed the beginning of Oprah’s Book Club in 1996 stating, “When I was growing up, books were my friends. When I didn’t have friends, I had books. And one of the greatest pleasures I have right now in life is to be reading a really good book and to know I have a really, really good book after that book to read.” Immediately after launching the book club it became the main component in a book’s success because as soon as she introduced a new book into her book club it became a best-seller and it has become known that being recognized by her book club often means upwards of a million additional sales for that author. Kathleen Rooney credited Oprah for her work in doing something as simple as starting the book club, stating, “Oprah is a serious American intellectual who pioneered the use of electronic media, specifically television and the Internet, to take reading – a decidedly non-technological and highly individual act – and highlight its social elements and uses in such a way to motivate millions of erstwhile non-readers to pick up books.”
1. 2018 Golden Globes Speech
After decades of wielding a power far greater than that of an average celebrity and delivering resounding speeches that directly touched the hearts of those listening, one of her most talked about and rousing speeches came at the 2018 Golden Globes. After accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement, Winfrey gave the speech that was so incredible, it was called Presidential and quickly spurred discussion of the icon running for Presidency in 2020. Her lengthy speech needs to be heard or read in full, but in part, she stated, “I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association because we all know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To — to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.” She concluded, “In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.”