Oprah Gail Winfrey (born January 29, 1954) is an American media personality, Academy Award nominated actress, producer, literary critic and magazine publisher, best known for her self-titled, multi-award winning talk show, which has become the highest-rated program of its kind in history. She has been ranked the richest African American of the 20th century, the most philanthropic African American of all time, and was once the world's only black billionaire. She is also, according to some assessments, the most influential woman in the world.
Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in an inner-city Milwaukee neighborhood. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood, including being raped at the age of nine and becoming pregnant at 14; her son died in infancy. Sent to live with the man she calls her father, a barber in Tennessee, Winfrey landed a job in radio while still in high school and began co-anchoring the local evening news at the age of 19. Her emotional ad-lib delivery eventually got her transferred to the daytime talk show arena, and after boosting a third-rated local Chicago talk show to first place, she launched her own production company and became internationally syndicated.
Credited with creating a more intimate confessional form of media communication, she is thought to have popularized and revolutionized the tabloid talk show genre pioneered by Phil Donahue, which a Yale study claimed broke 20th century taboos and allowed LGBT people to enter the mainstream. By the mid 1990s she had reinvented her show with a focus on literature, self-improvement, and spirituality. Though criticized for unleashing confession culture and promoting controversial self-help fads, she is generally admired for overcoming adversity to become a benefactor to others. In 2006 she became an early supporter of Barack Obama and one analysis estimates she delivered over a million votes in the close 2008 Democratic primary race, an achievement for which the governor of Illinois considered offering her a seat in the U.S. senate.