|Net Worth:||$2.7 Billion|
|Salary:||$300 Million Per Year|
|Date of Birth:||Jan 29, 1954 (67 years old)|
|Height:||5 ft 6 in (1.69 m)|
|Profession:||Media proprietor, Actor, Presenter, Businessperson, Television producer, Film Producer, Journalist, Philanthropist, Voice Actor|
|Nationality:||United States of America|
Oprah Net Worth
Oprah Winfrey is an American media mogul, television host, and author. As of 2020, Oprah’s net worth is $2.7 billion, earning around $315 million per year thanks to her highly lucrative diversified media empire.
Early Life: Oprah Winfrey rose from poverty, abuse, and prejudice to become one of the most influential people on the planet. She was born Orpah Gail Winfrey on January 29, 1954. That was not a misspelling. Her given name was “Orpah,” a reference to the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth. As a baby people regularly mispronounced the name as “Oprah” which eventually stuck. She was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her mother, Vernita Lee, was an unmarried teenage housemaid. Her biological father, Vernon Winfrey, was in the Armed Forces at the time of Oprah’s birth. He eventually worked as a barber, coal miner, and city councilman. It has been rumored that her biological father might have been another man named Noah Robinson.
Oprah and her mother moved in with her grandmother when Oprah was a baby. The family lived in abject poverty, with Oprah famously being forced to wear potato sacks as school dresses. So she literally rose from rags to riches.
When she was six, Oprah and her mother moved to Milwaukee where her mother got a job as a maid. During this period, Oprah’s mother gave birth to a second daughter named Patricia. In 2003 Patricia died from cocaine abuse at the age of 43. Another half-sibling, a brother named Jeffrey born to father Vernon, died in 1989 from AIDS.
When Oprah was 12, she was sent to live with her father Vernon in Nashville. At 13 she ran away from home to escape the abuse she experienced there. At 14 she became pregnant with a son who was born premature and died.
She initially attended Lincoln High School in Milwaukee but after excelling in a special program eared a transfer to an affluent suburban school called Nicolet High School. After getting into some trouble she went back to living in Nashville. At East Nashville High School she started to blossom. At 17, Oprah won a Miss Black Beauty Tennessee pageant which led to a part-time job at a local black radio station called WVOL working as a news anchor.
She earned a scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she studied communication. At 19, Oprah left school to pursue a career in media full-time.
Media Career: Oprah became the first black female news anchor at WLAC-TV in Nashville. She was also the youngest anchor in the station’s history. When she was 22 she was hired by a station in Baltimore called WJZ to co-anchor the six o’clock news, a coveted position.
In August 1978 she began co-hosting a talk show called People Are Talking. By 1980, she was beating the nationally-syndicated Phil Donahue in the local Baltimore market. By the end of her Baltimore run, she was earning $220,000 per year, which is the same as around $560,000 today after adjusting for inflation.
Recognizing her potential, in 1984 ABC gave Oprah her very own 30-minute morning talk show in Chicago to be produced by a company called King World Productions. King World was also the production studio behind Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. The job came with a four-year, $1 million contract. After adjusting for inflation, $250k per year at that time is the same as around $600k today.
The Oprah Winfrey Show And Syndication Empire: Within a few months of AM Chicago’s first air date on January 2, 1984, Oprah brought the ratings from dead last to the highest-rated talk show in Chicago, displacing Phil Donahue. On September 8, 1986, the show was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, broadcast nationally, syndicated, and expanded to a full hour. In the beginning, the show only targeted women’s issues but was later expanded to cover such topics as health, spirituality, social issues, and charity.
Also within a few months of the first air date, Oprah began to become suspicious of that $1 million contract. Fellow Chicago TV personality Roger Ebert told Oprah to meet with his agent, a man named Jeffrey Jacobs. In addition to representing both Ebert and his co-host Gene Siskel, Jeffrey also represented Bill Cosby.
Jacobs was quick to point out that Oprah was unlikely to ever make a single extra dollar as the show became syndicated. He was blunter than that, telling Oprah:
“This is a slave contract. Slaves work for a fixed dollar. They’re willing to bank on a national show. This contract is for 4 years, totaling $1 million dollars, an effort to make you a highly paid slave.”
Jacobs explained how Siskel and Ebert owned a piece of their show’s syndication, and how Bill Cosby owned a piece of his show’s syndication as well.
How Oprah Became A Billionaire: Oprah fired her agent and sent Jeffrey Jacobs back to King World/ABC to strike a new deal. King World refused to renegotiate. This would turn out to be an extremely fortuitous rejection. Instead of giving over a modest amount of the show’s syndication points, King World opened the door for Jeffrey Jacobs and Oprah to accidentally launch an empire.
While negotiations were cold, Jeffrey and Oprah went out on their own and established HARPO Productions.
King World was in a tough position. At the time Oprah was attracting record viewer numbers in Chicago and national syndication was looking like a slam dunk. They should have relented and given Oprah a cut of the backend. It would have cost them a few million per year.
Finally, King World came back to the table but by now Oprah was no longer seeking a cut of the backend. King World executives were shocked to learn that she was planning to produce the show HERSELF. She and Jeffrey, through HARPO Productions at HARPO Studios, would pay all production costs of the show and then they would pay King World a set fee to syndicate the show nationally. King World was now the paid employee.
Oprah owned 90% of HARPO. Jeffrey owned 10%.
Next, Oprah and Jeffrey negotiated a much larger overall deal with ABC that included movie productions, a magazine, books, and, most importantly, the right to launch other TV shows under her production umbrella. All production for these shows would take place at her 3.5-acre HARPO campus.
That’s not all.
Oprah and Jeffrey went so far as to negotiate an ownership stake in King World Productions itself. Thanks to this deal, Oprah would earn money off every show King World produced, including Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.
In 1999 CBS bought King World for $2.5 billion in stock. When the acquisition was over, Oprah owned 1% of all of CBS. She also ended up owning a significant chunk of Disney stock through a deal she made with ABC in the mid-1990s.
While her 1980s talk show contemporaries like Sally Jesse Raphael, Phil Donahue, and Jerry Springer would go on to make tens of millions of dollars through traditional contracts, Oprah would go on to make multiple BILLIONS of dollars.
When Oprah first crossed into billionaire status in 1999/2000, she became America’s first black female billionaire. Around this time she was earning $300 million per year producing her own show as well as Dr. Phil’s and Rachael Ray’s shows.
As of this writing, Oprah is the third-richest celebrity on the planet. The only billionaire celebrities who have her beat are Steven Spielberg (with $3.7 billion) and George Lucas (with $6.5 billion).
Oprah Winfrey is the richest self-made woman in America.
Endorsements and Other Projects: Oprah has been a board member of Weight Watchers since 2015. When she was brought on to the company, she was awarded $43.5 million worth of equity. That stake has grown to be worth more than $400 million. In 2019 she signed a multi-year deal with Apple to produce shows for the tech giant.
As an actress, Oprah has appeared in a number of major films including 1985’s “The Color Purple,” 1998’s “Beloved,” 2013’s “The Butler,” and 2014’s “Selma.”
She has produced dozens of television shows, documentaries, and miniseries.
As of this writing, Oprah has been nominated for two Academy Awards, one for Best Supporting Actress for “The Color Purple” and another as a producer for Best Picture for “Selma.” In 2011 she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Academy Award.
Oprah has won 18 Daytime Emmy Awards (out of 26 nominations), one Golden Globe, two Primetime Emmys, and a Tony Award.
Oprah Real Estate Portfolio: From 1985 to 2015, Oprah’s primary residence was a 9,625-square-foot Chicago home which she sold in 2015 for $4.625 million. She also previously owned a penthouse in Atlanta which she sold in 2008 for $1.8 million.
Arguably her most impressive real estate asset is a 23,000-square-foot mansion in Montecito, California (near Santa Barbara) which she purchased in 2001 for $50 million. Today this home is worth at least $90 million. In 2016 she purchased a 23-acre farm estate, also in Montecito, for $29 million. In 2019 she bought the house next door for $6.85 million which expanded her Montecito footprint by four acres. In total, Oprah owns 67 acres in Montecito.
Oprah owns a 43-acre estate on Orcas Island in Washington State that she purchased for $8.275 million in 2018.
In 2014 she spent $14 million for a home in Telluride, Colorado.
Oprah bought her first property in Maui in 2002. Over the years she has spent as much as $60 million to piece together 160+ acres in Maui. She spent $32 million in one transaction alone to buy the property next door.
In total, Oprah owns hundreds (potentially over 1000) of acres of real estate in the United States with a minimum value of $200 million.
Philanthropy: As of this writing, Oprah has given more than $400 million to charity, mostly focusing on educational causes. She has paid for more than 400 scholarships to Atlanta’s Morehouse College.
In 1998, she launched Oprah’s Angel Network, a charity that supports nonprofits around the world. Oprah’s Angel Network has raised more than $80 million to date for a variety of organizations. Oprah personally pays for 100% of the Network’s administrative costs so 100% of all raised funds can go directly to the nonprofits.
In 2007 Oprah established the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. To date, she has personally given $40 million to fund the school. As of this writing, the school has an enrollment of 322, with plans to expand to 450.
Oprah’s Angel Network raised $11 million for Hurricane Katrina relief, with Oprah donating an additional $10 million.
In 2013 she donated $12 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. That same year, Oprah received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Barack Obama.