How Oprah went from poverty to a billionaire

Publish Date
Saturday, 13 January 2018, 11:27AM

Life wasn't always sweet for Oprah Winfrey.

Sitting pretty with a net worth of $3.8 billion and tipped to run in the next US presidential race, the chat show star has battled through rape, beatings and poverty to become one of the most powerful women in the world.

Growing up in rural Mississippi, Winfrey had to wear a potato sack because her family couldn't afford proper clothing.

Television personality Oprah Winfrey in Press Room at the Grammy Awards. Photo / Getty

She grew up on her grandmother's farm — where she says she was savagely beaten — while her unwed teenage mother looked for work.

"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."

Oprah Winfrey on stage during her An Evening With Oprah tour on December 2, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo / Getty

But life did not become any easier as Winfrey grew older. During a speech at Indiana's Ball State University in 2012, she told the audience she was raped 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.

It happened after she was sent to live with her mother in a Milwaukee boarding house aged six.

The media mogul said she was sexually abused from the ages of 10 to 14, when she discovered she was pregnant. It was around this time that her mother took her to a detention home.

She would escape and travelled to live with her dad in Nashville, Tennessee where one event changed her life forever.

Two weeks after giving birth, Winfrey's child died. The painful experience was seen by her and her father as a second chance.

"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."

According to the Academy of Achievement (AoA) Winfrey's father provided direction, discipline, and a sense of structure that she had never known.

Businessman Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey ringside at Tyson vs Spinks Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey June 27 1988. Photo / Getty

He gave her a curfew, and he required her to read a book and write a book report each week.

"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," Winfrey told the academy.

It paid off for the talented teenager, who secured a full scholarship to Tennessee State University.

However, she dropped out aged 19 to pursue a career in media — joining her local television station as a reporter and anchor. It was a move that would lead to bigger and better things.

According to AoA, she moved to Baltimore in 1976 to join WJZ-TV News as a co-anchor.

While she was there, she co-hosted her first talk show, People Are Talking. She found her passion and went on to turn a failing half-hour morning program in Chicago into the biggest show in town and, in 1985, it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show.

In a savvy move, she founded Harpo Productions and took on ownership of the entire production.

It was a massive success, bringing in $US300 million a year during its peak. From there she diversified into films, television series, and plays.

She published her own magazine, and started a radio station. She was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 1985 drama The Colour Purple.

Aged 61, she is now the only black woman on the Forbes list of the 400 richest people in America.

According to Business Insider Australia, her real estate includes $US52 million estate in Montecito, California, a 15,000-square-foot duplex in Chicago; a farmhouse in Kula, Hawaii; 63 acres of land near Maui's Hamoa Beach; a vacation home on the shores of Antigua; a shore home in Lavallette, New Jersey; a ski villa in Telluride, Colorado and a home in Douglasville, Georgia.

Despite the hardships she endured as a child and a teenager, Winfrey said she would never take any of it back.

"Everybody has a story and your story is as equally as valuable and important as my story," she told Letterman.

"My story just helped define and shape me as does everybody's story."