18 Facts about Oprah and her Extravagant Lifestyle
Rising above the odds, giving bucket loads of gifts, and personally cashing ginormous checks — these are a few of Oprah Winfrey’s favorite things.
Coming from absolutely nothing and making herself into seemingly absolutely everything, Oprah is one of America’s most beloved and influential celebrities.
She’s the world’s first black female billionaire with an extraordinary story, lavish tastes and a big heart.
Here are 18 things about Oprah’s billionaire life that you may not have known.
She Comes From Rough Beginnings
She Was Born into Poverty
Oprah was born in the tiny southern town of Kosciusko, MI, in 1954. (At the time, about 6,700 people resided there).
Her parents were too unmarried young adults — 20-year-old Vernon Winfrey, a soldier, and 18-year-old Vernita Lee, a housemaid — were too broke to buy Oprah proper clothes.
Growing up, kids made fun of the future billionaire for wearing overalls made from potato sacks and called her ‘Sack Girl.’ She also purportedly ‘befriended’ cockroaches and made a toy doll out of a dusty old corn cob.
Wearing sack clothing is pretty awful, but it was nothing compared to what Oprah would have to endure. A 19-year-old cousin raped Oprah when she was 9 years old. Then, for several years after that, a family friend and an uncle also molested her.
She also endured physical and emotional abuse from her family. Oprah opened up about this during a 2012 interview with David Letterman at Ball State University during a lecture series.
“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 told Letterman. "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."
You can watch the interview between Oprah and Letterman on YouTube.
At 14 she became pregnant, but the child was premature and died soon after birth.
Her Struggles Made Her Strong
Oprah Wasn’t Born as Oprah
Oprah’s birth name is actually Orpah, ostensibly after a minor biblical figure. However, so many people mispronounced and misspelled her name — Oprah has said even her family got it wrong on occasion — that ‘Oprah’ eventually stuck.
And while Orpah seemed like an unusual enough name, Oprah was completely new.
Her Start in TV Was Rocky
'What is an Oprah?'
Oprah’s first job was as a news anchor for Nashville’s WLAC-TV in 1974. Even at 20 years old she was setting trends: she was the first female news anchor at the channel, and the first female African American anchor.
Two years later, Oprah moved to Balitmore and worked as co-anchor of WJZ’s newscast with Jerry Turner. It was a rather high position for a 22-year-old, but the network ran an ad campaign promoting their new anchorwoman. To build her up, the station decided to have fun with Oprah’s unusual name.
As she told the Baltimore Sun: “I was on the back of buses. I was on billboard. That was the promo on WJZ: 'What is an Oprah?' — done to the tune from 'A Chorus Line.' And [on-camera] people would say things like, 'I don't know. Did you say Opree? Did you say Opry? Did you say Opra? Did you say Opera?' And what happened is that when I arrived, people were expecting this big something. The buildup was so strong. And I'm just a colored girl with a lot of hair sitting next to Jerry Turner, and everybody's like, 'Whaaaaaaaaattttt? That's what an Oprah is? She's not all that?' I could not live up to the hype.’"
Oprah was making $22,000 a year — about $95,000 in today’s money. It was a lot of money, but she wouldn’t get to see all of it.
April Fools, You’re Fired! No, Seriously, Oprah, You’re Fired.
According to Oprah, Turner didn’t want to work with an inexperienced 22-year-old girl from Tennessee. It didn’t help that Turner was a beloved veteran anchor and had a lot of sway. About eight months later, on April 1, 1977, she was fired from her position.
“The general manager called me upstairs, and I thought it was an April Fool's joke when they told me, 'We have bigger plans for you; we're going to put you on the morning cut-ins,’” she told the Baltimore Sun.
Essentially, she was fired from her high-ranking position and put in a faceless voice-over gig.
But it worked out for the best.
She Started Her Talk Show Career in the Late '70s
In 1978, Oprah co-hosted the show “People Are Talking” on WJZ TV. Later, in 1983, she heard of a morning show in Chicago which needed a host so she sent in her audition tape, which you can watch here.
Three years later, she would go on to host “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which lasted 25 years and solidified her as the queen of media.
She Founded Harpo Studios in 1986
Oprah’s production studio, Harpo Productions, has been running since 1986. Harpo—which is Oprah spelled backwards—is now an industry giant.
The company’s Harpo Print division produces “O, the Oprah Magazine” and it co-owns “The Oprah Winfrey Network,” which broadcasts to approximately 82 million homes.
The network hosts shows such as “Oprah’s Master Class,” “Rachel Ray” and “Dr. Phil.”
She Strives for Excellence
She Recently Purchased a Horse Farm for $29 Million
In 2016, Oprah bought a sprawling 23-acre farm with ocean views in Montecito, Santa Barbara for a staggering $28.8 million.
The site includes a 5,000 square-foot main home designed by architect Cliff May — who invented the ranch house design— as well as two private wells, horse pens, covered stalls and riding areas, according to CNN.
However, the area didn’t come with horses, and it’s unclear if the media mogul will stock those stables, if she even keeps them (although she reportedly likes riding horses in Hawaii).
But she’s probably not going to be moving in there. Oprah already owns a mansion nearby…
Her Properties Are Lavish, and Require a lot of Water
Her Main Property Is Worth About $50 Million
Near her equestrian estate is Oprah’s primary residence — a massive 23,000-square-foot Georgian which the media queen has nicknamed “The Promised Land.”
Oprah purchased the Montecito mansion for somewhere around $50 million. The 60-plus-acre estate is dotted with Live Oak trees and also has a rose garden, tea house and pond with a fountain, according to Vogue.
The property is so huge that grounds men and security detail ride golf carts to traverse the California estate, which resembles a Southern Plantation. The original property was 42 acres, but when Oprah’s neighbor died in 2016, she bought up the 23 acres of land, adding to it oak trees and “a fountain the size of a lake that shoots water to the heavens,” to quote Vogue.
Oprah also owns 163 acres of real estate in Maui, and a $14 million home in Telluride, CO.
Her Annual Water Bill Is More Than Most People Make All Year
All of that land in California requires a lot of water.
According to Politico, Oprah’s yearly water bill in Montecito was “just shy of $125,000” in 2013.
During the California drought of 2014, Oprah had tanker trucks filled with precious water shipped in to keep the grounds green.
She’s Given Away a Ton of Freebies
“You get a car! You get a car! You get a car! Everyone gets a car!”
Who doesn’t know that line?
Oprah’s “Oprah” had been giving away freebies almost every show up to the final episode. What started with a simple key lime pie gift would gradually morph into lavish gifts like Volkswagen Beetles, trips to Disney land, iPads and diamond earrings.
Jezebel estimates the “Oprah” show dished out around $23.8 million worth of goodies-under-the-seat over eight years between 2002 and 2011 (no gifts were given in 2009 — probably due to recession-related budget cuts).
She Owns a (Very Expensive) Private Jet
Sometime around 2007, Oprah bought a Global Express XRS executive jet from Bombardier Aerospace for $42 million.
That’s pretty damn expensive, even for a private jet — private jets generally range from $3 million to $90 million.
Of course, that doesn’t count the cost of fuel and maintenance, which can easily add up to several million a year.
She Made $70 Million on a Painting
In 2006, Oprah anonymously purchased Gustav Klimt’s “Adele Block-Bauer II” for $87.9 million.
In 2016, Oprah decided the painting was no longer one of her favorite things and sold it to a Chinese collector for around $150 million, according to Time.
She has her Muffins Flown In From California
Oprah might be hundreds of miles away from her favorite bakery on any given day, but that doesn’t stop her from getting her beloved carb fix: According to People, Oprah has her muffins flown in from Napa Valley.
The muffins themselves aren’t too expensive—they’re $40 for a dozen muffins plus a jar or preservatives—but the cost of delivery is probably a bit steep, especially if Oprah wants them fresh. (She didn’t say how much the airfare cost, but judging by her other tastes, it’s probably not cheap).
She Spent $40 Million to Open a School in Africa
In 2007, Oprah opened up a school for disadvantaged girls in Henley-on-klip, South Africa.
“The boarding school has transformed the lives of hundreds of students in grades 8-12, providing them with the educational and emotional tools to realize their dreams of pursuing careers in such illustrious fields as medicine, public service and architecture,” According to Variety.
That $40 million was just the initial cost, though. Oprah has spent somewhere around $140 million to keep the school running — and that includes a lot of overhead. Oprah pays for “every sock, every uniform, every set of braces,” reports Variety, adding that she also paid for one girl’s medical bills after a car accident.
She’s America’s Third Richest Self-Made Woman
With a net worth clocking in at $2.9 billion, Forbes ranks Oprah as a third place tie-in for America’s richest women who created their own fortune, tying with Oklahoma-born gas station mogul Judy Love.
First on the list? Marian Ilitch, co-founder of Little Caesars Pizza, with a $5.1 billion net worth.
A Swiss Shop Wouldn’t Sell her an Expensive Handbag
While sojourning in Switzerland for Tina Turner’s wedding in 2013, Oprah stopped by an upscale handbag store to do some shopping.
One bag caught her fancy — a $38,000 crocodile skin handbag by Tom Ford — so she asked the shopkeeper to see it. But the shopkeeper refused and told the billionaire that the handbag would be too expensive for her, and instead tried to show her a different, cheaper one.
The shopping-trip row made headlines around the country and raised the issue of racism, with media speculating — and Oprah insinuating — that the bag would have been too expensive for a black person. The shop owner said the whole thing was a misunderstanding over language barriers.
Either way, they lost out on a lucrative sale and the possibility of a very wealthy repeat customer.
She Deposited a Million-Dollar Check Just for the Heck of It
For pretty much everyone, going to the bank is an inconvenience. For Oprah, it was a full-out experience — not because they laid out the red carpet for a photoshoot or anything, but because it made her feel normal.
In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah said she went to the bank for the first time since 1989 to deposit a $1 million check. Apparently she went there and stood in line, “just to do it,” she told DeGeneres.
“It felt fantastic,” laughed Oprah, then adding “Actually, it was two million.”
Oh, the mundane things we take for granted.