Oprah Winfrey's Net Worth and Legacy as She Turns 61

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By Elyssa Kirkham

Today, GOBankingRates says "Happy birthday, Oprah," as we take a look at her legacy and financial journey.

Oprah's Early Life and Career: She Made Just $227 a Week

Oprah was born in Mississippi and spent her adolescence between her mother's home in Milwaukee and her father's in Nashville, where she moved permanently at14. As a teen working at a Nashville radio station, she seemed to find her calling. Oprah attended college at Tennessee State University, though she left to take a job at a television news station in Nashville.

Oprah has said that her upbringing didn't hold her back, because her core values of hard work and responsibility pushed her to success. "I don't think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good," she said. "I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good."

In her early 20s, Oprah moved to Baltimore to anchor WJZ's nightly news hour, with a salary of $22,000 (nearly $92,000 today), according to Baltimore Magazine. She and her veteran co-anchor were a mismatch, however, and Oprah was demoted. But another opportunity soon followed to co-host a new TV chat show, "People Are Talking," with established newsman Richard Sher. While Winfrey originally resisted the idea, wanting to keep her focus on TV journalism, she agreed and the show began airing in August of 1978.

"From that first day, I knew instantly this is what I was supposed to do," Oprah told Baltimore Magazine. "I felt like I had come home to myself." She and Sher had great chemistry together, and within months turned the program into a hit. Even early in her career with modest earnings, Oprah made a point to give to charity. She gave 10 percent of her income, $22.70 a week, to Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, she told Baltimore Magazine, on a salary that would be roughly equal to $43,000 annually today.

In 1983, Oprah heard about a morning show in Chicago, "A.M. Chicago," that was looking for a host. After sending in an audition tape, Winfrey landed the job and made the move to Chicago as the host of her own morning show in January 1984. In no time at all, Oprah had pushed "A.M Chicago" from last to first place in ratings.

1987: Oprah Became a Multimillionaire in Just One Year of "The Oprah Winfrey Show"

The success of "A.M. Chicago" and Oprah's nominations for "The Color Purple" had gained the talk show host massive exposure. Riding this success, Oprah led a move to expand her show to an hour, rebrand it as "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and nationally syndicate it to 120 channels in 1986. According to Biography.com, in its first season, the show's audience grew to 10 million, grossing an astounding $125 million, $30 million of which went to Oprah. As a still-new show, it also nabbed the 1987 Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Talk Show Host.

This success continued throughout the late '80s and '90s, during which "The Oprah Winfrey Show" owned daytime television. During these peak years, the talk show often averaged over 12 million viewers a day. In 1998 Oprah was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 25th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. By the time Winfrey removed herself from consideration for Daytime Emmys in 1999, she and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" had rounded up 17 Emmy wins. Meanwhile, Oprah's net worth steadily grew, reaching the high hundreds of millions of dollars at the turn of the millennium.

2003: Oprah Is First Black Female Billionaire

2000 brought a new endeavor with the launch of the highly-successful O: The Oprah Magazine. 2003 brought a new milestone for Oprah, when Forbes announced that, at age 49, Oprah was the first black woman to become a billionaire with a reported net worth of $1.1 billion.

Oprah said that her focus on opportunities, hard work and an appreciation for what she had led to her substantial monetary success, and that keeping a gratitude journal was "one of the most important things I've ever done," as it helped her recognize her abundance and grow it. "Focusing on the $3 in your wallet will bring you $5 sooner than focusing on the $50 you don't have," she said.

"The Oprah Winfrey Show" continued to rule daytime ratings throughout the early aughts, finally ending its run in 2012 after 25 seasons. But that hardly meant Oprah was retiring, as the move to step away from her talk show coincided with the 2011 launch of her own television network, The Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN.

Oprah's Legacy Today: Worth Billions, Giving Hundreds of Millions

Today Oprah continues to run O magazine and the OWN channel, which turned profitable in 2013 and is still growing despite initially disappointing ratings. She also came on as an executive producer of "Selma," a historical film centering on a black civil rights march, which was nominated for the 2015 Academy Awards in the categories of Best Picture and Original Song.

While her annual earnings took a dip after she ended "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Oprah still managed to earn a whopping $82 million from June 2013 to June 2014, reports Forbes. Today Oprah Winfrey's net worth is $3 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth, meaning Oprah has tripled her net worth in 11 years since making her first billion dollars in 2003. She is currently the richest black American in the world, according to Forbes.

There's no doubt that Oprah's legacy extends beyond her insane wealth. Throughout her career, Oprah has used her celebrity and her platform to promote issues she is passionate about, most notably racism and sexual abuse, of which Oprah herself was a victim as a child. Oprah also busted down barriers and forged a bigger space for black women in media, television and in business.

A discussion of Oprah's legacy and finances wouldn't be complete without a discussion or her generous philanthropic efforts and charitable giving. Oprah regularly gives generous portions of her massive wealth to educational causes. "I am fueled by my own personal passion to do good in the world," Oprah said in an interview with The Huffington Post.

Much of her charitable efforts have been focused on her own Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, which she has spent approximately $100 million to fund since its founding in 2007, reports Forbes.

This school is a central part of Oprah's legacy, but she defines that in her own way: "The truth is your legacy is every life you have ever touched," she told The Huffington Post. "The imprint, the heart print that you leave on every person's life that you're exposed to -- that is your real legacy."
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