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The highs and lows of Oprah Winfrey's life, career

Jan. 29, 1954: Born to an unwed couple in rural Mississippi; catches tiny break when Biblically-inspired given name, Orpah Gail Winfrey, proves too confusing for relatives, and it becomes Oprah.

1973: Sent to live with adopted father Vernon Winfrey in Nashville; becomes first black anchor at WTVF-TV in Nashville; co-habitates with future TV host and New Age musician John Tesh, who eventually breaks up with her.

1984: Moves to Chicago to take over a third-place daytime talk show, AM Chicago; onetime date Roger Ebert tells her to syndicate show nationally.

1986: Nominated for an Academy Award for a role in The Color Purple, right; Oprah goes national; Winfrey becomes a millionaire and beats Phil Donahue to become top-rated daytime talker. But Color Purple gets historic Oscars shutout (11 nominations, no wins).

1988: Takes ownership of her show, cementing her status as ultimate control freak and soon-to-be billionaire.

1992: Begins perpetual engagement to businessman Stedman Graham, sparking perpetual questions about the exact nature of their relationship.

1993: Interview with pop star Michael Jackson is fourth-most-watched event in TV history with 36 million viewers. One question: "Why do you always grab your crotch?"

1996: Oprah Book Club begins, teaching millions the difference between a Franzen and a Frey.

1998: Sued by Texas cattlemen after mad cow disease episode; beats rap with help from then-jury consultant Dr. Phil McGraw. Also spent $20 million founding female-centered Oxygen network, showed off 67-pound weight loss and starred in biggest film failure, an adaptation of Toni Morrison's Beloved.

2002: Founds O, most successful magazine startup in industry history; circulation more than 2 million.

2004: Named by Forbes as world's only black billionaire. Gets Pontiac to give cars worth $28,000 each to 276 audience members but refuses to pay $7,000 in taxes each person must pay to keep it.

2005: Watches Tom Cruise jump off couch several times into status as perpetual pop culture joke.

2008: Endorses Barack Obama for president; announces she will partner with Discovery Communications to turn its Discovery Health Channel into an Oprah-centered cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

2009: Announces she will leave her syndicated broadcast show, Oprah, at end of the 2010-11 TV season, starting longest, teariest goodbye in TV history.

Jan. 1, 2011: Launches Oprah Winfrey Network to average of 1 million viewers, sees ratings plunge to an average 127,000 viewers by mid April.

The highs and lows of Oprah Winfrey's life, career 05/23/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:50pm]
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