You'd be hard-pressed to find a millennial who didn't come home from school, settle in with an after-school snack, and tune in to The Oprah Winfrey Show before starting her homework. Spanning 25 seasons, Winfrey's self-help-oriented daytime talk show consistently brought in millions of inspired viewers daily and received a whopping 47 Daytime Emmy Awards.
Yes, Oprah is extraordinary, and the reasons go far beyond her popular, soulful talk show. Before self-help was a widely understood genre, Oprah was giving viewers their daily dose of ideas for inspiration, compassion, and self-improvement. In honor of her 64th birthday, here are four reasons Oprah started so many on a path to self-help.
She's a model of extreme resilience.
Thanks to a life dedicated to inspiring others, Oprah is now a multibillionaire. But if you look back at her history, her dedication to helping others seems to have come, first and foremost, from helping herself. Oprah was born in rural Mississippi, where she suffered years of sexual abuse from multiple men in her life. She went on to get pregnant at age 14, and when her baby was born prematurely, she lacked the resources to help him survive.
But from a devastating childhood came tremendous growth: Starting in high school, it became clear that Oprah was a gifted speaker. She won an oratory contest in high school that won her a full scholarship to the historically black college Tennessee State University. She majored in communications there, where she started getting involved in media. The rest is history.
Inclusiveness has always been important to her.
In 1997, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres took a big step: She came out as gay on television. At the time, DeGeneres was playing the character of Ellen Morgan on her show Ellen, and Oprah played the therapist she came out to. "[Oprah] started to cry," remembers Dava Savel, executive producer on Ellen. The tears just flowed down her cheeks, and she said, 'I'm so proud to be a part of this. I'm so proud.'"
She prioritizes female friendship and women's rights.
Amid decades of false rumors that she was carrying on a romantic relationship with her best friend, Gayle King, Oprah's friendship with King has been an inspiration to women everywhere as they've publicly supported each other's careers and personal lives with unwavering loyalty. While reflecting on a career change, Oprah notes, "Gayle was the only one who said 'I think you can do it!'"
But her support of other women goes far beyond her friendship with King. In an astounding Golden Globes speech earlier this month, Oprah made her feelings on women's rights known to a captivated, tearful audience. "I've interviewed and portrayed people who've withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights," she says. "So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again."
She was the first to offer a spiritual path that anyone can get on board with.
When Oprah kicked off "Super Soul Sunday" in 2011, the idea was to explore spirituality in a way that wasn't limited to a specific religion. On the show, Oprah interviewed popular names in the wellness world like Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert, organizational psychologist Adam Grant, Gabrielle Bernstein, and more. "I see it as an offering," she says of her show. "If you want to be more fully present and live your life with a wide-open heart, this is the place to come to."
Happy birthday, Oprah!
If you want more from Oprah, here are 20 of her most inspirational quotes.