×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Winfrey wages quiet war on shame

Eye on the Oscars: Governors Award

There was no single moment when Oprah Winfrey realized she wanted to give back to those less fortunate. The urge was always with her.

“I always knew because I was a girl that got saved,” says Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award honoree Winfrey. “I was saved by the kindness of people — some who knew me pretty well, others who didn’t know me at all. I’ve never forgotten how that made me feel as a human being.”

The multihyphenate, who founded the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and the now-shuttered Oprah’s Angel Network, recalls an adolescence filled with shame over her family’s poverty. As a 12-year-old living on welfare in rural Mississippi with her mother and half-brother and -sister, she witnessed the power of giving when a group of nuns visited her house on Christmas Eve, bearing gifts and essentials.

“It wasn’t about the toys or even about the food,” Winfrey says. “It was about not having to be ashamed.”

Years later, after achieving fame and fortune, Winfrey decided to emulate the nuns’ Christmas gesture. She assembled a team of 50 in the United States and another 50 in South Africa and went from village to village bringing toys and clothes and books to the locals.

“I thought the kids would be happiest over the toys, but they were happiest over the clothes,” she says. “I remember saying to one of the workers, ‘God, I can’t believe they’re more excited over these cheap little skirts and tops than soccer balls.’ And she said to me, ‘The clothes help reduce the shame.’ And I got it. I thought that was a full-circle moment.”

And though Winfrey is worth an estimated $2.7 billion, according to Forbes, she prefers tithing to paying taxes. So she isn’t jumping on billionaire Warren Buffett’s call for the rich to pay more taxes.

“I feel that I am taxed enough,” she says. “If you looked at my income and imagined half of that going to taxes, I think I’ve done my share. Every time I come in on the interstate, I thank myself for it.”

Eye on the Oscars: Governors Award
After 50 years, Jones is still the Man | Smith remade makeup field | Winfrey wages quiet war on shame | Winfrey eyes return to acting

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Harvey Weinstein

    Weinstein Can Get a Fair Trial in Manhattan, Says D.A.

    The Manhattan District Attorney’s office argued on Friday that Harvey Weinstein can get a fair trial in Manhattan, and blamed the producer’s defense team for much of the pre-trial publicity in the case. Weinstein’s attorneys have asked an appellate court to transfer the case — which is set to begin on Sept. 9 — to [...]

  • Leonardo DiCaprio Madonna

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna Call for Action on Amazon Wildfires

    As wildfires rage at an alarming rate in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, celebrities are using their platforms to bring awareness to the deforestation’s impact and to call for action. In the past week, stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Cara Delevingne and Ariana Grande have taken to Instagram to express their frustration with the lack of [...]

  • 'The Durrells' TV Show

    Greece Sweetens Production Incentives as Struggling Country's Economy Rebounds

    It’s taken the better part of a decade for Greece to show signs of recovery from the crippling crisis that almost pushed it out of the Eurozone. Now, with the economy slowly on the mend, the government is doubling down on efforts to jump-start the local film industry, giving a dramatic overhaul to the incentive [...]

  • Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group announced it has entered a partnership with the music streaming and discovery service Audiomack, marking the platform’s first licensing deal with a major label. According to the announcement, the two companies will work together on content concepts and explore ways to break emerging artists, connecting music fans with rising talent before they [...]

  • Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on

    Scooter Braun Congratulates Taylor Swift on ‘Brilliant’ Album and Campaign

    Two days after Taylor Swift fired off the latest salvo in her battle with Scooter Braun, the manager congratulated the singer on the campaign around her “brilliant” new album, “Lover,” which arrived last night. The message came after Swift said she will be re-recording songs from her first six albums, which are now owned by [...]

  • David Koch Obit

    David Koch, Libertarian Activist and Billionaire Philanthropist, Dies at 79

    David Koch, brother of Charles Koch and one of the owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest private company in the U.S., has died at 79. According to the New York Times, Charles Koch announced the news of his brother’s death in a statement. Though he did not attribute to David’s death to a particular cause, [...]

  • Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing

    Beverly Hills Realtor Accused of Stealing From Usher, Adam Lambert

    A Beverly Hills real estate agent has been arrested on charges of stealing from the homes of celebrities, including Usher, Adam Lambert and “Real Housewives” star Dorit Kemsley. Jason Emil Yaselli, 32, is accused of encouraging an accomplice, Benjamin Ackerman, to enter homes during open houses in order to steal from them. Ackerman allegedly sold [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content