From poverty to a $3 billion fortune -- the incredible rags-to-riches story of Oprah Winfrey

OprahChris Jackson/GettyOprah Winfrey is the only black woman on the Forbes list of the 400 richest people in America.

As a child, Oprah Winfrey wore potato sacks because clothing did not always fit into the budget of her poverty-stricken family.

Today, Forbes estimates Winfrey’s net worth at $US3 billion, and she is the only black woman on the publication’s list of the 400 richest people in America.

Before she became a media mogul and the queen of daytime TV, Winfrey suffered a tumultuous childhood.

She was shuffled between family members, spending her first few years on her grandmother’s farm in rural Mississippi while her unwed teenage mum looked for work, according to the Academy of Achievement.

When her grandmother fell ill, 6-year-old Winfrey was sent to live with her mother in a Milwaukee boarding house, where she would not only grow up around extreme poverty, but also endure years of sexual and physical abuse.

She was raped for the first time at age 9 by her 19-year-old cousin, writes Oscar Bamwebaze Bamuhigire in his book “The Healing Power of Self Love.” It would be the first of several episodes.

At age 14, Winfrey broke free and went to live with her dad in Nashville, Tennessee, where her success would start to take course.

Her dad provided direction, discipline, and a sense of structure that Winfrey had never known, according to the Academy of Achievement. The stable and education-centered environment he created allowed her to thrive academically and socially at East Nashville High School, where she became an honour roll student and was voted the most popular girl in her class.

It was at East Nashville High where she would discover her passion for media. She joined the speech team and worked for a local black radio station after school.

By her senior year she had secured a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She left college early, however, at age 19 to pursue a career in media.

Screen Shot 2015 05 27 at 4.43.12 PMYouTube/OWN TVOprah Winfrey in 1983 at age 29.

Her gamble paid off.

She became the first black female news anchor before the age of 20 in Nashville, starting with a few gigs as a local anchor before landing a co-anchor position in Baltimore. She was sexually harassed and humiliated at her job in Baltimore, according to DailyWorth, but didn’t need to quit — she was fired seven and a half months after joining.

Winfrey didn’t stay down for long. She landed a gig hosting the then-stagnant morning talk show, “AM Chicago.”

Within a few months, Winfrey turned “AM Chicago” from the lowest-rated talk show in Chicago to the highest-rated one, writes the Academy of Achievement. Three years later the show would be renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

She made a savvy, career-transforming move in 1986 when she founded Harpo Productions and negotiated ownership of the “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which brought in $US300 million a year during its peak. Her company later produced lucrative spinoff shows, including “Dr. Phil” and “Rachael Ray.”

While best known for her award-winning talk show, Winfrey has also been involved in films, television series, and plays. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 1985 drama “The Colour Purple.”

She also published her own magazine, The Oprah Magazine; started a radio channel, Oprah Radio; and most recently partnered with Discovery Communications to launch a cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Now 61, Winfrey has a lifestyle that she could only have dreamed of during her traumatic childhood.

She flies in her own $US42 million, custom-designed Global Express XRS jet.

Her impressive real-estate portfolio includes a $US52 million estate in Montecito, California, which she nicknamed “The Promised Land;” a 15,000-square-foot duplex in Chicago; a farmhouse in Kula, Hawaii; 63 acres of land near Maui’s Hamoa Beach; a vacation home on the shores of Antigua; a shore home in Lavallette, New Jersey; a ski villa in Telluride, Colorado; and a home in Douglasville, Georgia.

She even has her own street: Chicago Mayor Richard Daley renamed the blocks in front of Harpo Studios “Oprah Winfrey Way.”

GettyImages 3405173Erik Aeder/GettyOprah Winfrey’s estate in Kula, Hawaii.

Winfrey also hasgiven millions of dollarsto charity, mostly directed towards three foundations:The Angel Network,The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, and The Oprah Winfrey Operating Foundation.

She’s come a long way from the girl who wore potato-sack overalls, now donning Prada and Jimmy Choo.

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