Arts and Culture

Oprah's long-lost sister elevates life story to preposterously heartwarming levels

She's not the first long-lost celebrity relative to come randomly out of the woodwork, but where most of them are deadbeat dads or biological mothers seeking a coattail-riding boost to gaudy tabloid fame, Oprah's newly found sister seems, like everything in Oprah's crazy, made-for-TV life story, to be legit. And with the media queen stepping out from her long-running show at the end of this year to run her own network, it would seem this late-game plot-twist is almost the only thing big enough to offer a conclusion to her truly outsized legacy.

It's a credit to her almost superhuman ability to generate new stuff to talk about that Oprah's mean-streets beginnings don't often get discussed anymore, but the fact that her mother just admitted to walking out of the obstetrics ward without her newborn child does recall it to mind: She straight up came from the school of hard knocks.

Born in rural Mississippi, which is probably where all heartstring-pulling triumphant stories should begin, she spent the first six years of her life living with her grandmother and was so poor she actually wore dresses made out of potato sacks. Then it got even worse. At age six, she moved to Milwaukee to live with her mother, where she was sexually molested by several family acquaintances before running away from home at age 13 and getting pregnant at age 14. She had the baby. It died in infancy.

So basically, Oprah pretty much had it like Precious, except worse.

Things looked up for her in high school when her mother sent her to live with her biological father in Nashville, where she found some success in school, became Miss Black Tennessee and got a part-time job at a local news station. From there, she bounced around as a news anchor until she took over the lowest-rated daytime talk-show in Chicago and, over the course of the next 25 or so years, made herself so fabulously rich and famous she doesn't even need a last name -- shit, she's so famous she doesn't even need a whole name. She just brands things with the first letter of her first name, and people know what's up. She's so famous, even her only-famous-by-proxy boyfriend doesn't need a last name. She's the world's only black billionaire. She gives away free cars just to do it.

She's seen some drama along the way, sure, and some might say she's played it cannily -- but if that's the case, good on her, because Oprah Winfrey is a fucking legend, and now equipped with a long-lost sister, she is a living American fairy tale. She's like The Color Purple, King Midas and The Prince and the Pauper all rolled into one.

Next up: Stedman turns out to be a prince, and she grants everyone in the studio audience three wishes.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte