Oprah: A Biography by Kitty Kelley

May 27, 2011

Summary (from the publisher): For the past twenty-five years, no one has been better at revealing secrets than Oprah Winfrey. On what is arguably the most influential show in television history, she has gotten her guests—often the biggest celebrities in the world—to bare their love lives, explore their painful pasts, admit their transgressions, reveal their pleasures, and explore their demons. In turn, Oprah has repeatedly allowed her audience to share in her own life story, opening up about the sexual abuse in her past and discussing her romantic relationships, her weight problems, her spiritual beliefs, her charitable donations, and her strongly held views on the state of the world.

After a quarter of a century of the Oprah-ization of America, can there be any more secrets left to reveal?

Yes. Because Oprah has met her match.

Kitty Kelley has, over the same period of time, fearlessly and relentlessly investigated and written about the world’s most revered icons: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Reagan, England’s Royal Family, and the Bush dynasty. In her #1 bestselling biographies, she has exposed truths and exploded myths to uncover the real human beings that exist behind their manufactured facades.

Turning her reportorial sights on Oprah, Kelley has now given us an unvarnished look at the stories Oprah’s told and the life she’s led. Kelley has talked to Oprah’s closest family members and business associates. She has obtained court records, birth certificates, financial and tax records, and even copies of Oprah’s legendary (and punishing) confidentiality agreements. She has probed every aspect of Oprah Winfrey’s life, and it is as if she’s written the most extraordinary segment of The Oprah Winfrey Show ever filmed—one in which Oprah herself is finally and fully revealed.

There is a case to be made, and it is certainly made in this book, that Oprah Winfrey is an important, and even great, figure of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. But there is also a case to be made that even greatness needs to be examined and put under a microscope. Fact must be separated from myth, truth from hype. Kitty Kelley has made that separation, showing both sides of Oprah as they have never been shown before. In doing so she has written a psychologically perceptive and meticulously researched book that will surprise and thrill everyone who reads it.


  • I thought this was a mostly balanced account of Oprah’s public life. The the author made it fairly obvious that she didn’t much care for Oprah or Oprah’s tactics, I thought she showed restraint and didn’t interject too much speculation or opinion along the way. I guess the limited commentary was necessary, though, otherwise Oprah’s lawyers would have been all over the book in a heartbeat.
  • I didn’t know anything about Oprah’s life prior to coming in. Sure, I’d heard about the sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted family member, but the baby, prostitution, and drug use were completely new to me. In that regard, the book was rather informative.
  • I had no idea that Oprah keeps such tight rein on every little thing associated with her image. From the sweeping NDAs that employees must sign to the purchasing of the rights to every photo snapped of her… wow, there is a woman obsessed with control. I’m glad that Kelley was able to score some of the NDAs and quote them for readers to see how detailed and all-encompassing they were.
  • I thought the looks at the Oprah-Stedman-Gayle triangle were interesting. I always thought Oprah and Stedman seemed like an odd couple, and Kelley confirms this by quoting Oprah’s interior designer or architect (I forgot the guy’s exact title), who said that even in their home Stedman is a mere afterthought. I don’t know if Oprah and Gayle’s relationship is sexual, but I have always believed they are closer than Oprah ever was to Stedman.


  • This book was way too long and repetitive. Kelley wrote at length about all the inconsistencies in Oprah’s various accounts of her own childhood, and while I understand Kelley’s desire to be thorough, I think readers would be able to draw their own conclusions even with far fewer examples.
  • I didn’t like Kelley’s charts showing Oprah’s donations to charity compared to her earnings. I have never been of the opinion that rich people are obligated to donate money, and felt that Kelley was somehow trying to shame Oprah by saying she only gave away 5% of her income or whatever it was. That was in poor taste, IMO.
  • Similarly, I feel that rich people should be able to spend their money on lavish items if they want to, without incurring judgment from others. So what if Oprah has a bathtub the “size of a pond”? Her spending $200,000 on something is probably equivalent to the average person spending $200, so what seems extravagant to us doesn’t seem so to others. It’s all relative, ya know? Do people really expect Oprah to get her bathroom from Home Depot or shop at Wal-Mart for extra savings? Come on!


I don’t feel strongly about Oprah Winfrey one way or the other, but do tend to view her more favorably than not. I wanted to read this book because of all the hoopla surrounding Oprah’s final show, and I guess it was worth my time. Some of the chapters were riveting, while others made my eyes glass over, but all in all, Oprah by Kitty Kelley was informative without being gossipy. If you’re already a fan of Oprah’s then you probably won’t learn anything new here; if you’ve never spent much time reading about the queen of talk, then you’ll learn a few tidbits. I give the book 3 stars out of 5.

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