5 Things You Didn’t Know About Oprah Winfrey

Today, Oprah Winfrey celebrates her 63rd birthday. You may think you know her well after tuning in to her talk show for decades, but did you know she talked her way out of kindergarten? Two days in, Winfrey wrote a letter to her teacher that read: “I don’t think I belong here ’cause I know a lot of big words.” And she skipped to the first grade. 

The story is fitting, given Winfrey’s no-holds-barred hosting style: By confessing intimate details about her life and tearing up alongside her guests, Winfrey is credited with popularizing the form of communication known as “rapport talk,” and what The Wall Street Journal called “Oprahfication,” meaning “public confession as a form of therapy.” In the spirit of full disclosure, here are five other things you may not have known about Oprah Winfrey.

1. Winfrey was fired from her first job as an anchor.

Shortly after studying speech communications and performing arts at Tennessee State University, Winfrey was offered a job as a coanchor on Baltimore’s WJZ-TV. Seven and a half months in, Winfrey was given the boot and reportedly told by a producer she was “unfit for television news.” “I had no idea what I was in for or that this was going to be the greatest growing period of my adult life,” Winfrey later said. “It shook me to my very core.” (The upswing? That’s where she met longtime pal Gayle King, who was then working as a production assistant.)

2. Winfrey has been engaged to Stedman Graham since 1992.

The story goes like this: One afternoon in October, Winfrey and King were waiting for Graham to arrive to Winfrey’s farmhouse in Indiana from Chicago with a tape of an upcoming Oprah Winfrey Show. The girls never did get around to watching the video; between the time Winfrey went outside to meet Graham and the time she returned, she was engaged. As to why the couple has yet to tie the knot? Winfrey told a reporter in 2013: “If you ever interviewed [Graham], he would tell you that had we married, we would not be together today. Because he’s a traditional man and this is a very untraditional relationship. And I think it’s acceptable as a relationship, but if I had the title ‘wife,’ I think there would be other expectations for what a wife is and what a wife does.”

3. If Winfrey were to get married, she’d do it in Oscar de la Renta.

While she has yet to make it to the altar, Winfrey considers her turn at the 2010 Met Gala a close second. “I had a surreal moment getting ready,” she recounted to Vogue’s Jonathan Van Meter on the phone the morning after. “I had always thought, if I was going to be the marrying kind—which clearly I’m not—I had dreams of Roberta Flack singing at my wedding as I’m wearing an Oscar de la Renta gown. That was my plan. So I came close to that last night. There was no Roberta Flack, but as I was walking down the aisle holding Oscar de la Renta’s hand, wearing his gown, I thought, This is kind of out-of-body for me.”

4. The only way to get to Winfrey’s home in Colorado is by gondola.

The $14 million mansion is located in an area of Telluride called Mountain Village. To get there, one must take a 10-minute gondola ride up one side of a mountain and down the other. After such a trip, Winfrey can indulge in a restorative glass of wine; the house boasts a wine cellar designed to resemble a historic mining tunnel. The 56-foot-long space holds 1,600 bottles and comes with water mists and sound effects to make Winfrey (perhaps not coincidentally, also the daughter of a coal miner) feel like she’s in a real-life mine.

5. Winfrey had a hand in the success of a revolutionary underpinning.

Over 25 seasons on-air, Winfrey gifted Volkswagen Beetles, Caribbean cruises, and diamond watches to audiences (medics were brought on to help in case of an audience-member fainting spell). But her “Favorite Things” giveaway episodes led to more than fan hysteria: In 2000, Winfrey recommended a then-new body-slimming undergarment called Spanx. At the time, Spanx was just two years old. Winfrey’s endorsement helped turn it into a household name, changing women’s top drawers—and red carpets—forever.

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