Vernita Lee Dies; Mother of Oprah Winfrey Was 83

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Sad news out of Hollywood today, as Vernita Lee, the mother of iconic media mogul Oprah Winfrey, has passed away.

A rep for Winfrey confirmed this morning that Lee died at her home in Milwaukee on Thanksgiving Day

Vernita Lee Pic

She was 83 years old.

Lee was just 18 when she gave birth to her first child, a daughter who she named Orpah after a figure from the Old Testament.

The girl became known as Oprah due to frequent mispronunciations.

Vernita Lee Image

Oprah spent the first six years of her life living with her grandmother in Mississippi before relocating to Milwaukee to live with Lee.

Vernita later gave birth to Oprah's half-sister, who passed away in 2003.

Lee helped to shape her daughter's worldview during her childhood and remained a prominent figure in Oprah's life throughout her adult years.

Vernita Lee Photo

During speaking engagements, Oprah often shares the story of a transformative experience in her life that occurred when she was 12 years old and Lee -- who was working as a maid at the time -- was unable to afford Christmas presents.

Several nuns came to the family's aid with food and toys on Christmas Eve.

Oprah says Vernita used the experience as a teachable moment and impressed upon her daughter that acts of charity "enlarge the spirit of somebody else."

Oprah Winfrey in Yellow and Black

A lifelong member of the NAACP, Vernita instilled in her daughters a passion for political activism that's helped to define Oprah's career and public image.

Earlier this month, Winfrey knocked on doors for Stacey Abrams, who was then running for governor of Georgia.

The activist mentality that Oprah inherited from her mother long ago helped to make her as much of a power player in the political sphere as in the world of entertainment.

The Big O, Winner

Rumors that Oprah might run for president have been circulating for years, but for now at least, it looks as though the media icon will refrain from throwing her hat in the ring.

Of course, no matter what Oprah does next, she'll remain one of the most powerful and influential people on the planet.

And it was Vernita Lee who helped the young girl from humble beginnings believe she could achieve anything.

Our thoughts go out to Oprah and her family during this difficult time.

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Oprah Winfrey Biography

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Oprah Winfrey is a very famous talk show host. Maybe you have heard of her. She may not pump her own gas anymore, but she's extremely... More »
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Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey Quotes

I like money. It's good for buying things. What you want is money with meaning. Meaning is what brings real richness to your life.

Oprah Winfrey

Anyone that tells you that having your own private jet isn't great is lying to you.