Five Things You Need to Know About Kitty Kelley's Controversial Oprah

Secret birth father! Her sexuality! Fling with John Tesh! Such are the "revelations" in unauthorized biography

By Gina Serpe Apr 12, 2010 4:20 PMTags
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Yeah, yeah, we know.

You've watched her talk show every day for almost 24 years, you have a lifetime subscription to O, you're a charter member of her book club, and you've TiVo'd every teary made-for-TV movie she's put her name above the title of.

But until you've gotten a load of the dirt Kitty Kelley dug up for her new, highly unauthorized biography, you don't know Oprah Winfrey. Here are the CliffsNotes (or should that be Tesh Notes?):

• She hooked up with John Tesh. Yeah, that John Tesh. Before there was Stedman Graham (whom a source in the book calls "boring as hell"), there was Teshy. Back in the mid-'70s, prior to his entrée into New Age born-again synth-playing, he was a news anchor at Nashville's WTVF-TV, when a then-20-year-old Winfrey was hired on staff. According to Kelley's book, the unlikely duo struck up a relationship and eventually moved in together, until the "social pressures" of being an interracial couple got to Tesh. As the story goes: "He said one night he looked down and saw his white body next to her black body and couldn't take it anymore. He walked out in the middle of the night…He told me he later felt very guilty about it." And we thought being dumped via Post-It was bad. For his part, Tesh hasn't commented on the coward's run, but confirmed to Entertainment Tonight that the duo "dated for a short time...We remain friends to this day."

• She rules by fear. Not intentionally, mind you. But while appearing on the Today show (the only one that'll have her, apparently) this morning, Kelley said that the book inadvertently turned her into the Kathy Griffin of the publishing world. Among those who've allegedly blacklisted Kelley: Barbara Walters, Larry King, Rachael Ray, Charlie Rose and David Letterman. (We're assuming the big O herself goes without saying.) "You're very brave," she told Matt Lauer. Don't forget glib!

• The book isn't going to do anything to stop those gay rumors. "I know people are expecting me to 'out' her," Kelley told USA Today. "But I think she's just asexual. She's poured all of her energies into her career. And if she is, she is never ever, ever going to come out. So relax, people." Of course, that didn't stop her from liberally quoting Rosie O'Donnell on the Howard Stern Show last year musing that Oprah and BFF Gayle King are "the emotional equivalent of a gay couple," or author Erica Jong's remark that she "would not be surprised if Oprah is gay."

• She has a secret birth father. Kelley has described Winfrey's life as being "choked with secrets," the biggest one of which is her not knowing who her birth father is. Kelley spent three days in Mississippi with Winfrey's aunt, Katharine Esters, who told Kelley the identity of Winfrey's real father but swore the author to secrecy. Kelley did not divulge the information in the book, because she said Winfrey's mother has yet to share that information with her famous daughter. (Of course, as Esters is still holding a grudge against Winfrey for failing to promote her own memoir and harbors long-held "disagreements over the family's history," she may not be the most unbiased source out there.)

• Oprah might want to have her lawyers take another look at those confidentiality agreements. Kelley interviewed roughly 850 sources for the book, most of whom are "present or former employees," whom Kelley said had to remain anonymous "because they signed binding confidentiality agreements." Well, clearly not that binding. She also managed to score an interview with Oprah's father, Vernon Winfrey, who let rip the following sound bite-ready quotes: "I need her show like a hog needs a holiday." And! "She may be admired by the world, but I know the truth. So does God and so does Oprah. Two of us remain ashamed." With fathers like that, who needs alleged birth parents?

Oprah the book is out tomorrow.

(Originally published on April 12, 2010 at 8:22 a.m. PT)


Think there's any chance this book is gonna put a crimp in Oprah's ever-expanding empire? Think again.