Oprah Winfrey‘s father Vernon Winfrey has passed away at the age of 89 following a battle with cancer. His death was confirmed by Oprah’s digital publication Oprah Daily on Saturday, July 9, which also included a statement from the legendary talk show host.
“Less than a week ago we honored my father in his own backyard,” she wrote, referencing a 4th of July celebration which she dubbed ‘Vernon Winfrey Appreciation Day.’ The get together was an opportunity for the community of Nashville to thank Vernon — who was a former city councilman — for his service.
“My friend and gospel singer Wintley Phipps saluted him with song. He FELT the love and reveled in it until he could no longer speak,” Oprah said in her statement. “Yesterday with family surrounding his bedside I had the sacred honor of witnessing the man responsible for my life, take his last breath. We could feel Peace enter the room at his passing,” she added to her message, which was also posted to Instagram.
“That Peace still abides. All is well. Thank you for your prayers and good thoughts,” Oprah concluded. Learn more about her father here.
Vernon shares Oprah with Vernita Lee
Vernon and Oprah’s late mother Vernita Lee were never married. Vernita, who passed away in 2018 at the age of 83, gave birth to Oprah at just 14 years old. “My mother and father never married,” Oprah explained in the past.
“They had sex one time. He gets a letter after I’m born saying, ‘Send money. You have a daughter,’” she said, revealing that Vernon never knew if he was actually Oprah’s biological father. “And the reason he did, he said, is because it could have been him. And the responsibility that he took for me, not just a responsibility but care and love and direction and support as a young teenage girl, is the thing that made the difference in me being who I am now or somebody you would have never, ever heard of,” she also said.
Oprah lived with her father between the ages of 7 and 9 and as a teenager.
He worked as a barber
Vernon was a barber for over 50 years, and owned the Winfrey Barber & Beauty Shop in Nashville. At the age of 86 — so just two years ago — he was still cutting hair. In 2012, Oprah purchased the business where her father continued to work.
Oprah has previously spoken about her experience of being in Vernon’s barbershop, and how it gave her perspective on how so many Black men work hard to be good fathers and support their families — just like her dad. “Men would come in, hardworking men, doing everything they could in their lives to support their families, working sometimes two and three jobs to do that,” she said. “So that’s the story I know of Black fathers — the ones I grew up with and the man I know.”
He was a city councilman
Beyond being a barber, Vernon was also in politics. He served for 16 years on the Metro Nashville Council, in addition to being a trustee for the Tennessee State University.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper posted a tribute for Vernon after his passing via Twitter. “I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Vernon Winfrey. Vernon served on Metro Council for 16 years and dedicated his life to entrepreneurship, barbering, and mentoring young men in the community. An Army veteran and deacon, he leaves behind a legacy of service,” he wrote.
He was in the military
Vernon served in the United States Military in the 1950’s — including when Oprah was born on January 29, 1954. Oprah was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi.
Oprah has said Vernon ‘saved’ her
Oprah has previously opened up about going to live with her dad as a teen, which changed the “course” of her life. “I started acting out my need for attention, my need to be loved,” she told the Washington Post in 1986. “My mother didn’t have the time. She worked every day as a maid. … I was smart and my mother, because she didn’t have the time for me, I think, tried to stifle it.”
Today, she credits her father for “saving” her. “It changed the course of my life. He saved me,” she said. “He simply knew what he wanted and expected. He would take nothing less.”