Oprah Meets Her Secret Half Sister

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Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Oprah Winfrey speaks on a panel during the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) Television Critics Association winter press tour on January 6, 2011.

Having tugged on heartstrings for decades with shows that reunite lost relatives, the queen of talk has experienced firsthand the power of reunion by meeting the half sister she never knew she had.

“Imagine my shock just a few months ago, at the end of October, when I found out I have another sister living just 90 minutes away,” Winfrey said on the episode of her talk show that aired this morning. She went on to explain that her half sister—single mother of two Patricia—discovered that the two were related in 2007. That discovery came after she had already spent years searching for her birth mother—Oprah’s mother Vernita Lee—who gave her up for adoption in 1963.

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“I was 9 years old at the time of [Patricia’s adoption], living with my father in Nashville, Tennessee,” Winfrey said. “I had no idea my mother was even pregnant.”

Lee, Winfrey’s mother, refused to meet Patricia when she contacted her. But chance intervened and Patricia, who lives in Milwaukee, overheard a local news report about Lee which mentioned that two of her children had passed away. Patricia knew from her records that she had two siblings pass away. “She said one was named Patricia and one was Jeffrey,” Patricia said. “The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, because I knew that one of my siblings and I shared the same name.” DNA tests proved that Patricia was an 85% match to Winfrey’s niece, the daughter of Oprah’s sister Patricia who died in 2003.

Intense media speculation over Oprah’s secret kicked off last Thursday after she aired a mysterious promotional spot. “I was given some news that literally shook me to my core. This time, I’m the one being reunited,” she said. “I was keeping a family secret for months, and on Monday you’re going to hear it straight from me.”

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Kitty Kelley, who wrote an unauthorized biography of Oprah last year, told Time Out Chicago blogger Robert Feder on Saturday that the mystery guest would be a half sister named “Bunny.” Citing an “inside family source,” Kelley claimed that Winfrey’s mother gave her away “because she couldn’t afford to take care of her.”

Winfrey’s family seemed as puzzled as the rest of America ahead of this morning’s broadcast. “I don’t have the least idea of what she has in mind,” Vernon Winfrey, her father, told the Associated Press on Sunday.

Others incorrectly speculated that the guest would be a biological parent who had hidden in the shadows until now. Kelley’s biography alleged that Vernon isn’t actually Oprah’s father. Oprah has never commented publicly about the book.

According to various biographies, 57-year old Winfrey was born to unmarried teenagers Winfrey and Lee, and raised, at different points, by her mother, a grandmother, her father and a stepmother in Mississippi, Wisconsin and Tennessee. (via the AP )

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