Oprah Winfrey's Mom Vernita Lee Dies at 83

Oprah Winfrey's mother, Vernita Lee, has passed away at the age of 83, according to a report by TMZ.

Lee and Winfrey have been open about their complicated relationship, which has figured heavily in Winfrey's on-screen career. It was Winfrey's niece, Alisha Hayes, who reportedly posted about Lee's passing on social media. Lee passed on Thanksgiving day, leaving behind two daughters, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Lee has reportedly been laid to rest already, in a private funeral service. Her family has asked for donations to Feeding America in lieu of flowers or other gifts of condolence.

Winfrey has still not confirmed or commented on her mother's passing in any public statement. The TV icon is known to keep her private life relatively quiet, while her social media consists mostly of business and promotion. However, she did post a sweet video of herself kicking back with Lee on Mother's day earlier this year.

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Hope you all celebrated your moms today. I think this is the ultimate gift !@footnanny

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Lee was born in 1935, in a Mississippi that was still racially segregated. She had Oprah with Vernon Winfrey, but soon left her daughter with her grandmother while she moved to Milwaukee, where she worked as a maid.

Winfrey lived with her grandmother for six years. When she moved in with her mother, she says Lee was a total stranger to her. In the past, she has recalled being confused by the reunion.

"I was asking the question... what is a mother?" she has reportedly said. "What are you supposed to feel about your mother?"

While living with Lee, Winfrey was sexually and physically abused by other family members. At the same time, her mother gave birth to another daughter, whom she immediately put up for adoption. Winfrey would not meet this half-sister, Patricia Lee, until 2010.

Over time, Winfrey repaired her relationship with Lee. Her mother joined her on TV on occasion, and they settled their differences, cleared the air and even learned to have some fun together. In 1990, she had professional stylists give Lee a make-over on her talk show.


Around the time they reconnected, Lee was reportedly working as a dietitian at a hospital, still living in Milwaukee. She retired as Winfrey grew more successful, and began sending Lee a monthly stipend to support her. Lee moved into a luxury condo.

There is no telling if or when Winfrey will choose to memorialize her mother in a more public setting. Winfrey has had a busy schedule recently, with lots of TV and movie work, as well as her ongoing political activism.