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Oprah at 60: Six news-making moments

As the media mogul celebrates six decades of life, we celebrate six of her most controversial moments.
Oprah Winfrey attends the 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014 in Santa Monica, California.
Oprah Winfrey attends the 19th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014 in Santa Monica, California.

Oprah Winfrey celebrated her 60th birthday Wednesday in relatively quiet fashion

The self-made media mogul tweeted out a photo of long-stemmed roses she received from actress Cicely Tyson, thanked supporters for a birthday video from fans, and celebrated a couple days early with a birthday spin class. But according to an E! Online report, she canceled plans for a big bash.  

While she kept her birthday low-key, she has made waves over the course of her unparalleled career. To honor her six decades, we rounded up six of her most controversial moments.

1. Barack Obama endorsement

The talk-show host -- often described as one of the most influential women in the world -- made headlines in 2007 when announced she was formally endorsing Barack Obama for president. It was the first time Winfrey had thrown her support behind a political candidate. 

When Larry King asked what inspired the decision, she pointed to her relationship with Obama and his wife. 

“I know him personally,” she said. “I think that what he stands for, what he has proven that he can stand for, what he has shown was worth me going out on a limb for – and I haven’t done it in the past because I haven’t felt that anybody, I didn’t know anybody well enough to be able to say, 'I believe in this person.'”

2. Taking on beef

Her beef with the cattle industry might not have been a battle she planned to have, but Oprah didn't shy away from it. The fight began when Winfrey invited a former cattle rancher onto her show in 1996 to talk about some of the more controversial practices in the industry, and she said his revelations made her want to stop eating hamburgers. When the price of beef dropped shortly thereafter, a group of cattle ranchers decided she was to blame, and they sued her for their losses. Eventually she won that lawsuit, announcing after the decision, "free speech not only lives, it rocks!" 

3. Schoolhouse rocked

No stranger to philanthropy, Winfrey beamed with pride in 2007 when she opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. But a matron who worked at the boarding school was charged with more than a dozen counts of abuse against the students. 

Winfrey apologized for the allegations (the accused employee was ultimately acquitted) and quietly cleared out all staff who might have been connected to the alleged abuse and refocused her attention on the school. By 2012 she celebrated her first graduating class with positive press and a special on her network. 

4. Talking Trayvon

After George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Winfrey weighed in on the case with a strong comparison.

“Trayvon Martin paralleled Emmett Till, let me just tell ya. In my mind, same thing," she said during an interview with TheGrio's Chris Witherspoon in early August. "You can get stuck in that and not allow yourself to move forward and see how far we’ve come." 

When the comments drew a backlash, she refused to back down. Questioned about it again on Morning Joe later that month, Oprah said, "Trayvon is the Emmett Till of our era."  

5. Obama & racism in America

Oprah spoke out on race again while promoting her new film, "Lee Daniels' The Butler." 

During a BBC interview in November of last year, Winfrey said some people are still "terrorized" because of the color of their skin, and that such practices wouldn't end until a generation of racists passed on. 

“As long as people can be judged by the color of their skin, the problem is not solved,” she continued. “There are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it – in that prejudice and racism – and they just have to die.”

She also argued that Obama has been subjected to an increased level of disrespect "that occurs in some cases and maybe even many cases because he’s African-American." 

Her comments drew fire from conservatives, who said her affluence made her unable to understand racism. 

6. Brushes with racism of her own? 

Winfrey created an international firestorm last year when she suggested she might have been subjected to racism when a clerk at a high-end boutique refused to show her a $38,000 purse she assumed Winfrey could not afford. 

Within a week of telling that story to Entertainment Tonight, Winfrey backtracked somewhat, saying she was sorry to have put a focus on the store. Reporters had sought out the store's owner, who insisted the incident had nothing to do with racism and was simply a miscommunication.

“I was just referencing it as an example of being in a place where people don’t expect that you would be able to be there,” Winfrey told the Associated Press later. “For me, racism doesn’t show up. No one’s going to call me the n-word to my face unless they’re a thug on Twitter or Facebook.”

“I was just saying it shows up for me differently. It shows up," she added. "I’m in a store and the person obviously doesn’t know that I carry the black card and so they make an assessment based upon the way I look and who I am." 

Bonus -- Watch one of the most emotional moments from Rev. Al Sharpton's interview with Oprah from last year. 

The Memory That Brought the Rev. Al Sharpton to Tears

Five days a week, the Rev. Al Sharpton tapes his MSNBC show PoliticsNation at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. Every time he walks through the entrance, he says, he thinks about his mother, Ada, and how she sacrificed for her family. Watch as the reverend is overcome with emotion while talking about his late mother, a woman who believed and invested in him.