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Oprah rebrands July 4 as ‘Vernon Winfrey Appreciation Day’ to surprise her ailing dad

A woman in a suit jacket and glasses flashes a broad smile
Oprah Winfrey credits her father with instilling her work ethic.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Oprah Winfrey’s Fourth of July weekend had a special purpose: honoring her 89-year-old father, who is battling cancer.

For Independence Day, Oprah traveled to Nashville, where she was brought up, to throw a surprise barbecue for her dad, Vernon Winfrey. For the event, aptly titled the “Vernon Winfrey Appreciation Celebration,” the media mogul decked out tables with white linen and adorned them with white flowers.

“We’ve been planning a backyard barbecue that’s actually more than a barbecue,” Oprah said in a video posted to her Instagram. “It’s for Vernon Winfrey Appreciation Day. Because my father is ill, and we wanted all of his friends to come and celebrate him while he’s able to receive the joy.”

A barber of 50 years, Vernon was told it was strictly a Fourth of July party. Instead, he walked into the backyard to see all his loved ones, along with a sign in his honor and a variety of balloons — and, of course, his own barber chair.

Ahead of a new documentary about racial inequities in healthcare, the TV host opens up to The Times about her own experiences.

“Thank you for being the kind of father who has brought honor to your life and honor to my life,” Oprah told her father while he sat in the chair.

Gospel singer Wintley Phipps flew in from Maryland to sing three songs, while Vernon’s older sister Christine surprised him by flying in from Mississippi, bringing tears to his eyes.

“I learned from your good work ethic, showing up, being on time — that is why for 25 years of the ‘Oprah’ show, I never missed a show,” Oprah told him.

It’s unclear what kind of cancer Vernon Winfrey is dealing with, and his famous daughter didn’t provide any other details about his condition.

Marissa Evans’ father began 2022 eating apple pie and feeling like it would be their family’s year. He died of COVID-19 before the end of January.

In March, Oprah spoke with The Times’ Marisa Evans about the challenges Black people face when seeking healthcare. She noted that her fame and fortune had allowed her to receive better access to healthcare than many Black people have but said she felt a responsibility to shed light on disparities and call for change through her recent documentary, “The Color of Care.”

“I think my biggest misconception was that it was about health insurance, that it was about having access financially, and if you didn’t have the money, then you couldn’t get the care that you needed,” Oprah said.

“What COVID laid bare is that inequities in so many other areas of your life also contribute to the major disparity when it comes to healthcare.”


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