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Oprah Winfrey says her father has died at 89, recounts 'sacred honor' of being by his side in last moments

The TV mogul announced the death of her father on Saturday, writing on social media that he had been surrounded by family.
Dr. Barbara Winfrey, Stedman Graham, Vernon Winfrey and daughter Oprah Winfrey arrive at the opening of Charlie's War at the Nashville Film Festival at the Green Hills Regal Cinema May 2, 2003 in Nashville Tennessee.
Dr. Barbara Winfrey, Stedman Graham, Vernon Winfrey and daughter Oprah Winfrey arrive at the opening of Charlie's War at the Nashville Film Festival at the Green Hills Regal Cinema May 2, 2003, in Nashville, Tennessee.Adriane Jaeckle / Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey’s father, Vernon Winfrey, died on Friday, July 8, at 89 years old.

Vernon Winfrey had been ill, his daughter said in earlier social media posts. Winfrey did not share any details about the illness.

Winfrey shared the news on social media in a touching post, which included a video of her father being sung to at a recent Fourth of July celebration her family held.

In the caption, the 68-year-old entrepreneur penned a touching message in honor of her father.

"Less than a week ago we honored my father, Vernon Winfrey, in his own backyard," Winfrey wrote. "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."

"Yesterday with family surrounding his bedside I had the sacred honor of witnessing the man responsible for my life, take his last breath," she continued. "We could feel Peace enter the room at his passing. That Peace still abides. All is well."

Winfrey concluded her caption with a message thanking her followers for their prayers during this difficult time.

According to the Washington Post, throughout his life, Winfrey’s father held several roles in the East Nashville community where he moved after being in the U.S. Army. While he had been a barber for well over 50 years with his own barbershop, he also was an elected Nashville city councilman, a deacon at his church and the owner of a small grocery store.

Winfrey’s mother, Vernita Lee, died on Thanksgiving in November 2018 at age 83. In an interview with People at the time, Winfrey opened up about her mother’s death, explaining to the outlet, “I feel like it was as sacred and as blessed as a passing can be.”

On the Fourth of July, rather than celebrating Independence Day, Winfrey and her family celebrated what she called a “Vernon Winfrey Appreciation Celebration.” The former talk show host shared a sweet video documenting the day on her Instagram, filmed by Gayle King.

“So we’ve been planning a backyard barbecue, that’s actually more than a backyard barbecue. It’s for ‘Vernon Winfrey Appreciation Day,’” she said. “‘My father is ill and so we wanted to be able to have all of his friends come and celebrate him while he’s able to receive the joy.”

Behind the camera, King asked Winfrey if her father was aware of the meaning behind the party, to which she replied that he “doesn’t even know that this is for him,” saying he thought it was just a “Fourth of July thing.”

In the caption on her Instagram, Winfrey wrote, “Giving my father his 'flowers' while he’s still well enough to smell them. Happy 4th of July as you gather with your family and friends. Remember to celebrate each other.”

For Father’s Day this year, Winfrey honored her own dad for a story on her website Oprah Daily, reflecting on spending her teenage years in Nashville with him.

“My father was strict, he was disciplined, always afraid that I was gonna stray from the path of righteousness he was trying to lay before me,” Winfrey wrote, citing a favorite parable of his.

Winfrey said that her father was the reason why people would eventually know her name, adding, “So today I salute my father, Vernon Winfrey, and all the fathers who’ve done the best they knew at the time to give you, me, us, the guidance and support they were capable of. I know firsthand how the trajectory of life can change by the positive influence of a good father.”

CORRECTION (July 18, 2022, 12:16 p.m.): An earlier version of this article misstated the age of Vernon Winfrey. He was 89, not 88.