Jan. 24, 2011 — -- Talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey revealed a "bombshell family secret" today, telling her viewers that she recently learned she has a half-sister whom her mother had hidden from her for decades.
"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," said Winfrey, 56.
Winfrey's half-sister Patricia, a single mother of two, had been given up for adoption in Milwaukee, Wis., by Winfrey's mother, Vernita Lee, in 1963.
"I was 9 years old at the time of [Patricia's adoption], living with my father in Nashville, Tenn.," Winfrey said. "I had no idea my mother was even pregnant."
Winfrey had two other siblings, a brother and a sister, who are both dead. Vernon Winfrey, Winfrey's father, is not Patricia's father.
"For the most part, my life has been an open book and on the show I think I've seen about everything," Winfrey said. "And I thought nothing could surprise me anymore, but let me tell you I was wrong."
Winfrey described learning about her half-sister as news that "shook her to her core," and left her "speechless."
Patricia, whose last name was not revealed on the show, said that she first discovered her link to the media mogul in 2007, after years of searching for her birth mother.
After her birth mother refused to meet with her, Patricia, on the phone with her son, Andre, happened to overhear a local news report about Winfrey's mother, who was giving new details about her other children.
"Her mother said that two of children had passed away, and I knew [from my records] that I had two siblings who passed 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."
"I said no, that can't be," Patricia said.
But it was. DNA tests proved that Patricia was an 85 percent match to Winfrey's niece, who is the daughter of the first Winfrey sister named Patricia, who died in 2003.
Winfrey's longtime best friend and editor of 'O' magazine, Gayle King, told ABC News today that the media mogul was stunned, particularly that the sister she never knew showed so much loyalty.
"Here's a woman who legitimately had a story to sell and didn't," said King. "She was trying to find her mother. Oprah, of course, just turned out to be a bonus."
Tuesday morning, Winfrey will appear on King's program, "The Gayle King Show," on the OWN cable channel to talk about her revelation.
Winfrey's Thanksgiving Reunion
Winfrey spent much of today's episode lauding Patricia for not going to the media with her revelation. Now in the middle of the final season of her ratings-shattering, 25-season-long show, Winfrey made it clear that she wanted to be the one to tell the public her family secret.
"Needless to say, it's something you need to process when it happens and my family and I agreed that we wanted to do it on our own terms and not have it be some big tabloid spectacle," Winfrey said.
Patricia and the rest of Winfrey's family kept the secret so well from the talk-show host that it was an assistant to Winfrey who finally told her the news at the end of October.
"My assistant Libby told me 10 minutes before a taping," Winfrey said, explaining that she and her cousin had been playing phone tag, and much of the family wanted her mother to be the one to tell her the news. "It was through my assistant, that's how I found out.
"I called my mother to literally confront her and ask her, 'Is this true? Is this true?" Winfrey said. "She finally said, 'Well, yes, I think it's true.'
"There have been few times I've been anywhere and I haven't been sold out," Winfrey said. "There have been few times where you can bring anyone new into your life and not have that person in some way betray you or use you or take advantage of you."
Winfrey has never been one to shy away from sharing the details of her tumultuous family history, which has involved sexual abuse by family members and the death of a son shortly after she gave birth to him as a teenager.
"What's so extraordinary about Patricia and [her children] Andre and Aquarius is that they've known this secret since 2007 and she never once thought to go to the press," she said. "She never even thought to sell the story."
"When I heard this about you, I said regardless, I didn't know if it was true or not true that you are my sister, I had to meet you because I wanted to meet someone who had that type of character," Winfrey said. "So thank you."
Patricia and Winfrey met for the first time on Thanksgiving.
"You look just like Pat," Winfrey screamed, referring to the strong resemblance between her half-sister and her deceased sister Pat.
"We spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know each other," Winfrey said.
Winfrey, Patricia Confront Their Mother, Vernita Lee
A few weeks after the meeting, Winfrey and Patricia visited their biological mother to ask her why she gave her baby up for adoption and why she hid it for so long from her family.
"I made the decision to give her up because I wasn't able to take care of her," Lee said in a pretaped segment of the show. "So when I left the hospital, I told the nurse I wasn't going to keep the baby.
"The nurse said, 'But she's such a cute little girl, why not?'" Lee said.
Lee said that she went back to the Milwaukee-area hospital after leaving to get the baby back but was told that the girl was gone.
"I didn't know if someone had adopted her or what," Lee said.
Asked why she kept her daughter a secret for so long, Lee said, "Well, because I thought it was a terrible thing for me to do. That I had done gave up my daughter when she was born."
Patricia, breaking into tears, said, "I am just trying to take it all in right now, because I never heard that I was a pretty baby.
"I always had a feeling that she didn't mean to give me up, and her saying that she came back to get me means a lot," Patricia said.