For Second Straight Year, Gates Leads List Of Richest Americans Winfrey Barely Makes Top 400 List, But Her Entertainment Wealth May Soar
Soon it may be Oprah with nine O’s.
In Forbes magazine’s 1995 list of the 400 richest Americans, Oprah Winfrey stands at No. 399. Although she has a considerable way to go, she’s en route to becoming America’s first black billionaire, the magazine said in its Oct. 16 issue, released Sunday.
Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates, whose accomplishments this year included finally introducing Windows 95 and turning the Stones into software pitchmen, held the top spot for the second consecutive year. Forbes put Gates’ net worth at about $14.8 billion.
Investor Warren Buffett again assumed the No. 2 slot, this year at roughly $11.8 billion. His bottom line was boosted by about $400 million after The Walt Disney Co. offered $19 billion for Capital Cities/ABC Inc., one of Buffett’s longtime holdings.
Winfrey, the only entertainer on the annual list, is worth about $340 million, which Forbes said put her just ahead of New York money manager Leon Levy. The 41-year-old Chicagoan owns her top-rated talk show and production company, Harpo (Oprah spelled backward), and holds a big stake in the show’s distributor, King World Productions Inc.
Winfrey’s coffers will continue to grow as she benefits from five-year deals for “The Oprah Winfrey Show” signed last year with 210 television stations, plus a six-film commitment from ABC and King World stock options. She also plans to become a Hollywood producer.
Gates, 39, of Bellevue, Wash., called the Forbes list “silly” last year when he edged Buffett for No. 1 at $9.35 billion. This year, his 20-year-old company, which supplies the software for 80 percent of the world’s personal computers, dominated news pages and advertising space with the Windows 95 software launched Aug. 24.
Buffett, 65, of Omaha, Neb., renowned for building his Berkshire Hathaway Inc. investment firm with long-term investments in steady successes such as Coca-Cola and Cap Cities, is about $2.6 billion richer than last year.
Gates and Buffett also are the wealthiest commoners in the world, Forbes said. The only foreigners who aren’t royalty and approach their riches are Swedish packaging magnate Hans Rausing and Japanese railroad and hotel tycoon Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, both worth about $9 billion.
Rounding out the top five:
John Kluge, 81, of Charlottesville, Va., chairman of Metromedia Co. Kluge announced in August the sale of his entire $930 million stake in WorldCom Inc., the nation’s fourth-largest long distance company. Kluge, worth about $6.7 billion and also No. 3 last year, has interests in restaurants, entertainment, broadcasting and medical technology.
Paul Allen, 42, of Mercer Island, Wash., cofounder of Microsoft and owner of the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team. The value of Allen’s Microsoft shares helped him jump from No. 16 to No. 4 with a worth of about $6.1 billion.
Sumner Redstone, 72, of Newton Centre, Mass., chairman of Viacom Inc. He jumped 12 spots to No. 5 with a worth of about $4.8 billion, in part by paring the entertainment empire. Viacom put “Melrose Place” producer Spelling Entertainment Group Inc. up for sale, agreed to sell its local cable television systems to Tele-Communications Inc. for $2.25 billion and sold its Madison Square Garden division to ITT Corp. for $1.01 billion.
Among those bumped from last year’s list were Bill Cosby, producer Aaron Spelling and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione.
This year’s total of 94 billionaires on the list tops last year’s record 83 billionaires. The top 400 have a combined worth of $395 billion - about $26 billion larger than the economy of Brazil.