The news was first shared by the mogul’s niece Alisha Hayes, and later confirmed by the family. Lee was born in 1935 in Mississippi, and gave birth to Oprah in 1954 after meeting Vernon Winfrey.
Oprah has openly discussed her complicated relationship with her mother in the past. Until the age of six, the future talk show host was raised by her maternal grandmother, before moving to join her mother in Milwaukee. "I was asking the question...what is a mother?” she once said of their separation. “What are you supposed to feel about your mother?"
Oprah had been living with her mom when she was sexually abused by relatives and later became pregnant at 14. "I hit rock-bottom," Winfrey has said of her time growing up with her mother. "I became pregnant and hid the pregnancy. I’d intended to kill myself actually. I thought there’s no way other than killing myself. I was just planning on how to do it. If I'd had the internet, I might not be alive because now you can just Google how to do it."
Lee gave birth to another daughter, Patricia, in 1963, and Oprah and her half-sister did not meet until 2010. Lee also gave birth to a son, Jeffrey, who died from AIDS in 1989.
Oprah eventually repaired her relationship with her mother. It’s not yet reported what Lee’s cause of death was. She is survived by Oprah and Patricia Amanda Faye Lee, as well as her grandchildren Alisha Hayes, Chrishaunda Lee Perez, Aquarius Lofton, and Andre Brown, and great-grandchildren Jaxon Praise Perez, Chai Theresa Perez, Donovan Hayes, and Trinity Hayes.
A private funeral for the family has already been held, and the family is taking donations in Vernita Lee’s name for the organization Feeding America.