"There are so many secrets in her life," Kelley, 68, said Monday on NBC's Today show. "Secrets about her relationship, secrets within her family."
Kelley was unable to talk to Winfrey, 56, for the book but scoured countless interviews the talk-show queen has given through the years, and also quotes friends, family members and employees – some on the record, others not – to get a glimpse inside Winfrey's closely guarded world.
Among the more personal topics Kelley attempts to address: whether Winfrey is gay, and the extent of the sexual abuse she suffered as a girl.
On the issue of whether Winfrey and best friend Gayle King are lesbian partners, Kelley concludes there is "no foundation for the rumors of a lesbian relationship." But in excerpts published by USA Today, Kelley quotes Rosie O'Donnell (from a 2009 Howard Stern interview) saying Winfrey and King are the "emotional equivalent of a gay couple," and author Erica Jong saying, "I would not be surprised if Oprah is gay."
Questionable MotivesLikewise, Kelley says Winfrey was molested as a girl, but quotes Katharine Carr Esters, an 81-year-old cousin of Winfrey's, who questions that assertion.
"I don't believe a bit of it," Esters tells Kelley. "No one in the family believes her stories [of sexual abuse], but now that she's so rich and powerful everyone is afraid to contradict her."
But as The New Yorker points out, Esters's motives could be questionable, as she reportedly holds a grudge stemming from Winfrey's failure to help her publicize a memoir.
Kelley also claims that Esters told her who Winfrey's real father is – but that she left that out of the book because Winfrey's mother has been unwilling to tell her daughter over the years.
Kelley claims to be having trouble getting booked for interviews about the biography, saying everyone from Barbara Walters to Larry King to David Letterman have turned down her publisher's requests. But at the core, she says, her book is uplifting.
"I can't think of a better life story [than Oprah's]," she says. "You come away being inspired."