Oprah Talks to Stevie Wonder
Oprah: Can you explain how you came to be so smart, sensitive, and connected to the world without being able to see? And do you remember colors at all?
Stevie: When someone mentions a color, I associate it with my understanding of what that color is. I may have been able to see for a short time after I was born.
Oprah: Weren't you put in an incubator and given too much oxygen?
Stevie: Right—I was premature. My doctor didn't know what's known now about the right amount of oxygen, so I was given too much and an area of my eyes was destroyed. A girl who was born one minute before me actually died. She couldn't withstand that much oxygen.
Oprah: Have you ever felt bitter because of the doctor's mistake?
Stevie: No. Once when I went to Saginaw, Michigan, and visited the hospital where I was born, there was this big hoopla—they gave me a special award. I think people were scared I was planning to sue that doctor's ass. But he didn't have any intent to harm me.
Oprah: I read that when you were 5, you said to your mom, "Don't worry about me being blind, because I'm happy." True?
Stevie: I said something like that. It bothered me that my mother was crying all the time. She thought God might be punishing her for something. She lived during a time when things were particularly difficult for a woman in her circumstances. I used to say that if something happened to my mother, I wanted to die with her. That's because I loved her so much. I want to live so I can carry out the essence of what she has shown me: kindness and goodness.
Oprah: What are the biggest lessons she passed on to you?
Stevie: To persevere. To never be ashamed. To not let my past bury me. When I was a child, kids used to make fun of me because I was blind. But I just became more curious: "How can I climb this tree and get an apple for this girl?" That's what mattered to me. We had these woodsheds in the backyard, and we played a game where we'd jump from the top of the woodshed into the alley. Who could jump the farthest? The kids were like, "Go, Steve, go!" but I guess I missed the moment when my brother Larry whispered, "Momma's home." So I'm on top of the shed saying, "Are you ready? Here we go!" And I jumped right into my mother's arms.
Stevie: Yes—and she whipped that ass! [Laughs.]
Oprah: How old were you?
Stevie: About 8.