By Josh Katzowitz, WCI Content Director
No matter what you think of Dr. Mehmet Oz—as a respected heart surgeon, as a controversial talk-show host, as a wealthy-beyond-your-imagination product-slinger, or as a potential US senator—the fact he is where he is, the fact he’s amassed a nine-figure fortune and has an enormous annual income, is a testament to his father. At least that’s the way Mehmet Oz tells it.
Dr. Mustafa Oz was born in 1925 and grew up in poverty in the Turkish village of Bozkir. Nearly 100 hundred years later, his son is one of the richest and most well-known doctors in the US who has built a media empire that he hopes translates into congressional power.
That path to riches didn’t start with Mehmet Oz. It started with his dad.
“Dad changed everyone who met him,” Mehmet Oz wrote when his father died at the age of 93 in 2019. “I remember as a child running behind his fast-moving legs while he made hospital rounds. Even as he aged and his legs no longer raced along, his mind never slowed down. I fell in love with medicine after witnessing my dad do sometimes painful procedures on desperately sick patients who subsequently thanked him for saving their lives. The opportunity to help is a powerful aphrodisiac and the responsibility to act should not be squandered, so he insisted that he and his children were ‘The Best,’ a contagious admonition.”
According to Henry Louis Gates’ work Faces of America, Mustafa Oz was one of a dozen children born to a pair of uneducated farmers in southern Turkey, not far from the Mediterranean Sea. They had almost nothing, and about half of their children didn’t survive into adulthood. But Mustafa did well at school, studied medicine, became a Turkish government physician, applied to US residencies even though he didn’t speak English, and got accepted to Western Reserve University Hospital in 1955.
Five years before Mehmet Oz was born in Cleveland, the path for his success was already being constructed.
Did Dr. Oz Grow Up Rich?
After completing his residency in Cleveland, the elder Dr. Oz began his cardiothoracic training in Atlanta and then moved his family to Wilmington, Delaware so Mustafa could train other physicians.
While Mehmet’s father apparently grew up in dire poverty, his mother’s side had money—they were even considered affluent. When Mehmet Oz visited his family in Turkey during the summers of his youth, he got to experience homes, meals, and events that he called “somewhat luxurious.” Until, that is, his father, who was worried that Mehmet was losing touch with his Turkish roots, made him visit Mustafa's side of the family. Those relatives didn’t speak much English, and they had nothing but dirt on their floors at home.
Mehmet called those visits a culture shock. But it probably anchored him even more deeply to his roots.
“The great thing about America is that you can hold on to whatever heritage you come from,” he said in 2011, via SJ Magazine. “We celebrate the different cultures, so I had the privilege, as the son of immigrant parents, to grow up American while staying deeply in touch with my Turkish roots.”
Presumably, the Ozs were well off while living in Delaware, but Mehmet Oz didn’t let his son forget how his family learned to survive while living in that impoverished Turkish village decades earlier. “My father is a hard dude,” Mehmet said many years later. But that’s how Mustafa could endure, and no matter how much money the family had or how well they were living in the US, Mustafa was always fearful that Mehmet would become complacent.
One interesting story: As Mehmet tells it, he and his father were in an ice cream shop when he was 7. A child who was a few years older stood in front of them. As they waited in line, Mustafa asked the older child what he wanted to be when he grew up. The kid turned and said, “I don’t know. I’m 10.” It was an acceptable answer by most people’s standards.
But a few seconds later when it was just Mustafa and Mehmet, the dad looked at his son and said, “Don’t you ever give me the answer that kid gave me. I don’t care what you’re going to become. I don’t care if you change your mind 100 times. But you always have to know what you want to be, because otherwise, you can’t aim in that direction.”
When Mustafa then asked what Mehmet wanted to be when he grew up, the answer was immediate: the little boy wanted to be a doctor. Just like his father. Mehmet never changed his mind, and the path to wealth and power grew brighter.
How Did Dr. Oz Get So Rich? Net Worth.
According to his most recent government filings in April 2022, Oz is worth between $76 million-$500 million.
How did he get there? In part, he harnessed the power of Oprah.
Oz graduated from Harvard in 1982, and while at the University of Pennsylvania, he earned his MD and his MBA. He went to Columbia for his general surgery and his cardiothoracic surgery residences, and in 1993, he became an attending surgeon in New York. At Columbia, he was named the most outstanding surgical resident four times. He owns 11 heart surgery patents. Clearly, he was a talented physician who probably made good money.
But Oprah took him to a different stratosphere. He first appeared on her show in 2004, and while wearing his blue scrubs, he gave off the appearance of a renowned surgeon who had just emerged from the operating room to educate America on its health. Five years later and after more than 50 Oprah appearances, he had his own national TV talk show that won Emmy Awards, broadcast him into millions of homes every day, and allowed him to increase his footprint across the US.
Oz said that his mother’s side of the family “has been involved with pharmaceuticals for generations . . . The fact that my ancestors liked to give people potions might be reflected in my desire to help you.” One of his long-time colleagues at Columbia told Vox that Oz “was always very committed to preventive medicine, holistic natural health” and that even in the early 1990s, Oz studied “alternative medicine, hypnosis, Eastern medicine, all that stuff—guided imagery, acupuncture. That was 10 years before he ever went on TV.”
Clearly, his East-meets-West brand of medicine struck a chord with his fans as he appeared on TV more often. But as he grew more famous, he promoted controversial health practices, and he was accused by other physicians of being a huckster and a quack.
Since becoming one of America's most visible physicians, he's become awfully problematic for those in the medical community. As noted by the American Medical Association:
“To those ‘exercising power and influence over matters of policy, opinion, or taste'—that is, the medical and political establishment—Dr. Oz is a dangerous rogue unfit for the office of America’s doctor. He has told mothers that there were dangerous levels of arsenic in their child’s apple juice (there weren’t) and suggested that green coffee is a “miracle” cure for obesity. Federal regulators discovered altered data in hyped coffee bean evidence . . . Dr. Oz also featured two guests on his show who claimed that genetically modified foods were cancer-causing (despite repeated safety reports that found no adverse effects. . . . Ten physicians wrote to the medical school dean at Columbia claiming that he was endangering public health, had demonstrated contempt for medical and scientific evidence, and was ineligible to sit on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution. Medical and scientific professionals applauded, claiming Dr. Oz ‘undermines the trust that is essential to physician-patient relationships.'”
His income, though, didn’t suffer.
Earlier this century, he was listed as one of People magazine’s sexiest men alive, and he’s been on the lists of most influential people put together by Forbes and Esquire.
All of that has helped Oz become a very wealthy man.
In 2021, he made about $10 million from The Dr. Oz Show (it’s since been canceled because of his US Senate run, but that show ran for more than a decade). He owns more than $10 million worth of stock in Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft. He owns at least $5 million worth of stock in Wawa, the popular Pennsylvania-based convenience store, and he made at least $1 million in dividends from that stock in 2021.
The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that Oz and his wife have at least $11 million tied up in the Asplundh Tree Experts company, the utility contractor that’s been around nearly 100 years and is owned by his wife’s family.
When he guest-hosted Jeopardy! for two weeks last year, he made more than $268,000 (that money reportedly went to charity). He also earned tens of thousands of dollars for making appearances on the personalized video platform Cameo and other TV and movie appearances. He also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from his patents, and he made hundreds of thousands more by making paid speeches. In 2022, he purchased a home in Pennsylvania for $3.1 million to go with two other homes in New Jersey and a vacation house in Florida that he bought for $18 million.
He also purchased a Florida cattle farm last year. He estimated that the cows who live there are worth between $250,000-$500,000.
All of which means that yes, Oz is rich beyond most physicians’ dreams (and some would say, based on the disastrous grocery-store-crudité video that went viral in August 2022, he's fairly out of touch with most voters). But if Oz wins a US Senate seat, he might have to cut back his spending a bit. After all, he’ll be making $174,000 to fulfill that role.
Mehmet Oz couldn’t have done this by himself, though. His dad helped guide him down the path that Mehmet walks today.
“I think often about what my life would be like if my dad had not taken that fateful trip to Cleveland with zero understanding of the English language or the country,” Oz told Gates. “I would be a very different human being . . .”
Mustafa practiced medicine until he was in 80s. He returned to Turkey, got reconnected with his roots, and continued to perform surgery. His son has taken the path filled with riches that his grandparents who shuffled around on dirt floors never could have imagined.
In that ice cream shop so many years ago, Mehmet told his father that he wanted to be a doctor—probably so that desperately sick patients would one day thank him for saving their lives. For better or for worse, that’s probably not how Dr. Mehmet Oz will be remembered.
[Editor's Note: This column was updated on April 25 to include additional information.]
What I’m Reading This Week
A Fond (Nearly) Farewell to a Retail Giant
For those of us who grew up in the 1980s or early 1990s, Kmart took up plenty of space in American culture—in kind of the same way that Target or Walmart does today. But I haven’t seen a Kmart store in years, and I didn’t even know the brand still existed.
Well, it does. Barely.
By the end of this month, only three Kmarts will still be open in the continental US, according to the Associated Press. For a retail chain that once had more than 2,000 locations and which introduced the term “blue light special” into the national lexicon, this would have been a shocking development a half-century ago.
Especially since Kmart “gives satisfaction always.”
And what would have happened if Martha Stewart actually bought the chain when she was considering it? As she said in 2015, via NBC, “That could have been our store—KMartha! . . . We'd have a fantastic chain of stores right now.” (She also probably would have been barred from her Connecticut country club for good.)
Either way, we can all bid a sorrowful farewell to Kmart, especially since it apparently helped Stewart realize that “Style isn’t a display of wealth but of imagination.”
Residents Are Unionizing
Less than a month after the latest edition of Match Day, residents at the University of Vermont Medical Center voted to form a union, saying they want higher salaries and better working conditions.
“Because the better we're able to care for ourselves, the better we're able to care for our patients,” Dr. Hannah Porter, a second-year resident in dermatology who was one of the organizers of the union push, told Seven Days Vermont.
Before the vote, another resident Becca Merrifox said, “I have studied for years to get to where I am, but as a resident physician, some weeks I make less than minimum wage. We are locked into our contracts with no power to negotiate. It’s hard to take care of patients when you are worried about making ends meet.”
The final vote was 209-59 in favor of creating the union.
In a statement, the hospital said, “We expect to be in contact with the union soon to begin negotiating in good faith a collective bargaining agreement.”
8% Inflation Is Nothing, Right?
While inflation stands at 8.5% today, the highest number in 40 years, Go Banking Rates has an interesting look back at the US’s highest inflationary periods.
And though today’s inflation is a little scary to think about, it’s got nothing on the Revolutionary War-era inflation rate of nearly 30% or the nearly 20% rate that many of our grandparents and great-grandparents experienced during World War I.
Money Song of the Week
Since my family and I are big fans of musical theater, we took in a West End show while we were in London last month, and considering we were vacationing in England, we thought it was appropriate to watch a show about the six wives of Henry VIII.
But the show Six is about much more than why Anne Boleyn was beheaded or how the 16th-century English king wanted to annul the marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and place her in a nunnery. At first, the queens in the show compete to see who had the worst experience with King Henry, but eventually, it becomes clear that the show is less about woe-is-me-ism and more about female empowerment.
Especially when Anna of Cleves, Henry’s fourth wife, begins her tale. Famed artist Hans Holbein painted a portrait of the German-born Anna, and though Henry liked what he saw and chose her as the next queen because of her profile picture, he apparently wasn’t as impressed by her beauty when he met her in real life. He got a quick annulment and promised that he’d give her £4,000 annually.
That leads to the Six song, “Get Down,” which is basically about how Anna of Cleves doesn’t need a man because she’s got money of her own.
As the lyrics clearly state,
“Sittin' here all alone
On a throne
In a palace that I happen to own,
Bring me some pheasant
Keep it on the bone
Fill my goblet up to the brim.
Sippin' on mead and I spill it on my dress
With the gold lace trim,
Not very prim and proper
Can't make me stop,
I want to go hunting, any takers?
I'm not fake 'cause I've got acres and acres
Paid for with my own riches . . .
Head back for a round of croquet, yeah
‘Cause I'm a playa
And tomorrow, I'll hit replay.”
Here's a live version from the Broadway cast.
It's a fun musical that’s more like a pop-rock concert, and it feels like a combination of Hamilton, a dance club that plays German house music, bubblegum pop with maybe a little bit of Spice Girls, a touch of Kinky Boots, and maybe a dash of Anita Baker.
And this song has an important lesson to teach. As one YouTube commenter wrote, “I enjoy that everyone else's songs are deeply tragic and meanwhile Anna of Cleves is just like, ‘Screw you I'm rich.’”
Tweet of the Week
Ah, but a person can dream, right?
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I could have all this by age 35:
– 6 figure passive income
– An empty calendar
– My forever home, paid off
– Vacation home in Maui
– 2 Teslas (S and X)
– Live-in nanny to help us with the kids
And yep I was right, I don’t have any of that
— Avo Arikian (@AvoArikian) April 8, 2022
[Editor's Note: Josh Katzowitz is the Content Director for The White Coat Investor, and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and CBSSports.com. A longtime sports writer, he covers boxing for Forbes, and his work has been cited twice in the Best American Sports Writing book series. For comments, complaints, suggestions, or plaudits, email him at [email protected]]