Paula Deen's remarkable riseNovember 12, 2009: 1:29 PM ET
by Patricia Sellers
The best stories of personal success defy the odds and the career rulebooks.
Paula Deen takes the cake.
The silver-haired, Southern-cookin' star of the Food Network, has sold more than 8 million books. She's got licensing deals with Wal-Mart (WMT) and other major companies. She has a magazine, Cooking with Paula Deen. And at 62, she has more fans on Facebook than Bill Clinton. And more followers on Twitter than David Bowie, Carson Daly, Tavis Smiley, and country star Martina McBride.
No one--and least of all Deen herself--could have imagined her success today. I interviewed Deen on stage last week at a "Fortune Most Powerful Women Evening With..." dinner, one in a series of regional events to accompany Fortune's annual Most Powerful Women Summit. This "Evening With..." was in Atlanta and drew top women execs from Atlanta-based Fortune 500 companies like Coca-Cola (KO), Delta Airlines (DAL), Home Depot (HD), and UPS (UPS).
Best that Deen, who lives in Savannah, tell you her life story. Watch the video below. See what a hoot she is. And hear an extraordinary rags-to-riches tale.
I'll give you a quick flavor, so to speak. Married to an alcoholic, broke, and agoraphobic for many years, Deen broke out of her personal prison 20 years ago, at 42. She started a tiny catering business with her two sons, and then a restaurant--funded by her Aunt Peggy, now 80 and ever spry. Aunt Peggy and Michael Groover, Deen's second husband whom she married five years ago, were also with us last week to hear Paula pass on her entrepreneurial advice.
"I am living proof, y'all, that the American dream is still much in existence," she told me on stage. "I've proven, you don't have to be 30 years old. I have proven, you don't have to be a size six. And I have proven that you don't have to have blond hair."
Hear it straight from Paula Deen--and enjoy...