Whoopi Goldberg biography
Actress, comedian and television host Whoopi Goldberg was born on November 13, 1955, in New York City. In 1983, she starred in a popular play and in 1985 won a Grammy Award for the recording of skits taken from the show. Also in 1985, Goldberg's success with The Color Purple launched a highly visible acting career. Since then, she has appeared in more than 80 film and TV productions.
Famed actress, comedian, television host and human rights advocate Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson on November 13, 1955, in New York City. Goldberg and her younger brother, Clyde, were raised by their mother, Emma, in a housing project in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
Goldberg's father abandoned the family, and her single mother worked at a variety of jobs—including teaching and nursing—to make ends meet. Goldberg changed her name when she decided that her given name was too boring. She claims to be half Jewish and half Catholic, and "Goldberg" is attributed to her family history.
With her trademark dreadlocks, wide impish grin, and piercing humor, Goldberg is best known for her adept portrayals in both comedic and dramatic roles, as well as her groundbreaking work in the Hollywood film industry as an African-American woman. Goldberg unknowingly suffered from dyslexia, which affected her studies and ultimately induced her to drop out of high school at the age of 17.
In 1974, Goldberg moved to California, living variously for the next seven years in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco. At one point during this time, she worked as a mortuary beautician while pursuing a career in show business. During her stay in San Francisco, Whoopie Goldberg won a Bay Area Theatre Award for her portrayal of comedienne Moms Mabley in a one-woman show.
Shortly after receiving this honor, she returned to New York. In 1983, she starred in the enormously popular The Spook Show. The one-woman Off-Broadway production featured her own original comedy material that addressed the issue of race in America with unique profundity, style, and wit. Among her most poignant and typically contradictory creations are "Little Girl," an African-American child obsessed with having blond hair; and "Fontaine," a junkie who also happens to hold a doctorate in literature.
By 1984, director Mike Nichols had moved The Spook Show to a Broadway stage, and in 1985, Goldberg won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for the recording of skits taken from the show. At the same time, she began to receive significant attention from Hollywood insiders. Director Steven Spielberg cast Goldberg in the leading female role of his 1985 production of The Color Purple (adapted from the novel by Alice Walker), a film that went on to earn 10 Academy Awards and five Golden Globe nominations. Goldberg herself received an Oscar nomination and her first Golden Globe Award (best actress).
Goldberg's success with The Color Purple launched a highly visible acting career.
Since 1985, she has appeared in over 80 film and television productions. Her early film credits include the spy comedy Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986), directed by Penny Marshall; Fatal Beauty (1987), costarring Sam Elliott; Clara's Heart (1988); Homer & Eddie (1989), costarring James Belushi; and the civil rights period drama, The Long Walk Home (1990), costarring Sissy Spacek.
Goldberg won numerous awards for her supporting role as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost (1990), including an Oscar for best actress in a supporting role—becoming the first African-American woman to win the Academy Award for best supporting actress in nearly 50 years (following Hattie McDaniel, who won the 1940 Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in 1939's Gone with the Wind), as well as only the second African-American actress to win an Oscar for acting—and her second Golden Globe (best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture). The film, starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, was a public favorite. That same year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People named Goldberg the Black Entertainer of the Year, and she also collected an Excellence Award at the Women in Film Festival.
In 1991, Whoopie Goldberg appeared in the comedy Soapdish with an all-star cast featuring Sally Field, Kevin Kline, and Elisabeth Shue, among others. She then appeared as Detective Susan Avery in Robert Altman's well received parody of the Hollywood movie business, The Player (1992), starring Tim Robbins.
Also in 1992, she starred in the enormously popular Sister Act as a world-weary lounge singer disguised as a nun hiding from the mob. Directed by Emile Ardolino, Sister Act earned Goldberg an American Comedy Award for Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture, as well as another Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy. The surprising success of this film led to Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), directed by Bill Duke, and featuring Maggie Smith (reprising her role as Mother Superior), James Coburn, and then-unknown R&B artist Lauryn Hill.
Goldberg launched her own television talk show, The Whoopi Goldberg Show, in 1992. Featuring Goldberg in one-on-one interviews with prominent political and Hollywood celebrities, the talk show ran for 200 episodes until 1993 when it was cancelled due to low ratings. That year, Goldberg also appeared in the feature film Made in America (1993), costarring her then-boyfriend Ted Danson.
In 1994, 1996 and 1999, she hosted the Academy Awards, making her the only woman to ever do so. Since 1986, she has also co-hosted Comic Relief, an annual live showcase of big-ticket comedians (including Comic Relief cohosts Robin Williams and Billy Crystal) to raise money for the homeless.
In 1998, Goldberg began appearing on the celebrity game show Hollywood Squares, for which she won a daytime Emmy Award for two consecutive years. She has appeared in numerous other television productions, most notably Star Trek: Generations (1994).
Goldberg's recent film appearances include The Deep End of the Ocean (1999), starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and Girl, Interrupted (1999), co-starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role). In 2004, she returned to Broadway to star in a self-titled one-woman show. In July 2006, Goldberg debuted a syndicated radio show, Wake Up With Whoopi.
Whoopi Goldberg became moderator of the daytime talk show The View on September 4, 2007. She replaced a sometimes combative Rosie O'Donnell, who left the show in May 2007 after a little less than a year.
Goldberg wasted no time jumping into controversy. On her first day, she defended football star Michael Vick in his dogfighting case, saying "from where he comes from" in the South (he grew up in Newport News, Virginia), dogfighting isn't that unusual. "It's like cockfighting in Puerto Rico, " she said. "There are certain things that are indicative to certain parts of the country." On the next day's broadcast, Goldberg insisted she had repeated several times she did not condone what Vick did.
During her time on The View, Goldberg has sought out other creative opportunities. She went behind the scenes to serve as director on the 2013 documentary Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley. The film explores the life and career of one of the first successful African-American women in stand-up comedy.
In the early 1970s, Goldberg was briefly married to the man who had been her drug counselor. The couple had one child, Alexandrea, and divorced in 1974. She was married to cameraman David Claessen from 1986 to 1988. Goldberg then had a high-profile romance with actor Ted Danson in the early 1990s. She has a daughter, Alexandrea Martin, two granddaughters, Amarah Skye and Jerzey, and one grandson Mason.
Goldberg holds a Ph.D. in literature from New York University and an honorary degree from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.