Whoopi Goldberg life and biography

Whoopi Goldberg picture, image, poster

Whoopi Goldberg biography

Date of birth : 1955-11-13
Date of death : -
Birthplace : New York City, New York, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2010-06-15
Credited as : Actress and comedian, Ghosts of Mississippi, Tv show The View

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Whoopi Goldberg (Also known as: Caryn E.H. Johnson, Caryn E. Johnson, Caryn Johnson, Caryn Elaine Johnson) born November 13, 1955 in New York, New York, United States is an African-American actress and comedian, also an activist.

Whoopi Goldberg's life and career have followed similar circular journeys: Both had auspicious beginnings, slipped dangerously toward extinction, then rebounded to fulfill their initial promise. Throughout her acting career she has not forgotten the lessons she learned in her early, difficult life. There is, in a sense, no division between Whoopi Goldberg the actress and Whoopi Goldberg the person. As Paul Chutkow pointed out in Vogue, "She seems much the same way she has often appeared on-screen: fresh, direct, exuberant, no cant, no can't." Goldberg's determination and lack of pretentiousness imbue her best performances, and she has remained committed to her art. "Take the best of what you're offered," she told Chutkow, "and that's all you can do."

Born Caryn E. Johnson in New York City in 1955, Goldberg wanted to be a performer from the very beginning. "My first coherent thought was probably, 'I want to be an actor ... '," she recounted to Chutkow. "That's just what I was born to do." She was acting in children's plays with the Hudson Guild Theater at the age of eight, and throughout the rest of her childhood she immersed herself in movies, sometimes watching three or four per day. "I liked the idea that you could pretend to be somebody else and nobody would cart you off to the hospital," Goldberg explained to Stephen Farber in Cosmopolitan.

By the time she reached high school, however, Goldberg had lost her desire and vision and began using drugs. "I took drugs because they were available to everyone in those times," she told Farber. "As everyone evolved into LSD, so did I. It was the time of Woodstock, of be-ins and love-ins." Goldberg dropped out of high school and became lost in this culture, delving further into the world of drugs and becoming addicted. Eventually, she sought help, cleaned herself up, and along the way married her drug counselor. A year later Goldberg gave birth to her daughter, Alexandrea. Less than a year later she was divorced. She was not yet twenty years old.

In 1974 Goldberg headed west to San Diego, California, to pursue her childhood dream of acting. She performed in plays with the San Diego Repertory Theater and tried improvisational comedy with a company called Spontaneous Combustion. To care for her daughter, Goldberg worked at various times as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and a mortuary cosmetologist. She was also on welfare for a few years. During this period she went by the name "Whoopi Cushion." After her mother pointed out how ridiculous the name sounded, Goldberg finally adopted a name from her family's history.

Developed Insightful Comic Routine

Goldberg moved north to Berkeley, California, in the late 1970s and joined the Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater, an avant-garde comedy troupe. With this group Goldberg was able to realize her powerful acting and comedic abilities, developing a repertoire of seventeen distinct characters in a one-woman show that she labeled The Spook Show. She performed the show on the West Coast, then toured the United States and Europe in the early 1980s before landing in New York City.

Among her sketches were four particularly powerful characters: Fontaine, a profanity-spewing drug dealer with a Ph.D. in literature who travels to Europe looking for hashish, only to openly weep when he comes across Anne Frank's secret hiding place; a shallow thirteen-year-old surfing Valley Girl who is left barren after a self-inflicted abortion with a coat hanger; a severely handicapped young woman who tells her prospective suitor, who wants to go dancing, "This is not a disco body"; and a nine-year-old black girl who bathes in Clorox and covers her head with a white skirt, wistfully hoping to become white with long blonde hair so she can appear on The Love Boat.

Although Brendan Gill in the New Yorker decided Goldberg's sketches were "diffuse and overlong and continuously at the mercy of her gaining a laugh at any cost," the majority of critical and popular reaction was positive. Cathleen McGuigan, writing in Newsweek, remarked that Goldberg's "ability to completely disappear into a role, rather than superficially impersonate comic types, allows her to take some surprising risks." And Enid Nemy, in a review of Goldberg's show for the New York Times, found the performer's abilities extended beyond mere comic entertainment, and that her creations--seamlessly woven with social commentary--"walk a finely balanced line between satire and pathos, stand-up comedy and serious acting." Her performance also caught the attention of famed film director Mike Nichols. After seeing Goldberg's premiere performance in New York, Nichols offered to produce her show on Broadway in September of 1984.

Film Debut Earned Critical Praise

Another Hollywood figure entranced by Goldberg's sensitive performances was director Steven Spielberg, who at the time was casting for the film version of Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple. Spielberg offered Goldberg the lead role of Celie, even though she had never before appeared in a feature film. Goldberg told Audrey Edwards in Essence how badly she wanted to be a part, any part, of the film: "I told [Alice Walker] that whenever there was an audition I'd come. I'd eat the dirt. I'd play the dirt, I'd be the dirt, because the part is perfect."

"As Celie, the abused child, battered bride, and wounded woman liberated by Shug's kiss and the recognition of sisterhood's power, Whoopi Goldberg is for the most part lovable and believable," Andrew Kopkind wrote in a review of the movie for the Nation. "She mugs a bit, pouts and postures too long in some scenes, and seems to disappear in others, but her great moments are exciting to behold." Newsweek's David Ansen concurred: "This is powerhouse acting, all the more so because the rage and the exhilaration are held in reserve." For this performance, Goldberg received a Golden Globe Award and an Academy Award nomination.

But the film itself did not universally receive the kind of praise bestowed on Goldberg. "The movie is amorphous," Pauline Kael wrote in the New Yorker. "It's a pastoral about the triumph of the human spirit, and it blurs on you." Much criticism was aimed at the selection of Spielberg, a white male, to direct a story that focused on the experience of Southern rural black women. Even Goldberg herself was criticized when she defended Spielberg and the film. In an interview excerpted in Harper's, director Spike Lee questioned Goldberg's allegiances: "Does she realize what she is saying? Is she saying that a white person is the only person who can define our existence?... I hope people realize, that the media realize, that she's not a spokesperson for black people." Goldberg countered by defining for Matthew Modine in Interview the breadth of her social character: "What I am is a humanist before anything--before I'm a Jew, before I'm black, before I'm a woman. And my beliefs are for the human race--they don't exclude anyone."

Increased Exposure Allowed Social Activism

Despite the lukewarm response to the film as a whole, Goldberg's fortunes rose. In addition to her accolades for acting, she won a Grammy Award in 1985 for her comedy album Whoopi Goldberg, and received an Emmy nomination the following year for her guest appearance on the television show Moonlighting. The increased recognition, and acceptance, allowed Goldberg to pursue social justice activities, often focusing on issues that affected her when she was poor and struggling with addiction.

Beginning in 1986, Goldberg hosted, along with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams, the annual Comic Relief benefit that raises money for the homeless through the Health Care for the Homeless project. "People would like the United States to be what we're told it can be, without realizing that the price has gone up--the price, you know, of human dignity," she explained to Steve Erickson in Rolling Stone. "Homelessness in America is just disgusting. It's just disgusting that we could have this big, beautiful country and have families living in dumpsters. It makes no sense." Goldberg also campaigned persistently on behalf of environmental causes, the nation's hungry, AIDS and drug abuse awareness, and preserving women's right to choose to end pregnancy. She has been recognized with several humanitarian awards for her efforts.

While her public profile continued to rise, Goldberg's critical reception was not always glowing. She starred in a succession of critically assailed movies, including Jumpin' Jack Flash, Burglar, Fatal Beauty, The Telephone, Clara's Heart, and Homer and Eddie. "On the strength of her past work as a stand-up comic, Goldberg deserves better," Lawrence O'Toole wrote in a review of Burglar for Maclean's. "If she keeps making thumb-twiddling movies like this one, she is unlikely to get it." And in a review of Clara's Heart for People, David Hiltbrand noted that ever since her debut film, Goldberg "has barely kept her head above water while her movies went under. After this, she'll need her own lifeboat."

Goldberg was vexed by gossip and rumors that Hollywood was ready to write her off. "In less than five years she went from Hollywood's golden girl to a rumored lesbian/Uncle Tom with a bad attitude and a career on the skids," Laura B. Randolph described in Ebony. "In Hollywood, that combination is almost always terminal, and insiders whispered that she should pack it in and be happy to do guest spots on the Hollywood Squares." Ironically, Goldberg would help resurrect Hollywood Squares years later.

Despite the wrath of critics, Goldberg persevered. "I've just stopped listening to them," she explained to Chutkow. "I've taken crazy movies that appeal to me. I don't care what other people think about it. If it was pretty decent when I did it, I did my job." While the movies bombed, Goldberg herself often managed to remain above the fray some of the time. The New York Times's Janet Maslin, reviewing Fatal Beauty, wrote what could be taken as an overall assessment of Goldberg's failed showings: "It isn't Miss Goldberg's fault, because Miss Goldberg is funny when she's given half a chance."

Ghost Revived Career

Goldberg's chance at redemption came in 1990 with the release of the film Ghost. "Thank God Whoopi finally has a part that lets her strut her best stuff," Ansen proclaimed. Although not all critics fully embraced the film (the New Yorker's Terrance Rafferty called it a "twentysomething hybrid of It's a Wonderful Life and some of the gooier, more solemn episodes of The Twilight Zone"), popular response was overwhelmingly positive, especially to Goldberg's portrayal of the flamboyant and heroic psychic Oda Mae. It was a part for which she lobbied studio executives for more than six months, and her persistence paid off. Considered a sleeper when it was released, Ghost was the highest-grossing movie of 1990. Goldberg won an Oscar for her performance, becoming only the second black female in the history of the Academy Awards to win such an honor, the first being Hattie McDaniel, who won for Gone with the Wind in 1939.

Goldberg followed her performance in Ghost with a substantive dramatic role in The Long Walk Home, a poignant recreation of the 1955 bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, a pivotal moment in the American civil rights movement. Goldberg portrayed Odessa Cotter, a housekeeper who, because of the boycott, is forced to walk almost ten miles to work on blistering or bleeding feet. Throughout the movie, Cotter maintains her composure and integrity. Chutkow quoted Richard Pearce, the director of the film, as saying, "What her portrayal of Odessa revealed about Whoopi was a complex inner life and intelligence. Her mouth is her usual weapon of choice--to disarm her of that easy weapon meant that she had to rely on other things. It's a real actress who can bring off a performance like that. And she did."

Goldberg also began appearing regularly on television during this period. Beginning in the 1988-89 season, she earned accolades for her recurring role as Guinon on the series Star Trek: The Next Generation. In 1992 Goldberg became host of her own talk show. Each episode of the Whoopi Goldberg Show was devoted entirely to just one guest. Goldberg interviewed actress Elizabeth Taylor on the show's debut, and subsequent programs featured such celebrities as heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield.

1992 marked the beginning of a series of successful film roles for Goldberg. She began the year portraying a homicide detective in director Robert Altman's acclaimed Hollywood satire The Player. In midyear Goldberg donned a nun's habit as a Reno lounge singer seeking refuge from the mob in a convent in the escapist comedy Sister Act, one of the biggest box-office draws of that summer. Sister Act, according to Judy Gerstel in the Detroit Free Press, worked "as summer whimsy mainly because of Goldberg's usual witty, lusty screen presence." And in the fall she turned again to drama, starring in Sarafina: The Movie, a film adaptation of the musical about a Black South African teenagers' struggle against apartheid. Sarafina was shot entirely on location in Soweto, South Africa.

Goldberg's constant quest for a range of roles--what led Maslin to label her "one of the great unclassifiable beings on the current movie scene"--is not the mark of a Hollywood prima donna but of an actor committed to her craft. "None of my films cure cancer," Goldberg explained to Chutkow. "But they have allowed me to not just play one kind of person, which is important to me. Nobody knows how long this stuff is gonna last, and you want to have it and enjoy as much of it and be as diverse as you can."

Roast Caused Conflict

Goldberg was the honoree at a Friars Club roast in 1993. Her then-boyfriend, Ted Danson, performed a racy skit in blackface that included the N-word and jokes about the couple's sexual lives. Many in attendance were outraged, and talk show host Montel Williams walked out during the performance. Many editorials were written concerning the affair, and the media was relentless in its coverage. Members of the National Political Congress of Black Women sent a letter, which was quoted in Jet, to the Friars Club, stating, "The use of the most vile, profane, deprecating language in describing African Americans in general and African-American women in particular is patently wrong." The couple split soon after.

In 1994 Goldberg married once again, to union organizer Lyle Trachtenberg, whom she met on the set of Corrina Corrina, a film in which she played a housekeeper who wins the heart of a widower and his child. The couple divorced a year later, after which Goldberg entered into a five-year relationship with actor Frank Langella, her co-star in Eddie. During the following years, Goldberg starred in a number of films that displayed her diverse acting abilities. In 1996 she starred in The Associate, a comedy in which Goldberg plays a brilliant financial analyst who is passed over for a promotion. For revenge, she dresses as a man and starts her own business. In Ghosts of Mississippi (1997) Goldberg played the widow of the slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers. For a short time, Goldberg strayed from Hollywood and returned to the stage, where she took over Nathan Lane's character in the play A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

For the remainder of the 1990s, Goldberg starred in and played small parts in several made-for-TV movies and films, guested on numerous television series, and her unique voice was used in several animated films. After ten years of staying put, Goldberg went on tour during the summer of 2001. Goldberg said, "I don't generally get out a lot because I'm going through the change."

Whoopi, a pioneer and somewhat of a maverick, broke more boundaries when she emceed the 66th Academy Awards in 1994. She was the first African American to host the award ceremony, and the first solo female to host the awards. That year, the Academy Awards was the highest rated show of the season. She was invited to host the Oscars again in 1996, 1999, and again in 2002. During this period Goldberg remained passionate about portraying real people and telling real stories. She established her own production company, One Ho Productions. The company helped bring back the popular game show Hollywood Squares with Tom Bergeron as host and Goldberg in the center square. In 2001 she bought the film rights to the book Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany, which is based on the memoirs of Hans J. Massoqoui, the former managing editor of Ebony magazine. Goldberg said, "It's a story that needs to be told. People don't realize that during the course of the 30s and 40s in Germany, there were a lot of Black people trying to survive and not making it." According to Jet, this novel "marks the first time in literature that the experiences and ultimate survival of a Black youth growing up in Nazi Germany have been chronicled."

In 2003 Goldberg returned to regular television work when she launched in her own sitcom, the self-titled Whoopi. Intended to be a multicultural New York City sitcom to rival the less-than-diverse sitcoms Friends and Seinfeld, Goldberg led the cast as Mavis Rae, a hotel matron who was once a one-hit-wonder. Mavis Rae's conservative brother, his white girlfriend who acts black, and a Persian handyman agitated by being lumped together with Arabs rounded out the cast of characters. The show was designed to showcase social commentary mixed with comedy, and it tackled topics including gay marriage, racism, and terrorism. After receiving mixed reviews and losing many viewers by the end of its first season, NBC decided not to bring it back for a second year. Speaking with Liz Smith in an interview for Good Housekeeping, Goldberg said, "I really am disappointed. I thought we had a good show. But I'll find something else. Television is growing and stretching. There's a lot more flexibility than the movies in terms of what can be done. I do want to keep making films."

Returned to Broadway

Goldberg provided her voice to characters in four animated movies between 2003 and 2005. She also performed in the fantasy Jiminy Glick in La La Wood and returned to the stage with her one-woman The Spook Show. Featuring many of the same characters as the original one-woman show, the show was re-titled Whoopi Goldberg: Back to Broadway; the show brought Fontaine and other original Goldberg characters back to life, as well as introducing audiences to new creations like the middle-aged, overweight Lurlene who is obsessed with her body, and a fan of Law and Order so devoted he calls himself an Ordery. Though Goldberg's return to Broadway garnered mixed reviews, critics noted the success of some return characters, such as Fontaine, who is, according to Michael Kuchwara's review featured in America's Intelligence Wire, "the toughest--and funniest--social critic around." When asked by Mark Kennedy, also in America's Intelligence Wire, if she would be returning to the stage for a fortieth anniversary show in another twenty years, Goldberg moaned in response, "I'd have to keep doing Pilates all the way until then!" While she may have intended to keep up with Pilates, she would not be continuing her role as a pitchperson for Slim-Fast dieting products; she was dropped from the Slim-Fast campaign in 2004 after making a speech that was critical of the Bush administration.

Another of Goldberg's earlier works, her book Alice, was adapted for the stage by playwright Kim Hines for a production that inaugurated the new family theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. It ran from 2005 through early 2006. Also in 2006 Goldberg contributed the voice of Darlin' in Everyone's Hero, which was released by 20th Century Fox.

Goldberg also continued to work in television and radio. She entered negotiations with the Lifetime network to develop a game show, Shop Shop, which would feature competitive shopping. In addition, she launched a four-hour daily show for Clear Channel radio. Wake Up with Whoopi, which aired from 2006 to 2008, featured Goldberg discussing daily topics, taking calls from listeners, and hosting guests. In an article in Daily Variety, Timothy M. Gray and Steven Zeitchik wrote that in terms of an acting career, "radio was the final frontier." Goldberg commented, "A lot of people will read things into this, I guess, but I've always done as I pleased without worrying what others think."

Rumors of Goldberg's decline, however, were premature. In 2007 she joined the lineup of the popular television talk show The View as cohost and moderator, replacing Rosie O'Donnell. It did not take long for her to stir up controversy in her now role. On her very first day on the job, she created a furor by defending football star Michael Vick, who was in trouble for running a dog-fighting operation. The following month she propositioned the husband of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi on the air. None of these developments seemed to have an impact on Goldberg's career momentum. She was named to host the 2008 Tony Awards, where she once again proved that her star power is imposing enough to withstand all the rumormongering Hollywood reporters can throw at her.

Born Caryn E. Johnson on November 13, 1955, in New York, NY; daughter of Emma Johnson (a nurse and teacher); married first husband, 1972 (divorced, 1974); married David Edward Claessen, September 1986 (divorced, 1988); married Lyle Trachtenberg, 1994 (divorced, 1995); children: (first marriage) Alexandrea Martin. Politics: Progressive. Education: New York University, PhD, literature.

Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nomination, 1985, both for The Color Purple; Image Awards, NAACP, 1985, 1990, and 2004; Grammy Award, 1985, for Whoopi Goldberg; Emmy Award nomination, 1986, for guest appearance on Moonlighting; Academy Award, 1991, for Ghost; Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 2001; Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, 2001; Tony Award, 2002, for Thoroughly Modern Millie; Muse Award, 2003; Women's World Award for World Entertainment, 2006.

Film, television, and theater actor and comedian, 1985--; member of San Diego Repertory Theater and comedy group Spontaneous Combustion; worked as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and mortuary cosmetologist, 1974-late 1970s; member of the comedy troupe Blake Street Hawkeyes Theater; developed own one-woman show, late 1970s-1985; host or cohost of various shows, including The Whoopi Goldberg Show, 1992, Comic Relief benefits, Academy Awards, 1994, 1996, 1999, and 2002, The View, 2007--, and Tony Awards, 2008.

Selected works
* Books

* Alice (for children), Bantam, 1992.
* Book, New York, 1997.
* Whoopi's Big Book of Manners, Hyperion/Jump at the Sun, 2006.

* Albums

* Whoopi Goldberg, Geffen, 1985.
* (With others) The Best of Comic Relief, Rhino, 1986.
* (With others) The Best of Comic Relief 2, Rhino, 1988.
* (With others) The Best of Comic Relief 3, Rhino, 1989.
* (With others) The Best of Comic Relief '90, Rhino, 1990.
* Sister Act Soundtrack, Hollywood Records, 1992.
* Sister Act 2 Soundtrack, Hollywood Records, 1993.

* Films

* The Color Purple, 1985.
* Jumpin' Jack Flash, 1986.
* Burglar, 1987.
* Fatal Beauty, 1987.
* The Telephone, 1988.
* Clara's Heart, 1988.
* Homer and Eddie, 1989.
* Ghost, 1990.
* The Long Walk Home, 1990.
* Soapdish, 1991.
* The Player, 1992.
* Sister Act, 1992.
* Sarafina: The Movie, 1992.
* Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, 1993.
* Boys on the Side, 1995.
* Corrina, Corrina, 1994.
* The Lion King (voice), 1994.
* Eddie, 1996.
* Ghosts of Mississippi, 1997.
* How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 1998.
* The Rugrats Movie, (voice), 1998.
* Girl, Interrupted, 1999.
* Kingdom Come, 2001.
* Call Me Claus, 2001.
* Monkeybone, 2001.
* Rat Race, 2001.
* Golden Dreams, 2001.
* Star Trek: Nemesis, 2002.
* Blizzard (voice), 2003.
* Lion King 1.5 (voice), 2004.
* Pinocchio 3000 (voice), 2004.
* Jimmy Glick in La La Wood, 2004.
* Racing Stripes (voice), 2005.
* Doogal (voice), 2006.
* Everyone's Hero (voice), 2006.
* If I Had Known I Was a Genius, 2007.

* Television

* Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1988-93.
* Hollywood Squares, 1998-2002.
* The View, 2007--.

* Theater

* The Spook Show, Broadway production, 1984, re-created as Whoopi Goldberg: Back to Broadway, 2005.
* A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Broadway production, 1997.
* (Producer) Thoroughly Modern Millie, Broadway production, 2002.

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