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EOC Black History Facts | Whoopi Goldberg

“I am the American Dream. I am the epitome of what the American Dream basically said. It said, 'You could come from anywhere and be anything you want in this country.' That's exactly what I've done.”

—Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg is an award-winning comedian, actress and human rights advocate, as well as the longtime host of the daytime talk show 'The View.'


Whoopi Goldberg was born on November 13, 1955, in New York City. She starred in a popular one-woman production in 1983, and in 1985 she won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording. That year, Goldberg's success with The Color Purple launched a highly visible acting career. She won an Academy Award in 1991 for her performance in Ghost, and in 2007 she embarked on a lengthy run as moderator of the TV talk show The View.

Early Life

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 older 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.

Big Break

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, Whoopi 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 were "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, for best actress.

Mainstream Success

Goldberg's success with The Color Purple launched a highly visible acting career. Since 1985, she has appeared in more than 80 film and television productions. Her early film credits include the spy comedy Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986), directed by Penny Marshall; Fatal Beauty (1987), co-starring Sam Elliott; Clara's Heart (1988); Homer & Eddie (1989), co-starring James Belushi; and the civil rights period drama, The Long Walk Home (1990), co-starring

Sissy Spacek.

Starring opposite Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, Goldberg's performance as storefront medium/spiritual advisor Oda Mae Brown in the 1990 film Ghost led to a number of milestone achievements. She won the 1991 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her just the second African-American woman to nab an Oscar. The role also garnered Goldberg her second Golden Globe, as well as the Black Entertainer of the Year Award from the NAACP and the Excellence Award at the Women in Film Festival.

In 1991, Whoopi 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 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), which featured Maggie Smith reprising her role as Mother Superior, as well as James Coburn and then-unknown R&B artist Lauryn Hill.

Branching Out

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 program 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, co-starring her then-boyfriend Ted Danson.

In 1994, 1996 and 1999, Goldberg hosted the Academy Awards, making her the first woman to do so. Beginning in 1986, she also co-hosted Comic Relief, a live showcase of big-ticket comedians that raised money for the homeless.

In 1998, Goldberg began appearing on the celebrity game show Hollywood Squares, for which she won two daytime Emmy Awards. Her film credits during that time include The Deep End of the Ocean (1999), with Michelle Pfeiffer, and Girl, Interrupted (1999), co-starring Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. In 2004, Goldberg returned to Broadway to star in a self-titled one-woman show, and in 2006 she debuted a syndicated radio show, Wake Up With Whoopi.

'The View'

Whoopi Goldberg became moderator of the daytime talk show The View on September 4, 2007. On her first day, she defended football star Michael Vick in his dogfighting case, noting that the spectacle isn't unusual for a Southern native like Vick. "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 direct the 2013 documentary Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley, which explores the life and career of one of the first successful African-American women in stand-up comedy. Goldberg also appeared on several episodes of the TV musical Glee, and was among the famous faces in the ensemble cast of Big Stone Gap (2015). An author of both children's and adult fare, she dished out relationship advice with her 2015 book, If Someone Says 'You Complete Me,' Run!

Medical Marijuana Business

In March 2016, Whoopi announced she was launching a medical marijuana startup aimed to help women with menstrual issues. The brand, "Whoopi and Maya," is in collaboration with co-founder Maya Elisabeth, who is also founder of another medical cannabis brand, Om Edibles, started in 2008. Whoopi's desire to stake her claim in the booming marijuana industry was due to her long-term experience with painful menstrual cycles. She's professed that marijuana was the only way she could find relief.

Personal Life

In 1973, Goldberg married her former drug counselor, Alvin Martin. The couple had one child, Alexandrea, and divorced in 1979. She was married to cameraman David Claessen from 1986 to 1988, and to actor Lyle Trachtenberg from 1994 to 1995. Goldberg then dated renowned actor Frank Langella for several years.

Goldberg holds a Ph.D. in literature from New York University and an honorary degree from Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Works Cited

Biography.Com Editors. 2016. Whoopi Goldber - Talk Show Host, Comedian, Film Actress, Television Actress - March May. Accessed February 15, 2017.

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