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Bio Brief: Whoopi Goldberg

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Bio Brief: Whoopi Goldberg
Photo courtesy of ABC Media

Whoopi was born …:

… Caryn Elaine Johnson on Nov. 13, 1955, in New York City to a Protestant preacher and her husband. (Though she doesn’t align herself with a particular religion, she says that Buddhism and Judaism can also be traced through her family tree.)

Growing up with Whoopi:

Whoopi’s early life was colorful – a tapestry of sorts – a high school drop out who married young (reportedly, she was 18 and he was 16) and moved West to pursue her dream of performing. Like most young actors and actresses, her dreams of performing where buoyed by day (and night) jobs as a bank teller, in construction and as a mortuary worker.

During early performances, Whoopi went by the stage name Whoopee Cushion. In 2006, she told The New York Times, “If you get a little gassy, you’ve got to let it go. So people used to say to me, ‘You’re like a whoopee cushion.’ And that’s where the name cam from.”

Whoopi’s Early Career:

Here mother convinced her to change her stage name to Goldberg, and shortly thereafter, she made one of her first film appearances, in an art film titled Citizen: I’m Not Losing My Mind, I’m Giving it Away. Her film career would really take off after her critically acclaimed one-woman Broadway show The Spook Show.

She became a household word after starring in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple opposite Oprah Winfrey, a role for which she won a Golden Globe Award.

Whoopi’s Later Career:

Whoopi’s later roles would see her return to her comedic roots, starring in Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Penny Marshall’s directorial debut. She followed that with a slew of similarly themed comedies, most of which fell flat with audiences.

Taking time off from film to concentrate on her comedy, Whoopi, with fellow comedians Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, spearheaded “Comic Relief,” an entertainment charity telethon to raise awareness about homelessness, similar to Bob Geldof’s rock and roll “Live Aid.”

Whoopi returned to film with a dramatic turn in Clara’s Heart, and then appeared in one of her most acclaimed roles: the psychic Oda Mae Brown in Ghost. That role won her an Academy Award – only the second African-American woman in history to do so.

Her renewed acting career saw her take roles on TV (as the ages old wise bar matron Guinan in the critically acclaimed Star Trek: The Next Generation) and in the hit film Sister Act and its sequel. Later years would see her try her hand at situation comedy in the one-season and done Whoopi!, a kind of Fawlty Towers, on NBC and as the popular center square on Hollywood Squares.

Becoming a Talk Show Host:

Perhaps the seed for her eventual run on The View was sown in 2006, when Whoopi debuted her morning radio talk show, “WakeUp with Whoopi”. The programmed showcased Whoopi’s ability to interview guests and talk about current events in a light-hearted and irreverent way.

After Rosie O’Donnell departed The View in June 2007, Whoopi began a run of guest host spots on the program. The increasing frequency of her guest turns was the first suggestion that Whoopi was seriously considered to fill Rosie’s vacant seat.

What the Future Holds:

Depending on her popularity on The View, one prognostication we could make is that Whoopi could end up with her own talk show. She’s also set to return to Broadway to revive her one-woman show – the same show that launched her career. And, no doubt, a return to film isn’t too far in her future, if only in a supporting role or two – or three.

And Just for Fun:

  • Has been married three times and has one daughter from her first marriage, Alexandrea.

  • Once dated Ted Danson.

  • She’s an award winning Broadway producer, having picked up a Tony for “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

  • Whoopi is also a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor winner.

  • Has a daughter from her first marriage, Alexandrea.

  • Her originally stage name was Whoopee Cushion.
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