With her wide smile, signature dreadlocks and high energy, Whoopi Goldberg is one of the best-known figures of American television. From acting to hosting, stage to television and film, comedy to drama—Goldberg has done it all, with her characteristic grin and sense of humor intact. Brace yourselves as we dive into these 45 high-spirited facts about Whoopi Goldberg.
1. A Whoopi by Any Name
Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson in Manhattan, New York in 1955. She was only 18 months old when her clergyman father abandoned the family. Her mother, Emma Johnson, worked many jobs, including as a nurse and teacher, to raise her and brother.
2. The (Not So) Wonder Years
Whoopi Goldberg went to a Catholic school. She always wanted to act and was performing in children’s plays at the Hudson Guild Theater as a young child. However, she lost sight of that dream when she dropped out of high school and started doing drugs. “I took drugs because they were available to everyone at that time,” she said in an interview. She immersed herself in that environment and became a “junkie.”
3. Dyslexia Diagnosis
Whoopi Goldberg was an adult when she was diagnosed with dyslexia. “When I was a kid…they called it…you were slow […] or whatever.” No wonder she wasn’t a big fan of going to school.
4. Alternate Careers
If she weren’t an actor, Whoopi Goldberg thinks she would have liked to be a lawyer or psychiatrist because you get to tell and hear stories in both professions.
5. “Hoppy” to Meet You
Despite her claims of having Jewish roots, researchers found that she had no German or Jewish ancestry and no one in her family had ever been named Goldberg. Results of a DNA test revealed that her ancestors belonged to two tribes from modern-day Guinea-Bissau. She was invited by the head of state to visit, but the invitation took a long time to reach her because it was addressed to “Your Excellency, Hoppy Goldberg.” Clearly, he was no Ghost fan.
6. No Age for the Stage
Goldberg always knew she was destined to perform. She was nine when she made her stage debut playing a teapot for a school production. The teachers couldn’t get her off the stage because she loved being up there so much, she kept bowing until she was pulled away.
7. Grey Hair, Don’t Care
On a recent episode of The View, Goldberg came on with completely grey hair. The reason for this change is her role in a CBS All Access miniseries, The Stand, which is an adaptation of a Stephen King novel by the same name.
8. In a League of Her Own
Goldberg is one of only four female actors to win an E.G.O.T (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony). She has won two Grammys, and one Oscar, one Tony and one Emmy award. She has won numerous other awards as well, including a BAFTA and three People’s Choice Awards.
9. Teen Moms
Whoopi Goldberg was 18 when she gave birth to her daughter, Alexandrea Martin. Martin got pregnant when she was 14. This was “startling” for her mother, but Goldberg was supportive once the initial shock was over. She asked her own mother to help out when the baby was born, which she happily did. Martin is now a mother of three and an actor and producer herself.
10. Mother-Daughter Act
In 1993, the mother and daughter starred in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Martin has acted in other films too, but this is still her best-known work. The duo is very close, and Goldberg calls Martin her best friend, though she isn’t a big fan of her acting chops. Martin, for her part, considers her mother to be her “hero.”
11. Work it Like a Boss
Goldberg worked all sorts of jobs when she moved to California in the 1970s. Some were standard like bank teller and waitress, but others were quite unusual. For instance, she worked some time as a bricklayer and got so good at it that she was invited to join the bricklayers’ union. She’s quite matter-of-fact about her choices: “I needed money, and I needed to work, so I figured I’d rather lay bricks than lay men (for it).”
She also mentioned, on The View, that she had worked as a phone sex operator and made good money.
12. Drop Dead Gorgeous
Goldberg’s other unconventional job, before she got work as an actor, was as a mortuary makeup artist. On her first day at work, she was called in the boss’s office, which was where the dead bodies were kept in drawers. She panicked when one of the drawers behind her opened and someone sat up and waved at her, but then she realized it was her boss.
He told her she just had to imagine the dead bodies were dolls whose hair and makeup needed fixing. She was “fine with it” after this, but it certainly doesn’t sound like a to-die-for job.
13. Theater Groups
While she was doing the glamorous work of laying bricks and beautifying dead bodies, Whoopi Goldberg was constantly trying to make her acting dream come true. She worked with theater groups like San Diego Repertory Theater and Spontaneous Combustion, but it was the Blake Street Hawkeyes that helped her discover her own comedic and dramatic acting skills.
Goldberg came up with a one-woman act in which she played 17 different personalities. She titled this The Spook Show and performed it on the West Coast, after which she took it to New York. The characters range from a pregnant 13-year-old to a paraplegic who dreams of walking again. She based these on people she knew, and the act was widely praised.
Director Mike Nichols offered to produce it on Broadway in 1984. It ran as Whoopi Goldberg on Broadway for 156 performances. The show was taped and later broadcast by HBO as well.
15. The Big Breakthrough
Goldberg’s performance on Broadway was powerful enough to catch Steven Spielberg’s eye. He offered Goldberg the lead role of Celie for his adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple. She was so desperate to be part of the film that she told Walker she was prepared to “eat the dirt…play the dirt…be the dirt” for it.
The movie went on to earn 11 Academy Award nominations and Goldberg herself was nominated for the Best Actress award.
16. Critically Speaking
Although Goldberg’s performance got rave reviews, The Color Purple did not do too well with the critics. Mostly, they did not like Spielberg’s clichéd portrayal of the black male characters and felt that as a white man, he wasn’t the right director for this film. Goldberg defended her director, and stands by her defense till today, claiming that Spielberg made a film no one else was willing to make.
17. Writer Whoopi
Goldberg has written three books for adults—a memoir (titled Book), a collection of comedy sketches and a book on relationships. She has also penned eight children’s books, which include a series titled The Sugarplum Fairies as well as a Book on Manners.
18. Third Time’s (Not Always) a Charm
After the divorce from her first husband, Goldberg married again twice. The second time was to cinematographer David Claessen, for two years, and the third time was to union organizer Lyle Trachtenberg, for just a year. But she later revealed a shocking detail about her marriages, saying “I tried marriage, and it wasn’t for me. You can’t be in a marriage because everyone’s expecting you to.”
19. Single and Satisfied
Goldberg has also been in relationships with Tim Dalton, Frank Langella, and Ted Danson. Nothing long-term came out of those affairs though, and she now lives in a Manhattan loft in Soho with a cat named Oliver. She calls herself selfish because she likes living life on her own terms and not having to answer to anybody about her whereabouts or anything else.
20. In the News Again
Goldberg has been in the news quite often for some of her unpopular opinions. Her initial continuous support of Bill Cosby and seeming defense of Roman Polanski raised eyebrows. More recently, she was called out for disagreeing with Viola Davis’s statement about women of color lacking opportunity, and for blaming Bella Thorne for releasing nude pictures on the internet to “take back the power” from hackers who were blackmailing her with threats of doing the same.
21. Helping the Homeless
From 1986, Goldberg hosted the fundraising event held by Comic Relief USA along with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams. The shows were held and broadcast on and off to raise money for those in need. The hosts would perform different segments, related and unrelated to homelessness, to inform and entertain. Who better to campaign for the poor and homeless living on welfare than the lady who had once been in the same situation. This was a cause close to her heart, and one that still astounds her because of its continued existence.
22. Being Humanitarian
Apart from hosting Comic Relief, Goldberg has also spoken for environmental causes, for people suffering from AIDS, in favor of LGBTQ rights, and for drug abuse awareness. Her efforts have been recognized in the form of several humanitarian awards.
23. Ghostly Great
After a slow period in which her films were not doing too well, Goldberg made a comeback with Ghost. The film was a hit, and Goldberg’s performance as a fraud-turned-real psychic was greatly admired. She went on to win an Academy award, a Golden Globe, and a BAFTA award for this role.
24. And the Award Goes to…
Goldberg was extremely nervous at the Academy Awards ceremony when she was nominated for Ghost. She wanted to win but knew all the nominees had done “stellar” work. The ladies had made a pact that whoever won would “spring for lunch.” Goldberg later admitted she had a little help when it came to calming her nerves before the ceremony: she said she smoked a little weed beforehand.
25. The Lean Years
Goldberg had been promoting diet shakes for a brand named Slimfast in the early 2000s, when the brand took her off the campaign following some controversial remarks she made at the Democratic National Convention regarding George W. Bush. The sentence that sparked the controversy was her declaration that “somebody’s giving Bush a bad name. I want to put Bush back where it belongs, and I don’t mean the White House.”
26. Learn to Take a Joke!
Goldberg denies that her remarks were vulgar or laced with innuendo and says that everything had been said in innocence. These remarks led to her losing work, and she couldn’t get any projects for three years.
27. The View Ahead
After a few years of no work following the Bush episode, Goldberg was approached to be part of The View. The show has garnered a fair share of criticism but Goldberg has always been clear that it is a job she has been hired to do.
28. C is for Controversy
Goldberg has never been a stranger to controversy. Her relationship with Ted Danson in the 90s attracted plenty of attention. Soon after they met, they began an illicit affair, which ended with Danson divorced his wife of 16 years. Due to his massive success on Cheers, it was one of the costliest Hollywood divorces of the time.
The couple did not shy away from the public eye, but things got unpleasant when Danson participated in a Roast for Goldberg at the Friars Club. He appeared in blackface and reportedly made a lot of tasteless jokes. She defended him staunchly and claimed to have written parts of his act herself, but the uproar did not do their relationship any favors and they soon confirmed they had broken up.
30. Oscar Host
Not only was Goldberg the first female to host the Academy Awards alone, she was also going to do it right after the extremely popular Billy Crystal had left. Audience expectations were high, and people were apprehensive. But Goldberg didn’t let them down. She was lauded for her jokes and her ability to keep the show moving.
31. Once a Trekkie, Always a Trekkie
Goldberg used to love watching Nichelle Nichols in Star Trek, and was fascinated by her role as Uhura. It made a deep impression on her. “In those days we just didn’t see blacks…it was set in future and it was practically the first time we saw that blacks had a future.” Her love for Star Trek led her to contact the producers of the new series and they created the character of Guinan especially for her.
32. Just an American
Goldberg is vocal about her pride in her color and is happy to see so many black women on screen now. However, she says she is an American through and through and gets irritated when she’s called “African-American.”
33. You Said It
Goldberg got the best career advice from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel when she had just begun acting. They told her: “Make sure you enjoy this ride.” It was simple but invaluable because she feels it is most important to have a good time.
34. A Mother’s Love
In 2010, Goldberg was in London for a stage production of her famous movie, Sister Act when she received some utterly heartbreaking news. Her mother Emma had passed away from a stroke. Goldberg flew back to the US as soon as she got the news, and said that she took comfort in the fact that her mother had lived a rich, fulfilling life.
35. Oh Brother
In 2015 Goldberg was absent from her show, The View, for a week. The reason was a sad one. Her brother had passed away suddenly due to a brain aneurysm. She came back to the show and thanked everyone for their love and support during this tough time and called her brother “an amazing cat.”
36. Obama Fan
Goldberg was a huge Barack Obama supporter and was delighted when he won. As a kid, she had always heard that “anybody can be president,” but it was the first time she felt that “anybody” really had achieved the dream.
37. Oh (Grand)Mama!
A mother at the age of 18, Goldberg also became a grandmother at 34 and a great grandmother at 58.
38. On Appearance and Aging
Goldberg has always unapologetically been herself when it comes to her hairstyle and sartorial choices. “I get pretty fed up with this obsession…about women actors having to be young and pretty.” She famously remarked that while she knew she didn’t look like Halle Berry, there would come a time when Halle Berry would start looking like her.
39. What Eyebrow?
Goldberg shaves off her eyebrows. You read that right. Nope, I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t really noticed it either.
40. Risqué Business
In 2016, Goldberg started a company by the name of Whoopi and Maya with business partner Maya Elisabeth. The company sells cannabis products to help ease period pain. She chose to go into business because she had suffered from terrible menstrual cramps herself, and only cannabis had helped relieve the pain.
41. No Limits
Goldberg has repeatedly said that she is an actor, not an actress, because the latter is confined to play only feminine roles, and she can play anything.
42. The Origin of Whoopi
Whoopi Goldberg was jokingly told she was like a “whoopee cushion” because she was unable to control flatulence on stage while rehearsing. “When you’re performing on stage you never have time to go to the bathroom…so if you’re feeling a little gassy, you’ve got to let it go.” She was amused by the title and adopted it, spelling cushion as “ku-SHON,” so it sounded French.
Her mother did not find it funny though, so she took up Goldberg as a last name, claiming it was a part of her heritage and she was as much Jewish as she was black.
43. Coming Clean
“I was a child of the 60s so I ingested as many mind-altering substances as I could,” says Goldberg of her addiction. She has described herself as a “functioning drug addict” who worked to pay for her habit. But she would soon hit rock bottom…
44. A Twisted Path
At one point during a binge, she got it in her head that there was someone under the bed and she didn’t get off it for three days. “I wet the bed, I pooped the bed,” she said of that period. Perhaps it was then that she realized she needed help. She came clean, ended up marrying her drug counselor, and had a daughter with him the very next year.
The marriage didn’t work out and she divorced him a year later and moved to California.
45. Fear of Flights
In 1978, Goldberg experienced a shocking trauma that changed her forever. She witnessed two planes collide against each other in mid-air. This terrified her so much that she refused to fly anywhere for a very long time. She managed by traveling on a personalized tour bus.