Whoopi Goldberg

Aug 22, 2008 by     Comments Off on Whoopi Goldberg    Posted under: Comedian, Female Black Comedians

Whoopi GoldbergWhoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Johnson in New York City. Her mother, a nurse and teacher, raised her daughter and a son on her own after Whoopi’s preacher father left the family. The future star spent the first years of her life in a public housing project in Manhattan. Drawn to the theater from earliest childhood, she made her performing debut at age eight with the Helena Rubinstein Children’s Theatre at the Hudson Guild. After dropping out of high school at 14, she lied about her age to find work as a summer camp counselor, and singing in the choruses of the Broadway shows Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and Pippin. After surviving an early experience with drug addiction, she married at age 18, and gave birth to a daughter, Alexandrea.

After breaking with her husband, she and Alexandrea moved to California in 1974. The following year she helped found the San Diego Repertory Theatre and joined the improvisational theater group Spontaneous Combustion. It was at this time that Caryn Johnson adopted her distinctive stage name — Whoopi Goldberg — and began to develop the character monologues that were to make her famous. After moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, she joined another improvisational group, the Blake Street Hawkeyes, and acquired a large local following for her work as a stand-up comedian. Soon she was touring the U.S. and Europe with her one-woman production, The Spook Show.

In 1983, Whoopi Goldberg brought The Spook Show to New York’s Dance Theater Workshop, where it attracted immediate critical attention. The legendary director Mike Nichols saw her perform, and the following year presented her on Broadway in a revised version of her solo act, titled simply, Whoopi Goldberg. The one-woman show played to sold-out audiences into 1985, and brought her to the attention of Steven Spielberg, who cast her in the leading role in his film of Alice Walker’s acclaimed novel, The Color Purple. Making her film debut in this coveted role instantly established Goldberg as one of Hollywood’s leading dramatic actresses. Her powerful performance brought her a Golden Globe and her first Oscar nomination.

Goldberg followed her triumph in The Color Purple with a successful comic vehicle, Jumping Jack Flash, but her next few comedies were box office disappointments. Dramatic performances in the films Clara’s Heart and The Long Walk Home won her critical praise but also failed to find the large audiences the studios were banking on. At the close of the 1980s, Whoopi Goldberg was still very much in demand as a live performer, and with her friends Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, she headlined the popular Comic Relief television specials to support charities aiding the homeless.

In 1990, Goldberg began two seasons starring in the television sitcom Baghdad CafĂ©. In the same year, her faltering film career revived suddenly with her supporting role in the surprise hit Ghost. In the opinion of many critics, it was her performance as a phony — if well-intentioned — psychic that made the film a stand-out. Once again, the film industry was excited about Whoopi Goldberg, and she took home the year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She followed this with the box-office smash Sister Act, which cast her as a hard-boiled nightclub singer hiding out in a convent. The worldwide success of this comedy catapulted Whoopi Goldberg into the ranks of Hollywood’s top stars and led inevitably to a sequel. At the time of Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, she was the highest paid actress in history. She earned continued respect from critics as well, with her appearance as a police detective in Robert Altman’s The Player.

Goldberg also enjoyed success on television, with
a recurring guest role, “Guinan,” on Star Trek: The Next Generation, a character she reprised in two Star Trek movies. Her other film successes in the 1990s included Made In America; Corinna, Corinna; Boys on the Side; and a voiceover role in the animated classic The Lion King. A late night talk program, The Whoopi Goldberg Show, proved the comedian and actress to be a serious and thoughtful observer of the political scene, but was cancelled after a single season. Goldberg won rave reviews hosting the annual Oscar telecast in 1994 and hosted the program again in 1996, 1999 and 2002. The following year, she starred in the TV sitcom Whoopi for a single season. She has also produced television series such as Strong Medicine on the Lifetime channel and Whoopi’s Littleburg on Nickelodeon.

On the 20th anniversary of her Broadway success, Whoopi Goldberg revived her one-woman show for another successful run at New York’s Lyceum Theatre. Over the course of her career, she has won every major honor awarded by the entertainment industry: the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Awards. She has also received the Mark Twain Award for American Humor, presented in a 2001 ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Whoopi Goldberg has long been one of the most recognizable and best-loved figures in American popular culture. Since the summer of 2007, she has been a daily presence in American homes, as co-host of ABC’s morning talk show The View.

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