Caryn Elaine Johnson (known professionally as Whoopi Goldberg), is an American actress, comedian, author and television host. One of the few entertainers to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Academy Award and a Tony Award, Whoopi Goldberg’s impressive career spans decades and is accrued with success.
Whoopi was born in New York City’s Manhattan borough on 13th November 1955 to a clergyman father and nurse/teacher mother. She describes her mother as a ‘stern, strong and wise woman’, who raised her singlehandedly, along with her brother Clyde who passed away in 2015 from a brain aneurysm.
Whoopi attended a local Catholic school and eventually ended up dropping out of high school; her struggles in school were down to her undiagnosed dyslexia.
Whoopi states that her stage name was taken from a whoopee cushion; ’When you're performing on stage, you never really have time to go into the bathroom and close the door. So, 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 came from.’ As for ‘Goldberg’, Whoopi claims to have Jewish heritage and that the name Goldberg was taken to honour this part of her family lineage.
According to actress Nichelle Nichols, a nine-year-old Whoopi was watching Star Trek and, upon seeing Nichelle’s character, Uhura, she ran through her house shouting: ’Momma! There’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ This moment is credited to Whoopi’s desire to become a star of stage and screen upon realising that she could be anything she wanted. Whoopi did eventually follow in Nichelle’s footsteps, receiving a recurring guest-starring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Whoopi trained under acting teacher Uta Hagen at the HB Studio in New York City. In 1983, she starred in her one woman show, The Spook Show, which featured her own original comedy material that addressed the issue of race in America with her unique style and wit. The show was taken to Broadway where it was renamed Whoopi Goldberg and ran for a total of 156 performances.
Her Broadway performance caught the eye of director Steven Spielberg, who cast her in the lead role of The Colour Purple. The film was released in 1985 and received critical and commercial success. It earned ten Academy Award and five Golden Globe nominations; Whoopi received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and won her first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress.
Whoopi’s success with The Colour Purple launched her acting career and, since 1985, she has appeared in more than 150 film and television productions. Her earlier works include Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), Burglar (1987), Fatal Beauty (1987), and The Telephone (1988). As the 80s came to a close, she participated in a number of HBO specials of Comic Relief with fellow comedians Robin Williams and Billy Crystal.
Starring opposite Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, Whoopi’s performance in the 1990 film Ghost led to a number of milestone achievements. She was awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, making her the second African-American woman to win an Oscar. The performance also earned her a second Golden Globe, as well as the Black Entertainer of the Year Award.
In 1992, Whoopi went on to star in the popular and much-loved film Sister Act alongside Maggie Smith. The film grossed over $200 million and Whoopi was nominated for another Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy.
Throughout the 90s, Whoopi continued to feature in many TV and film productions. She hosted a late-night talk show, The Whoopi Goldberg Show, appeared in Corrina, Corrina, and had a voice role in The Lion King. In 1994, she became the first African-American woman to host the Academy Awards and the first woman to solo host. She hosted again in 1996, 1999 and 2002.
In the 2000s, Whoopi continued to take supporting roles in the likes of Kingdom Come and Rat Race. On her 46th birthday, in 2001, she was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She appeared alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in the HBO documentary Unchained Memories (2003), narrating slave narratives. 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.
In 2007, Whoopi became the moderator of the daytime talk show The View. She has often found herself wound up in some of the show’s most controversial moments, such as defending football star Michael Vick in his dogfighting case on her very first show. Since then, Whoopi has continued to make other media appearances in the likes of 30 Rock, Glee and BoJack Horseman.
In recent years Whoopi has taken a step back from acting, making occasional guest appearances whilst she focuses on other avenues. In 2016, she developed a reality show called Struts, based on transgender models. Whoopi is heavily involved in LGBT activism, campaigning to bring straight people to ally with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community.
Whoopi is also the cofounder of Whoopi & Maya, a company that makes medical marijuana aimed at women seeking relief from menstrual cramps. She self-professes that marijuana was the only way she could find relief.
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Whoopi is known for her passion for cigars; she’s a fan of the Davidoff and Cohiba brands and has enjoyed a smoke throughout her career. If, like Whoopi, you enjoy a crisp, smoking experience, you can buy Cohiba cigars online from JJ Fox.