Whoopi Goldberg Biography ( 1955 – )

, , TV host, human rights advocate. Born Caryn Elaine Johnson on November 13, 1949 (some sources say 1950 or 1955), in New York City. Goldberg and her younger 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.

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, Whoopie 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 are “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 Award and five Golden Globe nominations. Goldberg herself received an Oscar nomination and her first Golden Globe for Best Actress.

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

Goldberg won numerous awards for her supporting role as Oda Mae Brown in Ghost  (1990), including an Oscar (becoming only the second African-American actress ever to win) and her second Golden Globe. The film, starring Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze, was a public favorite. That same year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People named Goldberg the Black Entertainer of the Year, and she also collected an Excellence Award at the Women in Film Festival.

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