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The Untold Truth Of Whoopi Goldberg

With her trademark humor, one-of-a-kind style, and raspy voice, Whoopi Goldberg remains one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. In a career spanning just about four decades, Goldberg has won our hearts –- and tickled our funny bones –- on stages and screens everywhere. She has brought us iconic characters like Oda Mae Brown (in "Ghost") and Deloris Van Cartier (in "Sister Act"), and is currently on television screens as co-host and moderator of ABC's long-running talk show "The View."

The renowned Goldberg is part of the exclusive EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony winner) club, and she has tried just about everything in Hollywood. From sitcoms to talk shows to children's books, Goldberg has never limited herself to just one thing. Best known as a comedian and actress, she's also a producer, host, author, businesswoman, and philanthropist. There is no one else in the public eye quite like her. But for as much as we know (and love) about Goldberg, there's a lot to learn. Unless you're a super fan, you probably don't know all there is to know, so here are some of Whoopi Goldberg's untold truths.

She credits Mike Nichols for discovering her

When director Mike Nichols saw Goldberg perform her one-woman show "Spook Show" at Dance Theatre Workshop, he was so impressed that he helped her bring it to Broadway, which led to Stephen Spielberg seeing her and casting her in "The Color Purple." "He and I had this incredible conversation," Goldberg told the Television Academy Foundation of their first meeting at her show. "And then he says –- very Mike Nichols –- do you think you might like to do this on Broadway?" Goldberg initially thought Nichols was kidding, but when he later called her at home, she was forced to overcome her fears and decided to take him up on the offer. "And I just got lucky," Goldberg told Michael Eisner of NBC News. "I mean if Mike Nichols had had a cold that night who knows what would have happened."

Other celebrities –- like Cynthia Nixon, Finn Wittrock, Sara Ramirez, and Robert Redford –- have said that Nichols also launched their career, but none of them have been as closely linked to Nichols as Goldberg. The actress was so overcome by the death of her friend and mentor that she started crying when discussing it on "The View," sobbing into her hands as her co-hosts read the prompter.

She initially did not want to take her breakout role in The Color Purple

When Nichols first asked Goldberg to do Broadway, she was scared that she would bomb. She had similar misgivings when it came to her breakout film role in "The Color Purple," proving that even mega-talents have self-esteem issues. Goldberg initially had her eye set on the supporting role of Sofia, and she invited author Alice Walker (who wrote the book on which the film was based) to see her do stand-up in hopes of scoring an audition (via Entertainment Tonight Canada).

Goldberg aced the audition with a weird comedic monologue about E.T. and a drug bust, which she performed in front of an audience of bigwigs including Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones. "I had been considering a lot of actresses to play Celie, and I'd never heard of Whoopi Goldberg, and I didn't quite believe a person existed whose name was Whoopi Goldberg," Steven Spielberg said on "The View" in a taped segment with Goldberg.

Shockingly, Goldberg wanted to turn down the part, thinking it was too large and intimidating for her first film role. Spielberg was able to talk her into taking on Celie, with the promise that they would be a team. "I knew you were Celie probably before you took your 15th breath," Spielberg told Goldberg on "The View." "The reason I saw Celie in you, because of the first few minutes of your act, was because of your strength ... I would never hire Celie who wasn't strong because you've got to get there. That has to be in her makeup. It has to be in her DNA."

She used to work odd jobs

Most actors have to work a number of side jobs before they become famous (they don't call them starving artists for nothing), but Goldberg's side hustles have been especially atypical. Perhaps her oddest job was that of a cosmetologist in a funeral home. "I did hair and makeup on dead people," Goldberg said on "Oprah's Master Class." "There was an ad in the paper! And I'm a licensed beautician as well, because I went to beauty school."

In addition to making corpses look pretty, Goldberg also spent some time working as a phone sex operator. She discussed the job on "The View," in a conversation about the rise in stay-at-homes moms taking on phone sex. "When I was younger, the money was great. See now, people would know my voice," she said. At one point, Goldberg was also a bricklayer, though that seems borderline lackluster in comparison.

There's an interesting background to her stage name

If you are a fan of "The View," you may already know that Whoopi is known for her –- well, her gassiness. Videos of Goldberg passing gas are all over YouTube, so, it is not surprising to find out that her first name is an homage to everyone's favorite fart-maker, the whoopie cushion. Goldberg has discussed how her tendency to audibly pass gas led to her stage name (she was born Caryn Johnson) on numerous occasions. For example, she told NBC News that she was lucky she got the name "Whoopi" versus "Stinky," since she's known for the sound and not the smell.

Flatulence aside, Goldberg's last name has been a bit more controversial. "So you have people who say, 'Well, why is your name Whoopi Goldberg? You just want to be a white woman'," Goldberg said in a Vulture interview. "It's like: No. I've been Black the whole time. I've had 4,000 names. I liked names. With this one, my mom helped formulate it. It's fun. And it goes well with Whoopi. Why wouldn't we use that?" Goldberg has said that she has some Jewish ancestry, and that she took her surname from a far-away relative.

Her dyslexia was undiagnosed until adulthood

As a child, Goldberg struggled in school, eventually dropping out at age 17 without earning her diploma. While she always had a great memory, she struggled with reading, writing, and the other demands of traditional schooling. It was not until adulthood that Goldberg realized her inability to succeed in the classroom was due to undiagnosed dyslexia. She has since adapted to her learning difficulties. For example, she memorizes lines by having someone read her the script, and when she writes her books, she dictates and has someone else record what she says (via Child Mind Institute).

In 2016, Goldberg took part in the Adam Katz Memorial Conversation, an annual conversation on mental health and learning disorders. Goldberg discussed how dyslexia has impacted her, explaining to the audience, "I think perhaps it made me more introspective. Made me more thoughtful, maybe slightly slower in how I do things because it takes me a minute sometimes to figure things out."

She became close friends with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal through Comic Relief

Goldberg has frequently engaged in philanthropy, and "Comic Relief" is amongst her most notable endeavors in this area. Starting in 1986, Goldberg participated in a number of televised comedy specials to raise awareness for poverty. Together with comedy legends Robin Williams and Billy Crystal, she performed in, wrote for, and directed the specials, called "Comic Relief."

Goldberg became close with Williams and Crystal through her philanthropic work (though she actually met Williams on the comedy circuit in the 1970s) and their bond has lasted decades. In 2014, after Williams' tragic suicide, Goldberg and Crystal honored him on "The View." He has "taken care of me for as long as I can remember," Goldberg said. "And we aged together and have grown up together. There was nothing we couldn't do together. Nothing we couldn't do."

On her 65th birthday, Crystal surprised Goldberg on "The View" with a personalized present: a photo of Goldberg and Williams testifying in the Senate about homelessness while holding up a snapshot of Crystal, who had pneumonia. "We did such great stuff together," Crystal said. "So many happy moments... We will always be together in my heart."

She almost wasn't cast in her Oscar-winning role in Ghost

As Oda Mae Brown in "Ghost," Goldberg produced one of the most enduring comedic performances in movie history, but she almost wasn't cast in the role that won her an Academy Award. Many women were up for the part, including Tina Turner and Patti LaBelle, but Patrick Swayze (who played the lead, Sam Wheat) fought for Goldberg. According to Variety, Swayze and director Jerry Zucker actually flew to Alabama so that Goldberg could do a chemistry read with the actor (she was there filming "The Long Walk Home").

Zucker was unsure about hiring Goldberg at first. "I was so afraid of a comic in this role, or someone identified with comedy, that it took me a while to come to that decision," Zucker told Variety. Goldberg credits Swayze with being the deciding factor and even went so far as to say he was the reason for her Oscar win. "When I won my Academy Award, the only person I really thanked was Patrick," she said on "The View," adding, "I remembered to thank Patrick because, had he not said to Jerry Zucker, 'I'm not making this movie unless you put Whoopi Goldberg in there'... that's how I got the job."

Her mom wouldn't come to the Oscars the second time she was nominated

Despite having an extremely close relationship with her mother, Emma Johnson, Goldberg did not bring her to the 1991 Oscars ceremony. It wasn't for a lack of an invitation, but because Emma was too scared to watch her daughter lose for a second time. "My mom did not want to come because she felt that she came to the first one and didn't want me to see her looking disappointed or upset," Goldberg told Variety in 2021. "And then I won, and it was like, 'Of course, the day you don't come.'"

Goldberg's mother died in 2010, and Goldberg has spoken at length about their bond. "My mother was a great adventure person, so she loved to go on adventures and my brother and I made sure that her life was full and rich," she said on "The View." "I think I'm just sad sometimes that I think, 'Who will love me the way that she did?' But I realize that my brother and I have each other and so we're OK." Sadly, Goldberg has since lost her brother, Clyde K. Johnson, as well.

She was once in the weed business – and she may be again soon

Goldberg knows how to hustle, and she has never shied away from a money-making venture, be it a spokesperson gig for migraine treatment or an ugly Christmas sweater line. Some of her most notable business endeavors have been in the cannabis industry. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise to anyone familiar with the comic, who has spoken of her love for weed, even admitting to being high when accepting her Academy Award back in 1992.

Goldberg first entered into the cannabis business in 2016, when she co-launched Whoopi & Maya, medical cannabis specifically designed to aid those suffering from menstrual cramp pain. Though the website is still online, the company shut down in 2020 because Whoopi and her co-founder no longer wanted to work together (per CNN Business). Goldberg recently told Black Cannabis magazine that she plans to launch a new weed line named Emma & Clyde, named after her mother and brother.

She's not a fan of marriage, but she has tried three times

"I'm not very good at relationships," Goldberg told The Guardian's Cole Morton in a 2009 interview. "I wish I was, but I'm not. I gave my child all the time and money that I had, now I want it for me." Goldberg knows what she's talking about, as she has tried the marriage thing before. She has been married three times –- to her former drug counselor, Alvin Martin, for six years; to cinematographer David Claessen for two; and to actor Lyle Trachtenberg for one. "I suppose that, you know, you have to actually be in love with the person that you marry. You have to really be committed to them. And I'm just — I don't have that commitment," she said on Piers Morgan Tonight in 2011. She also said she didn't love her former husbands, and that she has only been in love once (with a non-famous man, which eliminates former flings Ted Danson and Frank Langella).

Goldberg is not only against getting married again, but she also doesn't like to cohabitate. In an interview with The Cut, she said, "I'm much happier on my own. I can spend as much time with somebody as I want to spend, but I'm not looking to be with somebody forever or live with someone. I don't want somebody in my house." So, what does she want? Well, according to a 2018 Glamour article, she is quite clear on that one. "I just want sex and then you can go home," she said.

She has a whole series of kids' books

With her many accomplishments onscreen, sometimes Goldberg's written work is forgotten. Nonetheless, Goldberg has made some formidable written contributions, most notably with her Sugar Plum Ballerinas series of children's books. She signed a deal with the Sun/Hyperion Books back in 2004, and together they published a number of well-received stories, such as "Plum Fantastic," "Sugar Plums to the Rescue!" and "Perfectly Prima." Notably, the books feature girls of different backgrounds and races. When discussed her books in a 2010 interview with Wendy Williams, Goldberg said, "We come in all kinds of shades and all stuff. So, I just wanted to put out a book that was about little girls having a good time and having friendships."

In addition to her six books for children, Goldberg has also published work for adults. This includes her comedy books –- "Book," "Is It Just Me?: Or Is It Nuts Out There?" and "If Someone Says 'You Complete Me,' RUN!: Whoopi's Big Book of Relationships" –- and her most recent book, "The Unqualified Hostess," which is about doing entertaining in your own way.

She has a giant, wacky shoe collection

Whoopi Goldberg is known for many things -– her fantastic acting work, her comedic stylings, even her lack of eyebrows –- but fashion is not one of them. While she's no stranger to a worst dressed list, that has never stopped Goldberg from walking to her own sartorial drum. She even took on her critics in a 2018 piece for In Style, where she discussed the poor reception to her fashion stylings and wrote, "I don't let people make me feel bad about what I'm dressed in anymore."

Her wardrobe on "The View" is often rather predictable: oversized shirts with a vest or a sweater, most often in black and white. "I like the idea of not putting a lot of thought into it because then it gets in your head, and you're dressing for other people," she wrote in an In Style magazine article. "I'm dressing for me because, for five days of the week, I have to be on television. So, I'm all about being comfortable — oversize is my preference because I like to feel like I'm still in bed."

One area where things do get a bit crazy is her feet. Goldberg loves to play up the fun with her socks and shoes, which is something that has come up on "The View" many times. Because of audience interest in her feet, Goldberg has shown off her footwear in the past -– see here, for example –- and her weirdest shoes include a pair that look like banana peels, one with doll heads in the platforms, and a heel made of porcelain.

She was the first Black woman to host the Oscars solo

Goldberg has been first at many things, like being the first woman to get the Mark Twain Prize for Humour back in 2001. Some of her most vivid records have been in relation to her hosting endeavors. Goldberg shattered the glass ceiling in 1994 when she became the first woman to host the Oscars solo. She has since gone on to host three more times (in 1996, 1999, and 2002). "I had a great time," Goldberg told Variety, before adding, "The critics didn't love me, but I never cared much what the critics thought as long as people had a good time."

In addition to being the first woman to emcee Hollywood's most prestigious ceremony, she was also the first Black person to do so alone. In fact, she remains one of only five Black hosts or co-hosts, and she is the only Black woman to have ever hosted solo (Diana Ross co-hosted in 1974). She told Variety that one of her favorite hosting moments was arriving from the ceiling in 2002 for a "Moulin Rouge" parody.

Goldberg has said she thinks good friend Billy Crystal is the ultimate Oscar host, but clearly knows she brought something unique to the role. She told Variety she would be up for doing it again because of how much she enjoys the job, saying, "You have to be part babysitter and part psychiatrist and psychologist when you're up there, because you want to put people at ease." Putting people at ease is a skill few have mastered as well as Goldberg.

She is a great grandmother

Goldberg may not be known for her enduring romantic relationships, but her other familial relationships have often taken a central role in her life. Goldberg was a young mother, giving birth to daughter Alexandrea "Alex" Martin at 18. She became an especially young grandmother when Alex had a baby at 16. Alex now has three children — Amarah Dean, Jerzey Dean, and Mason Dean -– with whom Goldberg is close. "My grandkids call me Granny, as [my daughter] called my mother," Goldberg told Michael Strahan on Good Morning America.

Goldberg became a great-grandmother at age 58, when Amarah gave birth to daughter Charli Rose. It took Goldberg a minute to get back into the newborn groove: "I'm a tad awkward it took me a minute been a LONG time!" she wrote on Instagram when introducing Charli. But the little girl has since affected Goldberg a great deal. "My great-granddaughter and I spend time together, and I get time to hang out with her, and she's four," Goldberg told Strahan in 2018. Goldberg still loves to tell stories about her grandkids, such as when she went on Rachael Ray and discussed Amarah meeting James Earl Jones for the first time.