Caryn Elaine Johnson was born in Manhattan, New York City on November 13, 1955, the daughter of Robert James Johnson, Jr. (March 4, 1930 – May 25, 1993), a clergyman, and Emma Johnson (née Harris; September 21, 1931 – August 29, 2010), a nurse and teacher. She was raised in the Chelsea-Elliot Houses.
Goldberg has described her mother as a "stern, strong, and wise woman" who raised her as a single mother with her brother Clyde (c. 1949 – May 11, 2015), who died of a brain aneurysm. She attended a local Catholic school, St Columba's when she was younger. Her more recent forebears migrated north from Faceville, Georgia, Palatka, Florida, and Virginia. She dropped out of Washington Irving High School.
She has stated that her stage forename ("Whoopi") was taken from a whoopee cushion; "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." She said in 2011, "My mother did not name me Whoopi, but Goldberg is my name, it's part of my family, part of my heritage. Just like being black." Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in his book In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed Their Past, found that all of Goldberg's traceable ancestors were African Americans, that she has no known Jewish ancestry, and that none of her ancestors were named Goldberg. Results of a DNA test, revealed in the 2006 PBS documentary African American Lives, traced part of her ancestry to the Papel and Bayote people of modern-day Guinea-Bissau. Her admixture test indicates that she is of 92 percent sub-Saharan African origin and of 8 percent European origin.
According to an anecdote told by Nichelle Nichols in Trekkies (1997), a young Goldberg was watching Star Trek, and upon seeing Nichols's character Uhura, exclaimed, "Momma! There's a black lady on TV and she ain't no maid!" This spawned lifelong fandom of Star Trek for Goldberg, who would eventually ask for and receive a recurring guest-starring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Between 1979 and 1981, she lived in East Germany, working in a number of theater productions.
Goldberg trained under acting teacher Uta Hagen at the HB Studio in New York City. She first appeared onscreen in 1982 in Citizen: I'm Not Losing My Mind, I'm Giving It Away, an avant-garde ensemble feature by San Francisco filmmaker William Farley. Goldberg created The Spook Show, a one-woman show composed of different character monologues in 1983. Director Mike Nichols offered to take the show to Broadway. The show retitled Whoopi Goldberg for its Broadway incarnation, ran from October 24, 1984, to March 10, 1985, for a total of 156 performances; the play was taped during this run and subsequently broadcast by HBO as Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway in 1985.
While on Broadway, Goldberg's performance caught the eye of director Steven Spielberg. He was about to direct the film The Color Purple, based on the novel by Alice Walker, and offered her a leading role. The Color Purple was released in late 1985 and was a critical and commercial success. It was later nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including a nomination for Goldberg as Best Actress.
Goldberg starred in Penny Marshall's directorial debut Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986) and began a relationship with David Claessen, a director of photography on the set; the couple married later that year. The film was a modest success, and during the next two years, three additional motion pictures featured Goldberg: Burglar (1987), Fatal Beauty (1987), and The Telephone (1988). Though these were not as successful as her prior motion pictures, Goldberg still garnered awards from the NAACP Image Awards. Goldberg and Claessen divorced after the poor box office performance of The Telephone, which Goldberg was under contract to star in. She tried unsuccessfully to sue the producers of the film. Clara's Heart did poorly at the box office, though her own performance was critically acclaimed. As the 1980s concluded, she participated in the numerous HBO specials of Comic Relief with fellow comedians Robin Williams and Billy Crystal.
In January 1990, Goldberg starred with Jean Stapleton in the situation comedy Bagdad Cafe. The show ran for two seasons on CBS. Simultaneously, Goldberg starred in The Long Walk Home, portraying a woman in the civil rights movement. She played a psychic in the 1990 film Ghost and became the first black woman to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in nearly 50 years, and the second black woman to win an Academy Award for acting (the first being Hattie McDaniel, for 1939's Gone with the Wind). Premiere named her character Oda Mae Brown in its list of Top 100 best film characters.
Goldberg starred in Soapdish (1991) and had a recurring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Guinan, which she would reprise in two Star Trek films. On May 29, 1992, Sister Act was released. The motion picture grossed well over US $200 million and Goldberg was nominated for a Golden Globe. Next, she starred in Sarafina!. During the next year, she hosted a late-night talk show titled The Whoopi Goldberg Show and starred in two more motion pictures: Made in America and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. From 1994 to 1995, Goldberg appeared in Corrina, Corrina, The Lion King (voice), The Pagemaster (voice), Boys on the Side, and Moonlight and Valentino. Goldberg guest starred on Muppets Tonight in 1996. She became the first African-American woman to host the Academy Awards show in 1994, and the first woman to solo host. She hosted the awards show again in 1996, 1999, and 2002.
Goldberg starred in four motion pictures in 1996: Bogus (with Gérard Depardieu and Haley Joel Osment), Eddie, The Associate (with Dianne Wiest), and Ghosts of Mississippi (with Alec Baldwin and James Woods). During the filming of Eddie, Goldberg began dating co-star Frank Langella, a relationship that lasted until early 2000. In October 1997, Goldberg and ghostwriter Daniel Paisner cowrote Book, a collection featuring insights and opinions. In November and December 2005, Goldberg revived her one-woman show on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre in honor of its 20th anniversary.
From 1998 to 2001, Goldberg took supporting roles in How Stella Got Her Groove Back with Angela Bassett, Girl, Interrupted with Winona Ryder, and Angelina Jolie, Kingdom Come and Rat Race with an all-star ensemble cast. She starred in the ABC-TV versions of Cinderella, A Knight in Camelot, and Call Me Claus. In 1998, she gained a new audience when she became the "Center Square" on Hollywood Squares, hosted by Tom Bergeron. She also served as executive producer, for which she was nominated for four Emmy Awards. She left the series in 2002, and the "Center Square" was filled in with celebrities for the last two on-air seasons without Goldberg. Most recently, she had a cameo role as Megan Fox's boss in the 2014 reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and portrayed herself in Chris Rock's Top Five.
In 2003, Goldberg returned to television, starring in Whoopi, which was canceled after one season. On her 46th birthday, Goldberg was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Goldberg also appeared alongside Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett in the HBO documentary Unchained Memories (2003), narrating slave narratives. During the next two years, she became a spokeswoman for Slim Fast and produced two television series: Lifetime's original drama Strong Medicine that ran for six seasons and Whoopi's Littleburg, a Nickelodeon show for younger children. Goldberg made guest appearances on Everybody Hates Chris as an elderly character named Louise Clarkson. She produced the Noggin sitcom Just for Kicks in early 2006.
On September 4, 2007, Goldberg became the new moderator and co-host of The View, replacing Rosie O'Donnell, who supported the choice. Goldberg's debut as moderator drew 3.4 million viewers, 1 million fewer than O'Donnell's debut ratings. However, after 2 weeks, The View was averaging 3.5 million total viewers under Goldberg, a 7% increase from 3.3 million under O'Donnell the previous season.
Goldberg has made controversial comments on the program. Her first appearance included statements taken by some to condone football player Michael Vick's dogfighting. In 2009, she opined that Roman Polanski's rape of a thirteen-year-old in 1977 was not "rape-rape", later clarified that she had intended to distinguish between statutory rape ("unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor") and forcible rape. Goldberg has been a staunch defender of Bill Cosby from the outset of his rape allegations, asserting he should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and questioning why Cosby had never been arrested or tried for them. After learning that the statute of limitations on these allegations had expired, she began advising women to come forward if they are raped.
Goldberg performed the role of Califia, the radiant Queen of the Island of California, for a theater presentation called Golden Dreams at Disney California Adventure Park, the second gate at the Disneyland Resort, in 2000. The show, which explains the history of the Golden State (California), opened on February 8, 2001, with the rest of the park. Golden Dreams closed in September 2008 to make way for the upcoming Little Mermaid ride planned for DCA. In 2001, Goldberg hosted the 50th Anniversary of I Love Lucy.
Goldberg hosted the 2001 documentary short, The Making of A Charlie Brown Christmas. In July 2006, Goldberg became the main host of the Universal Studios Hollywood Backlot Tour, in which she appears multiple times in video clips shown to the guests on monitors placed on the trams. Along with her many contributions to film and television and her major impact on this industry, Whoopi Goldberg was a main narrator for HBO's 2003 film Unchained Memories. She made a guest appearance on the hit television show 30 Rock, in which she played herself. She is shown as endorsing her own workout video.
In Season 4 of the show, she counsels Tracy Jordan on winning the "EGOT", the coveted combination of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony awards. Goldberg was involved in controversy in July 2004 when, at a fundraiser for John Kerry at Radio City Music Hall in New York, Goldberg made a sexual joke about President George W. Bush by waving a bottle of wine, pointing toward her pubic area and saying: "We should keep Bush where he belongs, and not in the White House." Slim-Fast took exception to these comments made by Goldberg and dropped her from their then-current ad campaign.
From August 2006 to March 2008, Goldberg hosted Wake Up with Whoopi, a nationally syndicated morning radio talk and entertainment program. In October 2007, Goldberg announced on the air that she would be retiring from acting because she is no longer sent scripts, saying, "You know, there's no room for the very talented Whoopi. There's no room right now in the marketplace of cinema".
On July 14, 2008, Goldberg announced on The View that from July 29 to September 7, she would perform in the Broadway musical Xanadu. On November 13, 2008, Goldberg's birthday, she announced live on The View that she would be producing, along with Stage Entertainment, the premiere of Sister Act: The Musical at the London Palladium.
She gave a short message at the beginning of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2008 wishing all the participants good luck, and stressing the importance of UNICEF, the official charity of the Junior Eurovision Song Contest. Since its launch in 2008, Goldberg has been a contributor for wowOwow.com, a new website for women to talk culture, politics, and gossip.
Goldberg is an advocate for human rights, moderating a panel at the Alliance of Youth Movements Summit on how social networks can be used to fight violent extremism in 2008, and also moderating a panel at the UN in 2009 on human rights, children and armed conflict, terrorism, human rights, and reconciliation. On December 13, 2008, she guest starred on The Naked Brothers Band, a Nickelodeon rock- mockumentary television show. Before the episode premiered, on February 18, 2008, the band performed on The View and the band members were interviewed by Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd.
On December 18 through 20, 2009, Goldberg performed in the Candlelight Processional at Epcot in Walt Disney World. She was given a standing ovation during her final performance for her reading of the Christmas story and her tribute to the guest choirs performing in the show with her. She made a guest appearance in Michael Jackson's short film for the single "Liberian Girl", as well as an appearance on the seventh season of the cooking reality show Hell's Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay, as a special guest where she was served by the contestants. On January 14, 2010, Goldberg made a one-night-only appearance at the Minskoff Theatre to perform in the mega-hit musical The Lion King. That same year, she attended the Life Ball in Austria.
Goldberg made her West End debut as the Mother Superior in a musical version of Sister Act for a limited engagement set for August 10–31, 2010, but prematurely left the cast on August 27 to be with her family; her mother had suffered from a severe stroke. However, she later returned to the cast for five performances. The show closed on October 30, 2010.
Goldberg had a recurring role in the TV series Glee as Carmen Tibideaux, a renowned Broadway performer and opera singer and the newly appointed Dean of Vocal Performance and Song Interpretation at the fictional "NYADA" (New York Academy of the Dramatic Arts), a highly competitive performing arts college. The character appeared in six episodes over 3 seasons (2012–14). In 2012, Goldberg guest starred as Jane Marsh, Sue Heck's guidance counselor in The Middle. She voiced the Magic Mirror on Disney XD's The 7D. In 2016, it was announced Goldberg would be developing a reality show called Strut, based on transgender models from Slay models in Los Angeles, which was founded by Cecilio Asuncion. Strut aired on Oxygen.
Goldberg is co-founder of Whoopi & Maya, a company that makes medical marijuana products for women seeking relief from menstrual cramps. Goldberg says she was inspired to go into business by "a lifetime of difficult periods and the fact that cannabis was literally the only thing that gave me relief". The company was launched in April 2016.
On April 1, 2010, Goldberg joined Cyndi Lauper in the launch of her Give a Damn campaign to bring a wider awareness of discrimination of the LGBT community. The campaign aims to bring straight people to ally with the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community. Other names included in the campaign include Jason Mraz, Elton John, Judith Light, Cynthia Nixon, Kim Kardashian West, Clay Aiken, Sharon Osbourne, and Kelly Osbourne. Her high-profile support for LGBT rights and AIDS activism dates back to the 1987 March on Washington, in which she participated.
On an episode of The View that aired on May 9, 2012, Goldberg stated she is a member of the National Rifle Association. Goldberg is on the Board of Selectors of Jefferson Awards for Public Service.
Goldberg serves on the national council advisory board of the National Museum of American Illustration.
Goldberg has been married three times—in 1973 to Alvin Martin (divorced in 1979, one daughter), on September 1, 1986 to cinematographer David Claessen (divorced in 1988), and on October 1, 1994 to the union organizer Lyle Trachtenberg (divorced in 1995).
She was romantically linked with actors Frank Langella, Timothy Dalton, and Ted Danson, who controversially appeared in blackface during her 1993 Friars Club roast. She has stated that she has no plans to marry again, commenting "Some people are not meant to be married and I am not meant to. I’m sure it is wonderful for lots of people." In a 2011 interview with Piers Morgan, she explained that she never loved the men she married and commented: "You have to really be committed to them. And I'm just—I don't have that commitment. I'm committed to my family."
When Goldberg was a teen she and first husband, Martin, had a daughter, Alexandrea Martin, who also became an actress and producer. Through her daughter, Goldberg has three grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
On August 29, 2010, Goldberg's mother Emma Johnson died after suffering a stroke. She left London at the time, where she had been performing in Sister Act the Musical, but returned to perform on October 22, 2010. In 2015, Goldberg's brother Clyde died of a brain aneurysm.
Goldberg has stated that she was a "high functioning" drug addict years ago, at one point being too terrified to even leave her bed to use the toilet. She stated that she smoked marijuana before accepting the Best Supporting Actress award for Ghost in 1991. Goldberg has dyslexia.
Goldberg reportedly had "six or seven" abortions by the age of 25, and admitted that at least one was self-inflicted—with a coat-hanger—at the age of 14.
She is a Deadhead and is close friends with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
Goldberg is one of the few persons to win an Oscar, a Grammy, a Tony, and an Emmy. She has been seen in over 150 films, and during a period in the 1990s, Whoopi was the highest-paid actress of all time. It was reported that Goldberg's salary for the 1993 film Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit was $7 to 12 million, the highest ever paid for an actress at the time.
Goldberg has received two Academy Award nominations, for The Color Purple and Ghost, winning for Ghost. She is the first African American to have received Academy Award nominations for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. She has received three Golden Globe nominations, winning two (Best Actress in 1986 for The Color Purple, and Best Supporting Actress in 1991 for Ghost). For Ghost, she also won a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 1991. In February 2002, Goldberg sent her Oscar statuette from Ghost to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to be cleaned and replated. During this time, the statuette was taken from its shipping container and later retrieved by the shipping company, UPS.
She won a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording in 1985 for "Whoopi Goldberg: Direct from Broadway," becoming only the second woman at the time to receive the award, and the first African-American woman. Goldberg is one of only three women to receive that award. She won a Tony Award in 2002 as a producer of the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. She has received eight Daytime Emmy nominations, winning two. She has received nine Primetime Emmy nominations. In 2009, Goldberg won the Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host for her role on The View. She shared the award with her then co-hosts Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Barbara Walters.
She is the recipient of the 1985 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show for her solo performance on Broadway. She has won three People's Choice Awards. She has been nominated for five American Comedy Awards with two wins (Funniest Supporting Actress in 1991 for Ghost and Funniest Actress in 1993 for Sister Act). In 2001, she won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Her humanitarian efforts include working for Comic Relief, having reunited with Billy Crystal and Robin Williams for the 20th Anniversary of Comic Relief. In 1999, she received the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Vanguard Award for her continued work in supporting the gay and lesbian community, as well as the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry. She was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award for outstanding achievement by a dyslexic in 1987.
In 1990, Goldberg was officially named an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition basketball team by the members. In July 2010, the Ride of Fame honored Goldberg with a double decker tour bus in New York City for her life's achievements. In 2017, Goldberg was named a Disney Legend for her contributions to the Walt Disney Company.1985: Original Broadway Recording (Geffen/Warner Bros. Records)
1985: The Color purple
1988: Fontaine: Why Am I Straight? (MCA Records)
1989: The Long Walk Home (Miramax Films)
1992: Sarafina (Hollywood Pictures/Miramax Films)
1992: Sister Act—Soundtrack (Hollywood/Elektra Records)
1993: Sister Act 2—Soundtrack (Hollywood/Elektra Records)
1994: Corrina Corrina (New Line Cinema)
2001: Call Me Claus (One Ho Productions)
2005: Live on Broadway: The 20th Anniversary Show (DRG Records)