10 Things You Never Knew About Whoopi Goldberg
Whoopi Goldberg’s road to stardom has been unconventional to say the least. Before becoming one of the best-known faces on television thanks to The View, and before winning a Tony, an Emmy, an Oscar and a Grammy, Whoopi was lying about her age to get acting jobs. She worked as a bricklayer, bank teller and even a mortuary makeup artist before winning the starring role, in The Color Purple, that would bring her to national attention.
Here are ten things you may not know about Goldberg.
10. Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols inspired Goldberg to enter show business
A huge fan of Star Trek, Goldberg as a child was inspired to take up acting thanks to Nichelle Nichols. This actress, who plays Nyota Uhura in the original 60s series, was among the first African American women to become television stars.
Even in adulthood, Goldberg loved the Star Trek franchise so much she eventually asked the creator Gene Roddenberry to cast her in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Goldberg ended up playing Guinan, a bartender who works in the Ten-Forward lounge.
9. She hired Carrie Fisher to rewrite her lines in Sister Act and Made in America
When it came to perfecting scripts, Goldberg’s favourite person to hire was Carrie Fisher, the actress best known for playing Princess Leia in Star Wars. Goldberg personally chose Fisher to re-write her dialogue for Sister Act and Made in America.
While working on Sister Act, Goldberg often ran into disagreements with the Disney executives about lines. Fisher became her trusted advisor, liaising between Goldberg and the bosses and cautioning Goldberg not to start a feud.
8. She’s one of only four actresses to have received an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy
While there are 12 men who have won the rare combination of an Oscar, a Tony, an Emmy and a Grammy, only four women have been recognised in this way – Whoopi Goldberg among them.
She joined the ranks of Helen Hayes, Rita Moreno and Audrey Hepburn when she completed the set with a Tony and Emmy in 2002. Goldberg won her Emmy for The View, and got her Tony for producing the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie.
7. She overcame addiction in her teen years
Goldberg was a high school drop-out – and she struggled with addiction while she was still a teenager. She began to see drug councillor Alvin Martin, and she eventually married him while kicking her habit.
Goldberg and Martin had a daughter together, Alexandrea, when Goldberg was 18. The couple separated six years later, in 1979.
6. She used to be a mortuary beautician
Goldberg trained as a beautician before she got into acting, and she ended up working in a mortuary, applying makeup to the deceased.
Slightly spooked on her first day, Goldberg remembers how her boss cured her of any fears about corpses: “[Alone in the office] I heard sort of creaking. I turned round and one of the drawers was slowly opening. Then someone sat up and waved at me – someone who should have been dead. Man, I was totally freaked out.”
“Turns out it was the boss,” she recalled. “He jumped out and said, ‘That’s the worst thing that could ever happen to you here, and it won’t.’ It wasn’t such a bad job. And things could only get better.”
5. She developed a phobia of flying after witnessing a plane crash
Goldberg was waiting tables at the Big Kitchen Café in San Diego in 1978, when one day she saw a plane falling from the sky.
This was Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) Flight 182, which collided with a light aircraft and caught fire. It fell into the North Park neighbourhood, resulting in 135 deaths.
Ever since, Goldberg has struggled with a phobia of flying, and for a long while she refused to fly at all. She learned to cope with this fear after undergoing a therapy programme with Virgin Atlantic.
4. She used to lie that she was five years older than she really is to get jobs
Lying about age is a famous habit of Hollywood stars – but Goldberg stands out as, unusually, she has pretended to be much older than she really is.
In a 1986 interview with The Washington Post, Goldberg said of her early career, “I had to lie about my age to get some jobs.”
She used to say she was born in 1950 rather than November 1955.
3. She calls Robert De Niro her “big brother”
The actor Robert De Niro is a long-time mentor to Goldberg, and the pair remain close friends.
As a long-time panel member on The View, Goldberg was greeted with a surprise birthday visit from De Niro on the show in 2015.
Delighted, Goldberg said, “Bob has been like a big brother to me and so he’s family. I can call him and ask him [anything], talk to him about anything. I mean, I adore him and have loved him for a long time.”
2. She named herself Whoopi after co-stars compared her gassiness to a whoopee cushion
Whoopi Goldberg’s iconic stage name is totally unrelated to her birth name, Caryn Elaine Johnson.
She‘s said that her name came from her gassiness after performing on stage. “When you’re performing on stage, you never really have time to go into the bathroom and close the door,” she’s explained. “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.”
1. She’s an honorary member of the Harlem Globetrotters
Goldberg is one of the Harlem Globetrotters’ favourite celebrities, and she was named an honorary member in 1989. She joins the ranks of Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and Henry Kissinger in this position.