Caryn Elaine Johnson (born November 13, 1955), better known by her stage name Whoopi Goldberg, is an American actress, comedian, writer, social critic, and television host. She has been nominated for 13 Emmy Awards for her work in television, and is one of the few entertainers who has won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award. She was the second black woman in the history of the Academy Awards to win an acting Oscar.
Her breakthrough role was playing Celie, a mistreated black woman in the Deep South in the period drama film The Color Purple (1985), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Goldberg played Oda Mae Brown, an eccentric psychic helping a slain man (Patrick Swayze) save his lover (Demi Moore), in the romantic fantasy film Ghost (1990), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She was co-producer of the television game show Hollywood Squares from 1998 to 2002. She has been the moderator of the daytime television talk show The View since 2007.
Goldberg was born in Manhattan and raised in the Chelsea-Elliot Houses, the daughter of Emma Johnson (née Harris; September 21, 1931 – August 29, 2010), a nurse and teacher, and Robert James Johnson Jr. (March 4, 1930 – May 25, 1993), a clergyman. Most sources give her birth year as 1955, but some, like a New York Times article from 1984, cite her year of birth as 1949. Goldberg has described her mother as a “stern, strong, and wise woman” who raised her as a single mother ith her brother Clyde (1949 – May 11, 2015). Her recent forebears migrated north from Faceville, Georgia, Palatka, Florida, and Virginia.
Goldberg dropped out of Washington Irving High School. She worked as a phone sex operator, working from home at night.
Her stage name, Whoopi, was taken from a whoopee cushion; she has stated that “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.” The name Goldberg is an alternative family name which she says she chose to use to be taken more seriously.
According to an anecdote told by Nichelle Nichols in the documentary film Trekkies (1997), a young Goldberg was watching Star Trek, and upon seeing Nichols’ 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 the years of 1979 and 1981, she lived in East Germany, working in a number of theater productions. During her travels, she would smuggle various items into the country for the artists she stayed with
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 infamously appeared in blackface during her 1993 Friars Club roast. She has stated that she has no future 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.” In October 2013, Goldberg revealed she had loved a man not in the entertainment industry who died of AIDS after contracting HIV from a blood transfusion.
When Goldberg was a teen she and first husband Martin had a daughter, Alexandrea Martin, who also became an actress and producer.
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 said she was a “high functioning” drug addict years ago, at one point being too terrified to even leave her bed to go use the toilet. She states that she smoked marijuana before accepting the Best Supporting Actress award for Ghost in 1991. Goldberg has dyslexia.
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.