Is there anything Whoopi Goldberg (née Caryn Elaine Johnson) can’t do? From stand-up comedy to acting, hosting, and fashion designing, this multi-talented force to be reckoned with has been setting the industry ablaze for decades. After her breakout film role as Celie in The Color Purple, Goldberg has since gone on to scoop up multiple Emmy, Tony awards, and Oscars. Life is sweet for the New York native … or so we thought.
With Variety estimating in 2016 that she was earning $5 to $6 million per season as a co-host of The View, Goldberg can surely buy any and everything that she wants. But money can’t erase the memories and experiences from her tragic past. Before becoming a household name, she endured enough harrowing circumstances that it’s surprising Hollywood hasn’t attempted to make a biopic about her.
Once you learn more about dark past that this multi-talent turned into entertainment gold, you’ll realize the Sister Act star is a true survivor. This is Whoopi Goldberg’s tragic real-life story.
Is Whoopi Goldberg's stage name funny or just kind of sad?
For many years, Whoopi Goldberg tried desperately to keep her real name a secret. In a 1984 interview with the Washington Post, she revealed that no one — except for her close family members and friends — even knew her birth name. The star said she was “protecting” her family by acting under a pseudonym. “As it is now, I can go home and live as this other person and even though I might look like Whoopi Goldberg on the street, I can whip out my driver’s license and say, ‘Hey, but I’m not,'” she said.
So where did the name Whoopi Goldberg originate from? It goes back to when she first moved to California. The Guardian stated she was given the name Whoopi “because she farted so much.”However, she told the Washington Post the name “came out of the blue” and started off as a joke. “First it was Whoopi Cushion. Then it was French, like Whoopi Cushon,” she said.
That’s a pretty embarrassing name, and even her mother warned her that no one would “respect [her] with a name like that.” Goldberg heeded her mom’s advice and added the surname “Goldberg” to her moniker. “Goldberg’s a part of my family somewhere and that’s all I can say about it. It’s like Rip Torn, you know?” she said.
We all know and love her as “Whoopi” today, but we can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness over the origins of her humiliating nickname.
Whoopi Goldberg did the unthinkable after a teenage pregnancy
In the book The Choices We Made: Twenty-Five Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion, Whoopi Goldberg shared a startling story. At the age of 14, she found out she was pregnant. She didn’t seek out any help to explore all options, and she didn’t talk to anyone. Instead, she said that she panicked.
In an act of desperation, she attempted a bunch of harmful methods in order to terminate the pregnancy. “I drank these strange concoctions girls told me about — something like Johnny Walker Red with a little bit of Clorox, alcohol, baking soda (which probably saved my stomach) and some sort of cream,” she recounted in the book.
In the end, those methods only made her “violently ill,” so she resorted to a drastic and potentially fatal method to end the pregnancy. The following year, at the age of 15, she got pregnant again, but was able to obtain a safer termination to that pregnancy at Planned Parenthood, thanks to recent legislation that made abortion “legal in New York.”
Goldberg isn’t proud of her actions. That’s why, to this day, she’s a strong pro-choice and legal abortion proponent.
A learning disability prompted Whoopi Goldberg to drop out of high school
Whoopi Goldberg had a very difficult time in school. “I couldn’t understand what they were doing,” she told Ebony. When she couldn’t grasp basic concepts, she was convinced that she was lacking intelligence. Instead of continuing to struggle through the course load, she made the decision to drop out of school by her 17th birthday. “You don’t want to be r******d all your life. I was r******d for a good part of mine, according to all the paperwork, and I just couldn’t handle it,” she said.
After “[cleaning] out her locker,” she left the schoolyard behind and sought refuge on the streets. Years later, her reason for falling behind in school was finally discovered when she was diagnosed with dyslexia.
It makes us wonder how differently her life would’ve turned out if someone would’ve advocated for her and demanded she be tested for her learning disability. Maybe then, her life wouldn’t have taken this next turn…
Whoopi Goldberg has a tragic history of drug abuse
After leaving school, Whoopi Goldberg found herself on the streets. It didn’t take long for her to begin experimenting with various drugs. “LSD, heroin, you name it, she did it — and before long she was hooked,” Ebony reported. The publication described Goldberg as a “stone-cold junkie,” and it was hard for even the actress to argue with that description. She said the more often she did drugs, the less amazing she began to feel, and that created a detrimental cycle. “So you’ve got to do it more and more often. It ain’t your friend,” she said.
Getting clean became a priority for her, but she admitted that it took her “many, many tries” for her to finally kick her habit. “You fall a lot because it’s hard,” she said.
Still, one drug she’s not willing to give up is marijuana. In March 2019, she urged New Jersey lawmakers to legalize the drug. “I am known as an outspoken proponent for legalization, a position that stems from the fact that I have been a marijuana user since my youth, when I discovered it was the only medicine that could relieve my crippling menstrual cramps without crippling the rest of my life,” she wrote in an op-ed for NorthJersey.com.
She’s also the co-owner of Whoopi & Maya, brand of medical cannabis products designed to relieve menstrual discomfort.
The cycle of teen pregnancy continued for Whoopi Goldberg's daughter
After having her life overtaken by her drug addiction, it was time for Whoopi Goldberg to clean up her act, and get herself some help. She entered into a rehabilitation center, and while there, she met drug counselor Alvin Martin. Soon, they were in a relationship, according to Closer Weekly.
Goldberg and Martin got married, and at the age of nineteen, she gave birth to her their daughter, and her only child, Alexandrea Martin (above), according to Ebony.
Their marriage wouldn’t last, and they got divorced in 1979, Closer Weekly reported. When her marriage came tumbling down, Goldberg found herself unemployed with no gigs in sight. She knew it was time to head out west in search of a new life and viable opportunities. So she packed everything up, grabbed her daughter, and headed out to California to make her dreams of becoming an actress come true.
Sadly, the cycle of teenage pregnancies persisted with Goldberg’s family when, at the age of 15, Alexandrea gave birth to her first child, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Getting off welfare turned tragedy into triumph
Starting her life over in a brand new state wasn’t easy. Even though she knew she wanted to act, it would take Whoopi Goldberg six years for her dream to come to fruition, according to Ebony. While getting settled in the city of San Diego, Calif., her acting jobs were few and far between.
To supplement her income, she took on a series of odd jobs, “including working as a bricklayer and doing hair and making up corpses in a funeral parlor — to pay the bills,” Ebony reported. But with a young child who also depended on her, Goldberg resorted to applying for welfare, and the experience wasn’t pleasant.
Goldberg still remembers the welfare workers making “surprise visits,” because she wasn’t allowed to have friends eat any of the food acquired through the government benefits. “If a welfare worker did surprise you and you happened to have a friend in the house with a plate of food in front of them, it would be deducted from your money the next month,” Goldberg said.
After five years on public assistance, she was finally able to support herself and her daughter financially. She called it the “greatest thing” to no longer be at the mercy of those welfare workers. Upon receiving her final welfare supplement, she took the check right back to their office and said with pride, “Here. I don’t need this anymore.”
The real reason Whoopi Goldberg avoided airplanes for years
A traumatic experience changed Whoopi Goldberg’s life forever when she witnessed a mid-air collision between two airplanes. She told The Guardian those images stayed “built in [her] mind” for a very long time. In fact, for 13 years, she refused to even get on an airplane, opting to travel on a personalized tour bus instead. But after avoiding that method of transportation for so long, it was time for her to come face to face with her greatest fear.
So what made her finally put her apprehension aside and board a plane after over a decade of traveling by bus? “They dangled a [check] in front of me,” she said with a laugh. “But I got really nervous and started sweating a few days before.”
Her first flight, which was aboard a private jet, was uncomfortable. However, she said it wasn’t totally “undoable.”
Good for her for finally facing her fear!
Whoopi Goldberg can no longer drive
For as long as she has been a prominent figure in the public eye, Whoopi Goldberg has worn a pair of circle-rimmed glasses that are usually perched at the very tip of her nose. And her glasses aren’t just for looks, either. Goldberg has terrible eyesight that has deteriorated significantly throughout the years. She revealed during an episode of The View (via MSN), that things have gotten so bad, she’s not even allowed to drive anymore. “I have a driver,” she announced.
Apparently, since her eyesight is not “good enough,” she said that “people get nervous” when she’s behind the wheel. So it’s probably a smart move that she has given up her driving privileges.
It seems that corrective surgery may not be an option. Thankfully, she has a home in New Jersey, New York Mag reports, and it’s close enough for her driver to bring her into the city to film The View.
All Whoopi Goldberg needs is her pets
Whoopi Goldberg had a string of failed marriages. She and her first husband, Alvin Martin, divorced in 1979, according to Closer Weekly. She married cinematographer David Claessen in 1986, but that marriage ended in 1988. Her third marriage was in 1994 with a man named Lyle Trachtenberg. They divorced just one year later.
As of this writing, Goldberg has yet to remarry for a fourth time, and it’s unlikely she’ll walk down the aisle again. She told The Guardian in 2009 that she wasn’t “totally committed” to anyone and that she wasn’t “very good at relationships.”
She had dedicated so many years to giving her daughter, Alexandrea Martin, all of her “time and money.” Therefore, Goldberg said she was ready to just put the focus all on herself. Besides, she was far too “selfish” to incorporate someone else into her life. “I like being able to get up when I want, go where I want. It’s hard,” she said.
At the time, she was content with living a solitary life with her cat, Olivier, which sounds pretty lonely and isolating to us. But in 2011, she added another furry friend to the mix, a rescue cat she named Vinny, according to ABC News.
Whoopi Goldberg was labeled a homewrecker
While on the set of Made in America (1993), Whoopi Goldberg fell hard for her co-star, Ted Danson. So what was the issue? Well, Danson was married to Casey Coates at the time.
According to People, Coates suffered a stroke in 1979 while giving birth to their daughter, Kate. “Miraculously, the baby was healthy, but Casey’s left side was totally paralyzed,” the publication reported. Coates reportedly gave Danson permission to leave her, but he decided to stick by her side — that is until he met Goldberg.
According to The National Enquirer, Danson had to shell out $30 million to Coates in their divorce settlement. Not only was his wholesome, family man image tarnished, but Goldberg received intense backlash, as well. That wasn’t the end of their problems, though. In 1993, Danson roasted his then-girlfriend while wearing blackface. He was also rumored to have used the n-word “more than a dozen times” during his routine, critic Roger Ebert wrote in a scathing review. But no one was more entertained by his performance than Goldberg.
After a year of dating, they broke up (per HuffPost), but the stigma of being Danson’s mistress followed Goldberg. “I’m an anti-Semite, I’m a bigot. I’m a disgrace to my race, I’m a disgrace to women. I’m a home-wrecker. I’ve slept with everyone in Hollywood,” she said as she rattled off some of the words that have been used to describe her during an interview the Orlando Sentinel.
A serious illness nearly took Whoopi Goldberg's life
In the fall of 2018, Whoopi Goldberg thought she had contracted the common cold. But months later, she wound up in the hospital and was diagnosed with sepsis, as well as pneumonia in both lungs. She told People that doctors told her she had a 30 percent chance of not making it. “The doctor told me, ‘Listen, you’re not going anywhere tomorrow and you’re not going anywhere next week because you are really sick,” she said.
While in the hospital, the entertainer had to have both of her lungs drained twice in a procedure known as thoracentesis, “in which a needle is inserted into the space between the lungs and the chest wall to remove fluid,” People reported. A catheter was then “put in place to continuously remove fluid.”
After taking six weeks off from The View, Goldberg made her triumphant return in March 2019, but she still wasn’t back to her normal self. “It really took me down, but I’m getting there,” she told People.
Goldberg said she’s “grateful to be alive,” and we’re so happy she’s okay, too!
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