Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Elaine Johnson on November 13, 1955, in Manhattan, New York, to minister Robert James Johnson, Jr. and educator and nurse Emma Harris Johnson. Her interest in drama and the spoken word began when she was eight years old and studied and performed in children’s plays with the Hudson Guild Theater in New York City. In Chelsea, New York, she attended St. Columba Catholic School.
She did, however, transfer to Washington Irving High School and graduated in 1972. She then went on to study professional theater at New York’s Herbert Berghof (HB) Studio. In 1973, Goldberg married Alvin Martin, a drug counselor. Alexandrea Martin Dean was their child.
She took on the stage name Whoopi Goldberg in 1981 because she believed that having a Jewish surname would help her professional career. The Color Purple, Goldberg’s first major film, was released in 1985. Miss Celie, the downtrodden wife, earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She won a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording for “Whoopi Goldberg – Original Broadway Show” in 1985.
In 1986, Goldberg married Dutch cinematographer David Claessen. She won an Academy Award (Oscar) for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the 1991 film Ghost. Goldberg received the Aftonbladet TV Prize in 1992 for Best Foreign TV Personality – Female in Captain Planet and Planeteer for voice dubbing.
She also appeared in the 1992 film Sister Act, which she reprised the following year (1993) in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Because of the success of these films, Goldberg became one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood. Lyle Trachtenberg, an actor and union organizer from Los Angeles, California, married her in 1993, but they divorced the following year, in 1994.
Over the first two decades of the twenty-first century, Goldberg would be one of the most celebrated figures in film, television, and theater. She appeared in two films in 2001: Rat Race and Kingdom Come. She also produced “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a Broadway musical for which she won a Tony Award.
Two years later, in 2003, Goldberg starred in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a one-woman Broadway show. For “Whoopi: Back to Broadway-The 20th Anniversary,” she received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program in 2005. This television special was recorded at New York City’s Lyceum Theater.
Goldberg joined the daytime talk show The View as a co-host in 2007. Her work on this show earned her a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Entertainment Talk Show Host in 2010 and 2011. In 2013, she received the Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality Award in New York City for her unwavering support for the LGBTQ community.
Two years later (2015), Goldberg received the Black Reel Award for Outstanding Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series for his performance in A Day Late and a Dollar Short, a television movie.
For her work on the View, Goldberg received the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Host in a Talk or News/Information (Series or Special) – Individual or Ensemble in 2020.
Whoopi Goldberg is one of the few American entertainers to have achieved the EGOT, having won the four major American awards for professional entertainers, the Emmy (Television), a Grammy (Music), an Oscar (Film), and a Tony (Theater).