Whoopi Goldberg Confessed She Wanted This One Thing For 40 Years

Having won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony award (an EGOT) Whoopi Goldberg is one of the most celebrated talents of her generation. But while she’s won the hearts of audiences and critics over the years, she still had one dream job to tick off her bucket list. And she wanted it so much, she said she went to extreme lengths to get it.

With a career spanning more than 40 years, Goldberg has achieved a lot. Hailing from a Manhattan housing project, the star has enjoyed success in the field of comedy, acting, hosting and even human rights advocacy. And what’s more, she’s enjoyed a number of accolades over the years.

Among her achievements, Goldberg was the first female to host the Oscars and only the second African-American actress to receive an Academy Award. If that wasn’t enough, the actress is part of an exclusive group of 14 entertainers who’ve bagged themselves an EGOT. But despite all her accomplishments, there was one dream Goldberg still hadn’t fulfilled.

Speaking on a Television Critics Association panel in December 2020, Goldberg revealed there was one challenge she’d been wanting to tackle for four decades. In fact, she said she’d been pleading for such an opportunity for years. And finally, it seems, the actress got her chance.

Goldberg’s birth name is Caryn Elaine Johnson. She was born on November 13, 1955, in New York City, growing up in a housing project in Chelsea. Hers was a single-parent family, with the would-be actress and her brother, Clyde, being brought up by their mom. To keep the family afloat, Goldberg’s mother worked a series of jobs and was both a teacher and a nurse.

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The comedian got her famous moniker after apparently deciding that her birth name was boring. And she has claimed that part of her family heritage is Jewish, and therefore her chosen surname was a reflection of this. The name “Whoopi,” meanwhile, came from a rather unflattering anecdote, which the comedian shared in 2006.

Explaining her stage name, Goldberg told the New York Times, “Here’s the thing. When you’re performing on stage, you never really have time to go into the bathroom and close the door. So if you get a little gassy, you’ve got to let it go. So people used to say to me, ‘You are like a whoopee cushion.’ And that’s where the name came from.”

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It’s clear, then, that Goldberg has no problem poking fun at herself. And it was through her comedy that she would ultimately become a star. She dropped out of school at 17 after unknowingly struggling with dyslexia and moved to California in 1974 to pursue a career in show business.

Yet fame didn’t come easily for Goldberg. For seven years she moved around, living at times in San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. And to make ends meet, she even worked as a mortuary beautician while simultaneously chasing her dreams. Her big break eventually came with the one-woman stage play The Spook Show, which she created in 1983.

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The Spook Show featured Goldberg’s own comedy material which dealt with racial issues in America. While the production began life off-Broadway, it was later transferred to New York’s famous theatre district in 1984. A recording of some of the show’s skits would eventually earn Goldberg a Grammy for the Best Comedy Album the following year.

But the success of The Spook Show didn’t just win Goldberg accolades, it also got her noticed in Hollywood. She was spotted by the director Steven Spielberg, for starters. And he subsequently cast the comedian in his 1985 movie adaptation of Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple.

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The Color Purple ultimately attracted 11 Oscar and five Golden Globe nominations. And Goldberg’s performance as the lead character, Celie, also won her acclaim. She received an Academy Award nomination and took home the Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture gong at the Golden Globes.

Plus Goldberg’s acclaimed appearance in The Color Purple launched a sustained and successful movie career for the star. But her next standout role came in 1990, when she played the medium Oda Mae Brown in Ghost. Her performance won her an Oscar the following year, leading her to become the second African-American actress to bag an Academy Award.

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Ghost confirmed that Goldberg was an accomplished comedy actress. And she put these skills to good use once more when she appeared in Sister Act in 1992. Her celebrated performance won her the American Comedy Award for Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture. She also gained a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Actress in a Comedy category.

Then Goldberg began fronting her own, eponymous talk show. The gig saw her interview politicians and celebrities alike, but it was axed a year later because of poor ratings. The actress did, however, go on to host the Academy Awards in 1994, 1996 and 1999, as the first woman to fill the position.

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While she continued to appear in movies, in 2002 Goldberg returned to Broadway, producing Thoroughly Modern Millie and winning a Tony award in the process. That same year, she bagged an Emmy for her role in Beyond Tara: The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel.

In recent years Goldberg has become known for her role as the moderator on The View daytime talk show. From her first day on the job in 2007, the actress became known for her outspoken opinions. She has subsequently found herself caught up in some of the show’s most controversial moments. Nevertheless, she and the show’s pundits won an Emmy award in 2009 for their work.

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Even when fronting The View Goldberg explored other creative outlets. In 2013 she directed Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley, a documentary about the first successful black female stand-up comic. And, humorously, she’s written books for kids and adults alike, including a relationship guide If Someone Says ‘You Complete Me,’ Run!

Despite having her fingers in so many pies, Goldberg was busy outside of show business. She’s gained a Ph.D. in literature from New York University and has also advocated for LGBT rights. Plus in 2016 the star launched a medical marijuana startup alongside cannabis entrepreneur Maya Elisabeth called Whoopi and Maya.

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So looking back at Goldberg’s eclectic career, it’s fair to say she’s achieved a lot in the span of 40 years. But it turns out that there was something she was yet to tick off her bucket list. And come 2019 she finally got a chance to fulfill this long-held dream when her latest role was announced.

Because it was then that Goldberg bagged a role in a new CBS All Access adaptation of The Stand. In the Stephen King fantasy, the actress would star as the 108-year-old character Mother Abagail. The action is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which Abagail leads a band of survivors to establish a new civilization in Boulder, Colorado.

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The new adaptation of The Stand isn’t the first miniseries to be based on King’s novel. Because the original reworking of the book for TV was produced in 1994, and it starred Ruby Dee as Mother Abagail. And it seems that the show had a profound effect on Goldberg.

Speaking at a Television Critics Association panel in December 2020, Goldberg revealed she’d long coveted a part in The Stand. She confessed, “I’ve been trying to get that to do this since the original miniseries came out.” But it would seem that she would have to wait for the right time for the opportunity to arise.

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Goldberg explained, “I found out that Ruby Dee was my age now when she did Mother Abagail. So it’s worked out great because if it had come any sooner, I would have probably just really messed it up.” It wasn’t just the role that the actress had yearned for, but the chance to appear in a scary movie.

Revealing that dream, Goldberg explained, “I’ve been looking for a horror movie to do my whole career. It’s what I love more than almost anything, is a good scare.” She added, “I’ve been begging for 40 years, maybe 30 years, but who’s gonna think I’m a bad guy? Who’s gonna think I’m the monster under the bed? Nobody.”

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While Goldberg had found fame through The Spook Show and later appeared in Ghost, the actual horror genre had long eluded her. Being more known for comedy, the actress joked that she went to desperate measures in Hollywood to get her shot at a darker project. She told the Television Critics Association panel, “I moved into people’s homes to scare them so that I could get this part.”

So the comedian was finally given her license to thrill with a role in The Stand. Her character, Mother Abagail, has supernatural qualities and is unaffected by a flu strain that has torn through the world’s population. She takes the role of the wise elder of the survivors, who unites a team of good guys in opposition to the sinister “Dark Man.”

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The role of Abagail certainly gave Goldberg a lot to get her teeth into. And she relished the chance to inject some mystery into her performance. She revealed, “As a lover of horror, it’s also, how far can I go? How far to the edge can I go, how much can I take before I have to close my eyes and tippy-toe out of the room?”

Admiring the horror genre, Goldberg continued, “It’s a thrill also because when it is on television or when it is in between the pages of a book, you are in control of it. You are in control of it because you can always close the book.” That being said, even scary movie fans like the comedian draw the line somewhere.

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For Goldberg, some violent aspects of the horror genre prove a step too far, because they reflect a darker side of society. Revealing where her limits lie, the actress explained to the panel, “The thing that is harder for me is I can’t handle slasher movies because they’re real. People actually do stuff like that.”

But with horror stories that were based on fantasy, Goldberg said she could more easily immerse herself. She said, “But, some of the things you read in Stephen’s books, I just think, okay, what would I do? And that’s the greatest thing about [The Stand] because we don’t say you’re bad or these people are bad. It becomes what would you do if you had to make this choice?”

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Despite its supernatural undertones, The Stand is much more than just a horror story. Perhaps over everything, the story is that of the conflict between good and evil. And while entirely human, Goldberg’s Abagail is supposed to represent God’s decency personified on earth. Kind of deep you might say.

Explaining the plot of The Stand in 2020 showrunner Benjamin Cavell told Vanity Fair, “It’s about the fundamental questions of what society owes the individual and what we owe to each other. Over the last however-many years, we have sort of taken for granted… democracy. Now, so much of that is being ripped down to the studs. It’s interesting to see a story about people who are rebuilding it from the ground up.”

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But while Abagail may be the representation of all that is good in The Stand, she is not completely infallible. Because the human aspect of her character means that she has her own imperfections and flaws. So the role must have been a challenge for Goldberg to capture in all its contradictions.

Describing Abagail, Goldberg said, “She is very, very righteous and very good. But really flawed I feel.” The actress added, “She doesn’t listen when God is talking to her. And she tends to go her own way because she’s been like this her whole life. It takes her a little while to figure out that there’s something bigger than her.”

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For all her flaws, Abagail becomes the perfect force for good in The Stand, and Goldberg had a theory as to why that was. She explained, “We love old people. We just do. On top of everything else, they have been, and seen, and have different ideas and are probably trying to lead us in a good way.”

The role was surely difficult for the 65-year-old Goldberg to embody not least because the character is aged 108. But the actress joked that she had a little help. In 2020 she told reporters, “Listen, it’s all in the lineage, I myself am 108. And my skin looks amazing. You know, also, she’s got a little God dust on her too. You can’t look that good without a little God dust.”

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Another complexity to the Abagail character is her reception over the years. Due to the lack of Black characters in some of King’s early works, it’s been claimed that she adheres to the “Magical Negro” stereotype. According to the cliché, this involves a mysterious black figure who comes to the rescue of white personalities in a narrative.

While aware of these observations, Goldberg was eager to avoid such a representation. She explained, “I’m riding what Stephen wrote for me and she is the representation of what is supposed to be the light. Of course, when you are human you are flawed and so she is probably not as Magic Negro as she was maybe 30 to 40 years ago. So that makes her more interesting.”

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From Goldberg’s comments then, it seemed Abagail was the role of a lifetime for her. But while the opportunity represented a dream come true for the actress, it could still descend into a nightmare. That’s because, despite its A-list cast, the show’s debut was initially met with mixed reviews. So only time will tell the enduring legacy of The Stand.

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