Among entertainers with Hollywood career spans of nearly 40 years, very few have broken as many barriers, achieved the highest of honors in as many different spaces and paved the way for as many generations of creatives who followed, as Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony-award winning icon, Whoopi Goldberg.
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From theater to television, from the film industry to the music industry, Goldberg’s name and ever-growing list of career ventures have become synonymous with excellence. For Black women in particular, her journey has allowed us to see a representation of ourselves on the world’s grandest of stages, and in the most authentic of lights.
On screen and on stage, she’s been a psychic, an overbearing mother, a nun, a best friend, a nurse, a talk show host, a sitcom star, and a Grammy award-winning comedian, to name just a small few. While her performance in each of these roles have each played a part in her remarkable rise, the thing she’s been most consistently in her real life that has inspired us all beyond measure, is herself.
As we prepare to celebrate her extraordinary body of work and contribution to the arts as an honoree for the 14th annual ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards, here’s a look at 15 times Whoopi Goldberg unapologetically shattered Hollywood’s glass ceiling.
The ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards are presented by Ford and sponsored by American Airlines, Coca-Cola, Korbel and L’Oréal Paris.
As Celie In “The Color Purple”
Whoopi Goldberg’s starring role as Celie in the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’ marked an undeniably pivotal moment in her career and gave audiences a first big-screen glimpse into her extraordinary talent as an actress. The role also earned her her first Golden Globe win and first Academy Award nomination.
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As A Stand Up Comedian
In 1986, Whoopi Goldberg made history as the first Black woman to win a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for her classic stand up comedy set performed on Broadway in 1985.
As Host Of ‘The Whoopi Goldberg Show’
Just ten years after making her Hollywood film debut, Whoopi Goldberg landed her own talk late-night talk show in 1992. She served as host of the show, which ran until 1993.
As Oda Mae Brown In “Ghost”
Through her role as a blunt and brutally honest psychic who aids Demi Moore’s character, Molly, in her struggle to navigate the violent loss of her husband, Whoopi Goldberg shined as only she can. Her character, while comical, also brought to life the perfect balance of humor, attitude, empathy and honesty that so many real-life Black women possess effortlessly. The role also earned Goldberg her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the first Black woman ever to win in the category.
As The First Black Person And First Woman To Host The Grammy Awards In 1992
In 1992, Whoopi Goldberg made Grammy Awards history as the first Black person to host music’s biggest night in the ceremony’s 34-year history. The treasured moment came just six years after Goldberg won her first Grammy award for Best Comedy Album.
As The Voice Of Gaia In The ‘Captain Planet’ Television Series
Captain Planet was one of the most popular animated kid’s television series in the early to mid 90s. If you were a fan, you might remember hearing a familiar voice when the series’ character Gaia graced the screen. Whoopi Goldberg’s let her voice-over skills to a total of 60 episodes between 1990 and 1992.
As Guinan In ‘Star Trek The Next Generation’
Black sci-fi fans worldwide rejoiced when Whoopi Goldberg joined the cast of the critically-acclaimed television series ‘Star-Trek: The Next Generation.’ She first appeared on the show in 1988 and remained a recurring character until 1993. She also reprised her role in season 2 of Star Trek: Picard.
As The First Black Woman To Host The Oscars In 1994
When Whoopi Goldberg took to the stage to make history as the first Black woman to host the Oscars at the 66th Annual Academy Awards in 1994, she did so in grand fashion and left it all on the stage. Multiple outfit changes and endless perfectly-timed punchlines later, she has been invited back to host 3 more times since then.
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As Sister Mary Clarence In The “Sister Act” Franchise
On paper, Las Vegas showgirl-turned-catholic-school-nun-and-music-teacher might not sound exactly like a character you’d think you can get into, but Whoopi Goldberg’s portrayal of Sister Mary Clarence in the ‘Sister Act’ film franchise had us all tuned in. Pairing a comedic presence with a hint of drama and the occasional not-so-thinly veiled jabs at the stereotypes that religion often places on those outside of the church proved the perfect combination. Add in the incomparable Lauryn Hill and an unforgettable cast of young actors for ‘Sister Act 2’ and the rest is history.
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As The Voice Of Shenzi In Disney’s ‘The Lion King’
Among the many things that make Whoopi Goldberg a one-of-a-kind talent is her distinct voice. When she lent that instantly recognizable voice to the character of Shenzi in Disney’s 1994 animated blockbuster ‘The Lion King,’ it added a tone of familiarity to the film that made something amazing even better.
As A Produce For The 2002 Stage Musical ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’
In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg put her production skills to work for the stage musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie. The effort earned her her first Tony Award for Best Musical.
As The Star Of Her Own Sitcom ‘Whoopi’ In 2003
Whoppi Goldberg not only starred in, but also executive-produced, an NBC sitcom bearing her own stage name in 2003. While the show ended after only one season, it fully demonstrated her ability to take control of her career on her own terms and bet on herself as a Black woman in Hollywood.
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As Nurse Valerie Owens In ‘Girl Interrupted’
Whoopi Goldberg’s portrayal of head nurse Valerie Owens at the fictitious Claymoore Psychiatric Hospital in the 1999 film, ‘Girl Interrupted,’ saw the Hollywood icon bring her natural wit, charm and necessary sarcasm to life on-screen in a film that helped heighten the realities of managing a mental health disorder as a woman living in the late 1960s. Goldberg’s performance alongside an all-star cast that included Angelina Jolie, Winona Ryder and the late Brittany Murphy was certainly one to remember.
As Delilah Abraham In ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’
Everybody needs a friend who tells it like it is and isn’t afraid to cheer you on towards some much-needed self-care—in ALL forms! Whoopi Goldberg’s character Delilah was exactly that and then some for Angela Bassett’s character, Stella, in the film adaptation of Terry McMillan’s best-seller ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back.’ The film remains a cultural classic to this day.
As a co-host of ‘The View,’ Goldberg’s often-relatable commentary and realist perspective has given the show a host of viral social media moments and even spawned a few hilarious memes. For her co-hosting role, she earned a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 2014.