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Outspoken comedienne Rosie O'Donnell first made a name for herself with her Long Island-accented stand-up and later as the affable star of films and, most notably, her popular daytime television talk show, "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" (1996-2002). Just before leaving her cushy TV gig, the comic came out of the closet, revealing both her homosexuality and a whole other side to her "Queen of Nice" personality. Taking on everything from the NRA to the President of the United States to the government of the Bahamas, O'Donnell let the fur fly, speaking her mind as she had always done - only this time, without the restrictions of her talk show persona. Fans delighted when O'Donnell returned to daytime television on "The View" (ABC, 1997- ) in 2006, resulting in skyrocketing ratings immediately upon her arrival. After a single, stormy season on "The View" - encompassing an escalating war of words with media-loving tycoon Donald Trump, and culminating with an on-air dust up with co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck - O'Donnell departed the show abruptly in April of 2007. In the years following her exit from "The View," O'Donnell published a tell-all memoir Celebrity Detox, continued her popular video blog, "JaHeRo"...
Outspoken comedienne Rosie O'Donnell first made a name for herself with her Long Island-accented stand-up and later as the affable star of films and, most notably, her popular daytime television talk show, "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" (1996-2002). Just before leaving her cushy TV gig, the comic came out of the closet, revealing both her homosexuality and a whole other side to her "Queen of Nice" personality. Taking on everything from the NRA to the President of the United States to the government of the Bahamas, O'Donnell let the fur fly, speaking her mind as she had always done - only this time, without the restrictions of her talk show persona. Fans delighted when O'Donnell returned to daytime television on "The View" (ABC, 1997- ) in 2006, resulting in skyrocketing ratings immediately upon her arrival. After a single, stormy season on "The View" - encompassing an escalating war of words with media-loving tycoon Donald Trump, and culminating with an on-air dust up with co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck - O'Donnell departed the show abruptly in April of 2007. In the years following her exit from "The View," O'Donnell published a tell-all memoir Celebrity Detox, continued her popular video blog, "JaHeRo" on her rosie.com website, and hosted "Rosie Radio" on Sirius XM satellite radio. Unceasingly passionate, always opinionated, and frequently controversial, O'Donnell never failed to both inspire and irritate the public at large.
Born March 21, 1962 into an Irish-American family in Commack, Long Island, O'Donnell was the middle of five children. Her mother died when she was 10 years old - a devastating event that would inform almost every aspect of her adult life. As with all good clowns, O'Donnell channeled her pain into comedy, developing her brazen, unabashed style while still a Long Island high school student. She dropped out of college, opting for the less-than-glamorous life of the stand-up circuit. Honing her craft further on the road, she went on to make her TV debut on "Star Search" in 1984, winning the syndicated show's comedy competition five times by decade's end. After making her series debut as Nell Carter's dental hygienist neighbor on "Gimme a Break" (NBC) in 1986, O'Donnell unleashed her earthy humor and broadened her appeal as host/producer of VH-1's "Stand-Up Spotlight," which would later open doors to her own series. Fox's short-lived black comedy "Stand by Your Man" (1992) cast her opposite Melissa Gilbert as one of two sisters living together while their husbands serve time for robbery. Though the delightful premise did not register with viewers, the show was an ideal vehicle for her, allowing her to improvise and perfect her scene-stealing prowess for the film career that would follow.
O'Donnell's tomboy talents stood her in good stead for her memorable feature debut as Doris Murphy, the third basewoman with the mouth of a truck driver, in Penny Marshall's "A League of Their Own" (1992). During the filming of this movie, she grew close to co-star Madonna, someone who had also lost her mother at a young age. "League" was the first, but not the last in a series of movies in which she managed to stand out regardless of the material's quality. After appearing as Meg Ryan's funny friend in "Sleepless in Seattle," she starred with Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez in "Another Stakeout" (both 1993), essaying a tough-talking district attorney who goes undercover to locate a missing witness. Her amusing battle of wits with Dreyfuss as each tried to outsmart the other helped elevate the film above run-of-the-mill sequel status. O'Donnell excelled as Betty Rubble in the popular live-action feature version of "The Flintstones" and, despite appearing onscreen in black S&M leather outfit, was the only thing worth watching as an undercover cop investigating a sexual fantasies resort in the misguided comedy "Exit to Eden" (both 1994). She then played a wisecracking doctor (portrayed as a teenager by Christina Ricci) in the female ensemble comedy "Now and Then" (1995), which she followed with another smart-mouthed character in the ensemble comedy "Beautiful Girls" (1996).
Well on her way to major movie stardom, O'Donnell changed horses midstream. The defining moment of her life had always been the death of her mother from cancer, after which she had assumed maternal responsibilities over her younger sisters, staying on track despite the vacuum left by her mother's absence. Working 14-hour days while filming the children's movie "Harriet the Spy" (1996), she returned to her hotel room one day to discover that her adopted son refused to come to her; going instead to the nanny. She called her agent and promptly insisted on no more film work. Instead, she embarked on a career as host (and executive producer) of her own syndicated daily talk/variety show, "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." The highly-rated series was a distinct throwback to the daytime chat fests she had grown up watching (i.e., "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Mike Douglas Show"), in contrast to the tabloid travesties of shows hosted by Jerry Springer, Sally Jessy Raphael and Ricki Lake. O'Donnell garnered back-to-back Outstanding Talk Show Host Daytime Emmy Awards for her efforts.
Initially, the writers wanted her to be the snappy, sharp-tongued woman she was on her 1995 HBO comedy special, but O'Donnell's golden rule - "Never say anything on the air that you wouldn't say to someone's face" - won out in the end, earning her the title 'Queen of Nice,' originally bestowed on her by Newsweek magazine. She charmed audiences with her warmth, wittiness and candor and shamelessly courted her own heroes like Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Elton John and Tom Cruise, coming across as refreshingly starstruck as anyone watching at home. During her tenure, she frequently directed the spotlight on various charitable projects, all of which profited from her exposure. Such was her power at the time, that even Broadway benefited from O'Donnell's obsession with stage productions. An unheard of practice at the time, she featured extended production numbers from Broadway musicals as her talk show "musical guest," bringing this little-seen art form into the living rooms of rural America. Her enthusiastic promotion of the theater - akin to Oprah Winfrey getting behind a good book - positively impacted ticket sales for productions like "The Lion King," "Ragtime" and "Titanic" and led to her hosting the 1997 and 1998 Tony Awards.
Also like Winfrey, O'Donnell partnered with the publishers of McCall's to revamp the magazine as Rosie's McCall's (or, more commonly, Rosie) in 2000. Rather than cover the magazine with thin models, she opted for stories about depression, breast cancer and foster care. A warrior in the front lines against breast cancer, she was also a tireless advocate for kids, privately conceding "I'm like Schindler at the end of that movie - 'If I could just save one more.'" Indeed, her commitment to children would later lead to a public disclosure of her homosexuality, spurred on by a Florida law that would not allow gay men or lesbians to adopt.
There had always been whispers, but nothing was ever confirmed by O'Donnell nor the mainstream press. However, by 2002, O'Donnell was feeling it was time to see if the Middle America who loved her would truly accept her. That January, she made a guest appearance on "Will & Grace," (NBC, 1998-2006), playing the role of a lesbian. Thus the scriptwriters knowingly put the words "I'm gay" into her mouth before she officially "came out." Then it was her turn for real. Shortly before leaving her show and handing over the reins to comic Caroline Rhea (renamed "The Caroline Rhea Show," it lasted only one season) O'Donnell confirmed the rumors about her sexuality, admitting to a long-time relationship with girlfriend Kelli Carpenter. She claimed various reasons for doing so, including the need for publicity and to put a familiar and accepted face to homosexuality, but her primary reason was that as a lesbian adoptive mother (with a long-time lover) she was infuriated that adoption agencies, particularly in Florida, were refusing adoptive rights to able, gay parents. She hoped that by coming out, it would increase awareness of this subject - as many of the people lobbying against gay parental adoption had watched her show each day, remarking on how good she was with kids.
After leaving her show, O'Donnell hit on a few years of hard knocks and unfavorable press - some brought on by her new militant persona, but more often than not, by a press and public uncomfortable with the "new Rosie." First came her new stand-up comedy, during which the previous celebrity fawner often made vicious fun of various stars, among them Michael Jackson, Liza Minnelli, Diana Ross, Martha Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Winona Ryder and Joan Rivers. Next up, the masculine haircut reminiscent of a 1980s half mullet/half shaved head - a much maligned look by the press. She responded that it was a tribute to Boy George, whose musical, "Taboo" she wanted to produce on Broadway. She did end up producing the show, but it failed miserably, losing substantial money. To end the unfortunate post-talk show trifecta, in 2003, O'Donnell entered into a nasty lawsuit with the publishers of Rosie magazine. They claimed that the failure of the magazine was due to O'Donnell's uncooperative, rude and violent behavior within the magazine's offices, and that by removing herself from the magazine's publication, she was in breach of contract. O'Donnell responded that there was no way she could in good conscience continue to be a part of the magazine, because they were moving away from her vision. The trial received considerable press coverage. O'Donnell would often give brief press interviews outside of the courtroom responding to various allegations. Of note was a former magazine colleague who testified that O'Donnell said to her on the phone that "people who lie die of cancer." Ultimately, the judge ruled against both sides and dismissed the case. Rosie eventually folded due to difficulties in securing advertising at satisfactory rates. Some problems may have come from Internet-based boycotts of advertisers based on the magazine's perceived political bias.
After lying low for a year, O'Donnell made news when she and Carpenter entered into a legal marriage union some two weeks after San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom authorized the granting of marriage license to same-sex couples. She also spoke out against President George W. Bush's support of a federal same-sex marriage amendment. The marriage license was later revoked by the California Supreme Court. In response to the perceived anti-gay campaign being launched in Washington, the couple operated R. Family Vacations, a travel company geared towards gay and lesbian families. They launched a cruise ship that carried homosexual families from New York to the Bahamas, producing a documentary film about the cruise, "All Aboard: Rosie's Family Cruise" (HBO, 2006).
After Meredith Vieira announced she would take over Katie Couric's spot on "The Today Show" (NBC, 1952- ) after Couric jumped ship to "CBS Evening News" (1962- ), Rosie was named as Vieira's replacement. Public speculation over who would take the moderator spot flourished in the press, with sitcom star Patricia Heaton and CNN's Soledad O'Brien also considered top candidates. On Sept. 5, 2006, Rosie made her official return to daytime TV, sporting a new hairdo and helping to launch season 10 of "The View." And what a season it turned out to be. At first, O'Donnell seemed to be taking charge of the show, to the point that her co-stars were being steamrolled over by O'Donnell's energetic opinions. After addressing critics that she was "hogging" screen time, the comic even admitted on camera that she found it difficult to let go the reigns after having her own show for so long. Eventually, O'Donnell loosened up and began operating more as the moderator she had been hired to be - but some Rosie hallmarks remained - the influx of Broadway performers as guests and the free audience giveaways - both of which originated on her old talk show. To say that O'Donnell reinvigorated the show was an understatement. Since she joined the daytime roundtable, ratings for the decade-old show grew by double-digit percentages and hit all-time highs.
And that was BEFORE the infamous Rosie feuds and firestorms began. The first of O'Donnell's infamous on-air sparrings occurred - not, with the person most assumed would be the target of her particular liberal leanings, ultra-conservative couchmate, Elisabeth Hasselbeck - but with her fellow celebrities. First, O'Donnell accused fellow morning show host Kelly Ripa of "Live with Regis and Kelly" (ABC, 1989- ) of being "homophobic" after Ripa had balked at singer Clay Aiken - someone rumored to be gay - placing his hand over her mouth while co-hosting in Regis' absence and saying "No, no - I don't know where that hand has been." O'Donnell and Ripa actually had words on-air live, with an incensed Ripa calling in and accusing O'Donnell of being irresponsible for accusing her of homophobia when it was far from the truth. Next, the comic picked an unfortunate choice of words to imitate Chinese-speak, using the term "ching-chong, ching-chong" to describe Asians discussing a drunken Danny DeVito's appearance on the show. Asian activists demanded an apology from O'Donnell, who gave one, but with the caveat that she was a comic, and could not promise she would not do something akin to that again.
The biggest dust-up, however, occurred when O'Donnell took on Donald Trump after the real estate magnate gave his Miss USA, Tara Conner, a second chance at keeping her title, following some questionable party behavior on her behalf. O'Donnell pointed out that with two ex-wives and an alleged philandering past, Trump was hardly the best person to be a "moral compass for 20 year olds in America." As expected, Trump blasted back, calling O'Donnell "fat," "a loser" and "disgusting." The war of words escalated each day - even when O'Donnell was off-air on vacation with her family - Trump would not let it go, giving interviews to anyone who would listen to him. He even went so far as to claim Barbara Walters had told him that she wanted O'Donnell off the air and that working w/ the brash comic was like "living in hell." When Walters denied saying the remark, things continued to go back-and-forth, culminating in an alleged dressing room showdown between O'Donnell and Walters over just what the truth was. In the end, O'Donnell and Walters made nice on camera and O'Donnell continued to add zip to the daytime chatfest, but with ever present rumors that she would leave at the end of her year contract playing daily in the press.
They would not have to wait long. Following another series of snits with Trump and a disastrous appearance at the annual New York Women in Communication awards luncheon in April 2007 - during which O'Donnell used foul language and attacked Barbara Walter's friend, Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch from the dais - the comic announced to a shocked public that she would be leaving "The View" by June. The early exit - she had not yet met her year mark - was marked with rumors of O'Donnell being fired and backstage feuding, but the official line offered was that O'Donnell and ABC could not agree on a new contract. She had wanted one more year; ABC had asked for three. Stunned viewers, who had multiplied many times over since O'Donnell's arrival, were given small comfort with the knowledge that O'Donnell would make the occasional return visit the following season for one-hour specials featuring subjects near to her heart, like autism.
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"I think I'm very relatable. When I did standup in little clubs in Oklahoma or Arizona, people would come up and say, 'Rosie you're just like my friend, Eileen Murphy' or 'Dorrie McShane,' always the Irish name. Everybody had a sister or best friend like me, and that same non-threatening feeling goes into the show because a lot of women are competitive and our show is more of a celebration."
"It's not really a choice I make; it's how I live my life, the things I do when I mess up. Like the time I cut my daughter's finger when I was trimming her nails, it was the worst moment of my life, and I almost didn't talk about it on the air because I felt such shame. But when I did, the letters and calls we got! Thousands saying, 'I did the same thing.' That's the humanity people respond to, the normalcy, and it's harder when you become rich and famous, especially hard if you do comedy."---Rosie O'Donnell quoted in The Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1998.
"I'm getting closer to the age when my mother died. I used to think it was my destiny to follow in her footsteps, that there was some time bomb ticking inside of me. But the introduction of children in my life has given me a will and a knowledge that I'll be around for them."
"I think I'm still growing up. To me, the ultimate act of recovery is being able to give my children the life I never had. To be able to have a child who is safe and held and told, 'I love you.' That's my greatest success story."---O'Donnell in Biography Magazine, August 1998.
In October 2002, Rosie magazine publisher, Gruner + Jahr, filed a lawsuit for an estimated $300 million against ROSIE O'DONNELL for quitting the magazine September. Court papers accused O'Donnell of publicly disparaging the monthly and breach of contract.
In 2003 Rosie O'Donnell donated 25,000 to fund the Fab Five Room, a classroom named after the cast of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" at Harvey Milk High School, which serves gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students in New York City
Rosie O'Donnell and her girlfriend, Kelli Carpenter, flew from New York to California Thursday, February 26, 2004, to be married in San Francisco.
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