Whoopi Goldberg will never stop grieving her mother’s and brother’s deaths

A photo from the '80s of Whoopi Goldberg and her mother, Emma Johnson, both in blazers.
Whoopi Goldberg writes in her new memoir about losing her mother, Emma Johnson, and her brother, Clyde, and how her family influenced her career as a renaissance artist.
(Ron Galella / Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
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Bits and Pieces: My Mother, My Brother, and Me

By Whoopi Goldberg
Blackstone: 258 pages, $29

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It wasn’t until Whoopi Goldberg tried to shut off her late brother’s phone, years after he had died, that she realized how long he’d been gone.

“I told the phone company, I’ve been trying to shut this phone off for 11 years. It wasn’t until my assistant then told me, ‘It’s actually been 16 years.’ That’s when I thought, ‘Let me get my feet on solid ground,’” says Goldberg when asked why now was the time for her to write about grief.

To encapsulate the memory of her brother, Clyde, and her mother, Emma, who died five years apart, in 2015 and 2010, respectively, Goldberg chronicles their lives in “Bits and Pieces: My Mother, My Brother, and Me.”


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Emma Johnson, Whoopi and Clyde’s mom, instilled in her children a great deal of character. She taught them to own the consequences of their actions and to be themselves despite others’ opinions of them. It’s a philosophy Goldberg says she still carries with her today.

“[That philosophy] has lost me friends and it’s gained me friends. As long as I don’t hurt other people, I’m gonna keep being me,” says the 68-year-old EGOT winner.

Early on in the book, Goldberg recounts her mother’s two-year experience at Bellevue Hospital after a male family member admitted her for “mental derangement,” a common excuse to hospitalize women who were not subordinate to their male family members. Emma was kept away from her children for two years and received endless forms of electric shock therapy.

"Bits and Pieces" by Whoopi Goldberg

“When she finally got out, she had no idea who we were. Those were the days when husbands and brothers and fathers could make decisions about the women in the family,” Goldberg writes.

“And here we are again! With men telling women what they can do with their bodies!” she says in regard to anti-abortion laws, including the recent near-total abortion ban in Arizona.

As detailed in “Bits and Pieces,” much of Goldberg’s life has been steeped in political engagement. Goldberg began her career as an activist championing women’s reproductive rights. In the ’90s, she was one of the few celebrities calling for federal action to help mitigate the ongoing AIDS crisis.

In one chapter, Goldberg remembers receiving an invitation to the White House to attend a fundraising event for Bill Clinton during his second campaign for president. Bringing her mother to the event was one of the proudest moments of her life.

Goldberg says the current political climate reminds her of those early years. “When I was growing up, the country was being run by all white men. Hardly any women. No people of color. So this feels like where we’ve been before. But we have no collective experience, like World War II, to fall back on. Which is what makes this [time] so choppy.”

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Goldberg writes in “Bits and Pieces” that she’s relieved in a sense that her mother died before Donald Trump’s presidency in 2016 (Goldberg refers to him as “you know who”). When asked what her mom would think of America’s current political turmoil, Goldberg tells The Times, “It would make her very sad. It’s not the America she wanted to leave behind. It’s the promise of the country that we’re missing. There seems to be no more promise.”


Goldberg, who moved to New Jersey in 2009, commutes to Manhattan four days a week to tape “The View,” which she’s co-hosted since 2007, live in front of a studio audience.

As moderator of the Hot Topics table, Goldberg has had one resounding message every election cycle since 2016: “This [election] is up to you all!” She repeats it at least once a week, pointing to the audience or sometimes at the camera directly. “It doesn’t matter what we say. It doesn’t matter what the media says, what the polls say. This election is up to you.”

The eldest in her family, Goldberg is the sole survivor of a certain era. When it came time to write about her mother and brother, she had only her memories to fall back on. “It was just about, ‘Let’s hope I remember enough to make a book out of this.’ It was nice to walk those paths again. To walk it with them.”

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Following a joyous childhood in Manhattan, Goldberg writes about the dedication it took to succeed as an up-and-coming actor in the early ’80s. It wasn’t until 1983 that her acting career began to blossom onstage with the opening of her one-woman “Spook Show,” which was renamed “Whoopi Goldberg” when it officially opened on Broadway in 1984.

Though the beginning of Goldberg’s career had no shortage of challenges, it was the resiliency her mother taught her that she says allowed her to find success onstage. “Anyone who’s coming up in this business needs to be resilient. You have to be because the business is meant to flatten you. It can break you. And you have to be able to say, ‘OK, I’ve been beaten, but I’m not down. And I’m still going to move forward towards what I want.’”

Goldberg’s early star status allowed her to befriend some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities of the late ’80s and early ’90s. In one chapter she writes about the time Marlon Brando came over to her house, leaving both her mother and brother starstruck. “If there’s one thing I’m missing about them now, it’s being able to call them and tell them I’m doing this or that project. ‘You’re working with so and so!’ they would say. They were always so excited for me.”


From the boardwalks of Coney Island to the lights of Broadway, “Bits and Pieces” is a tribute to the New York City of Goldberg’s adolescence. When asked what she thinks of New York in 2024, Goldberg responded with a sigh, “That’s a whole other book. We are one of the greatest cities in the world and I think we have major issues right now. That’s why I keep saying one of these years I’m just going to run for office [mayor of New York City].”

Goldberg still nurses her ambition, just as her mother once taught her, and hopes to return to Broadway in the future. “I will probably do another one-person show because it will be cheaper for everybody. I might try to bring this [‘Bits and Pieces’] to life; see if that’s possible.”