- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

The Kennedy Center has selected an Oscar winner, stand-up comic and "center square" as the next recipient of its Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Whoopi Goldberg, a versatile performer whose work has kept audiences thinking and laughing for nearly two decades, will receive the honor in October during the annual Twain award program.
"Shes become an icon at a very early age," says Mark Krantz, one of the shows producers.
Miss Goldberg is the fourth recipient of the honor, following Carl Reiner, Jonathan Winters and Richard Pryor.
The award recognizes excellence in a variety of comedy formats, Mr. Krantz says — and Miss Goldberg has yet to meet a genre she couldnt conquer, from Broadway to feature films.
The Mark Twain prize winner traditionally is feted by his or her peers. In Miss Goldbergs case, the stage might get a bit crowded.
"There are so many people shes collaborated with," Mr. Krantz says, from director Mike Nichols, who discovered her and produced her first Broadway play, to Robin Williams, a friend and reliable presence on her "Comic Relief" programs to aid the homeless. Mr. Krantz wouldnt reveal which comedians will join in the October celebration. Deliberations are under way, and the talent pool is deep. A decision is expected in about six weeks.
Miss Goldbergs trek toward stardom hit as many snags as can be found in her trademark dreadlocks.

Born Caryn Johnson in either 1949 or 1955, depending upon biographical listing, she grew up in a housing project in Manhattans Chelsea section. Her first stage experience came performing at the Helena Rubinstein Childrens Theatre at the Hudson Guild at age 10.
She told Newsday in 1994 that being onstage changed her life.
"Thats all I ever wanted to do (after that)," Miss Goldberg told the newspaper.
Later, she would drop out of high school and take part in a skein of civil rights marches while experimenting with pharmaceuticals. In between, she found piecemeal work on Broadway, fleshing out the choruses of the musicals "Hair," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Pippin."
She was married briefly to Alvin Martin, her drug counselor and the first of three husbands. That marriage resulted in her daughter, Alexandrea Martin.
In leaner times, Miss Goldberg relied on welfare to get by, along with such odd jobs as bricklayer, bank teller and licensed cosmetician. She later graduated from beauty college and found work dressing hair and doing makeup for corpses at a mortuary. Of that job she once quipped to the Village Voice: "They never complained about how they looked."
In 1974, she relocated to California, where she became a founding member of the San Diego Repertory Theatre. It was during her six years there that she crafted her unusual stage name. First she called herself Whoopi Cushion, then later she replaced Cushion with Goldberg, a name that is part of her family heritage.
She returned to New York, where she gained Mr. Nichols attention, leading to "The Spook Show," a Broadway show that fueled a Grammy-winning album.
Among those who caught her performances was director Steven Spielberg, who would later cast her in her motion-picture debut, 1985s "The Color Purple."
The role of Celie earned her an Academy Award nomination and the enduring attention of Hollywood.
Her impressive range since then has included a recurring role as Guinan, the spirited barkeep on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and the lead role in the musically charged "Sister Act" films.
Other notable movies include 1986s "Jumpin Jack Flash" and 1990s "Ghost," a smash for which she won an Oscar as best supporting actress.
Speaking of Oscar, she became the first woman to host the annual awards show in 1994, a role she repeated twice, the last time in 1999.

Miss Goldbergs support of Democratic causes through her comedy and writing has perennially drawn headlines, as has her tortuous romantic life.
Her relationship with actor Ted Danson sparked the most tabloid furor, particularly the duos ill-advised 1993 appearance at the Friars Club in New York City, with Mr. Danson donning blackface and the pair telling dubious racial jokes.
Her regular work in support of Comic Relief, however, alongside pals Billy Crystal and Mr. Williams, earned both universal acclaim and millions of dollars on behalf of the homeless.
Most recently, Miss Goldberg starred in the film "Kingdom Come" while continuing to serve as executive producer and center square on the syndicated "Hollywood Squares" game show.
She will be awarded the humor prize Oct. 15 in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
As producer of the annual Mark Twain Prize program, Mr. Krantz makes recommendations to the Kennedy Center board for each years potential recipient. The board then makes the final decision.
This year marks the first time a woman is being honored — and a fairly youthful performer at that.
"Whoopi is just hitting her stride, but she has so much work behind her (already)," Mr. Krantz says.


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