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On a recent summer afternoon, Whoopi Goldberg led me to her backyard so I could see her plants. Goldberg, a native Recent Yorker, lives in Recent Jersey, in a gated community previously inhabited by Thomas Edison and the Colgate family, of toothpaste fame, which implies her garden is measured not in yards but in acres. Within the greenhouse there was a pineapple plant, grown from cutting off the highest of the fruit; across the corner were the vegetables — tomatoes, green peppers, eggplants. Not that she eats them, she said, but they’re nice to have around. In a single corner of the yard, flowers in Crayola shades grew next to a small sign: Emma’s Garden, named for her mother. Clusters of grapes dripped from gnarled vines, and garden gnomes stood watch everywhere. As we meandered, I joked that I felt as if I were within the Garden of Eden, and I asked her if she ever felt like God. “Well, yeah,” she responded matter-of-factly, “but I’ve played God so often that it’s kind of comprehensible that I might.”
As with the Lord herself, Goldberg appears to everyone another way. Someone who has found her through “The Color Purple” or “Ghost” or “Sister Act,” her three best-known movies, believes her to be a bona fide movie star with hazardous levels of charm. A one that recognizes her from the list of 17 individuals who have an EGOT — an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony — probably knows that her roles swing from the excellent to the shockingly bad, her résumé stacked with weighty achievements but much more blunders. A one that thinks: Whoopi Goldberg? You mean that surly lady on my TV within the morning? That could be a regular watcher of “The View,” the daytime talk show that Goldberg has moderated for 15 years. And the one that considers Goldberg an unrecognized genius who has managed a one-of-a-kind, first-of-its-sort, decades-long profession with dreadlocks on her head, no eyebrows on her face and her foot in her mouth? She knows Goldberg has actually played God only twice, but isn’t about to correct her.
Though Goldberg, somewhat famously, loves living alone — a 2016 interview along with her, published on this magazine, went viral for Goldberg’s assertion that, after three marriages, she knows she doesn’t “want someone in my house” — she had rare houseguests that June afternoon. Alex Martin Dean, her daughter, and Dean’s children streamed out and in of the kitchen, draping themselves over each other as they stood across the kitchen island, bare aside from a box of Popeyes and a script for “Harlem,” the Amazon TV show through which Goldberg has a small role. Considered one of the grandchildren, Amara Skye, who had recently accomplished her celebrity-relative tour of duty and filmed a reality show, waved hello. (Called “Claim to Fame,” it was a show through which 12 relatives of celebrities moved right into a house and needed to guess their opponents’ family connections.) Skye’s daughter, Goldberg’s great-grandchild, Charli Rose, was around somewhere, watching TV. Tom Leonardis, the president of Goldberg’s production company, milled between rooms, finalizing travel plans.
Despite indications toward cliché (have you ever heard the one in regards to the old single woman who lives alone along with her cat?), Goldberg is perennially cuddly. Her skin is smooth, her cheeks juicy like a baby’s, even at 66. She lives day by day just like the Sabbath: When she’s not working, she told me, she sits round her mansion, moving from one room to a different. Those rooms have the overstuffed charm of an antiques shop however the orderliness of the Met, with a splash of celebrity-bus-tour glamour. Within the foyer stands a bowling pin painted with the image of Deloris Van Cartier, her character in “Sister Act”; a white grand piano covered in framed family portraits dominates her front room. On each floor of her house, there’s a unique photograph of Goldberg with the Dalai Lama.