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Whoopi Goldberg talks love, grief and her new memoir, 'Bits and Pieces'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Whoopi Goldberg lives her life loudly and unapologetically. From "The Color Purple" to "The View," she hasn't been afraid to go after what she wants and deserves. But she's also seen her share of loss and challenges, and we get a glimpse of it in her new book, "Bits And Pieces." In it, we get to know the EGOT star's mother, Emma Johnson, and her brother Clyde, who both knew Whoopi as Caryn Johnson. It's a memoir about love, grief and coping with losing those you love. Here to talk about all of it is Whoopi Goldberg herself. She joins us now from our New York Studio. Welcome to the show.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG: Thank you.

RASCOE: I'm so honored to have you here. I just got to get that out the way. And I really - this book touched me so much. So I'm so glad to talk to you about it.

GOLDBERG: Thank you, Aye. I feel like I call you Aye.

RASCOE: You can call me Aye.

GOLDBERG: OK.

RASCOE: Yeah. You can call - I've had friends call me Aye. You can definitely call me Aye (laughter).

GOLDBERG: Cool. Cool. Love it.

RASCOE: (Laughter) So you've written memoirs before or books about your own life. And typically, performers focus kind of on themselves. Why did you want to tell your story through the lens of your relationships with your mother and brother this time around?

GOLDBERG: Well, you know, I just thought,Caryn Elaine Johnson I have to figure out a way to hold onto what I remember and hope that what I remember is accurate, you know, because they were the people who remembered stuff. And I was starting to lose that. It felt like I couldn't remember dates of things or when things happened. It just was weird. So I thought, well, let me just get this done because I always knew I'd have to write a book about my family because nobody knows anything about them. And I've never really said anything in depth about my origin story as it were.

RASCOE: Well, talk to me about that because I feel like in reading this book, I did get a better understanding of, you know, the icon that you are. Because part of when I think of Whoopi Goldberg is that first of all, there's no one else like you in Hollywood. Like, you have been yourself. And it seems like so much of that permission to be yourself came from your mother who really, in a very strong way, said you can be yourself, you don't have to be like anyone else, and would challenge you to be true to you.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. Listen, I was insanely lucky. I was really lucky that I was my mother's child because I was the correct child for her to have (laughter). Both my brother and I - you know, we were just odd. We liked different stuff. We were open to many, many things. You know, you grew up here in New York City, and you had access to lots of things. And so my mother's attitude was, you're in a place where you can do and see just about anything. So what do you want to do? Who are you? Who do you think you are? I just always felt like I was quite lucky to have her.

RASCOE: One way that you always stood out was your attitude towards beauty standards, and that comes up a lot in Hollywood because, you know, you look and there's a certain standard or this - you're supposed to be thin, you're supposed to be this or that, or this is the way pretty people look. And there's a section in your book that I'd like you to read where you heard your mother talking about your looks.

GOLDBERG: (Reading) One afternoon, my mother was talking to a group of women. I was nearby, and I heard one of the lady say, you know, Caryn's no beauty. She's going to have to find a job and work. I think it probably hurt my mother more than it hurt me because she grew up not being the shiniest bulb on the chandelier. She looked just like me. Her cousin Arlene (ph) always seemed to get the attention for her beauty. My mother responded to it in a completely even and calm tone. Caryn knows that. She knows she doesn't look like other girls. Caryn looks like herself. Whatever she decides she wants to do, she already knows she needs to be able to support herself and get by. I appreciated that my mother told me the truth. I still make my share of choices that don't work out early on, but I never got in a position where I couldn't change my life because I was dependent on another person to support me. I knew I'd be able to figure it out.

RASCOE: That stood out to me as a mother. I'm a mother myself, and I would have been like, my baby is beautiful (laughter).

GOLDBERG: And your baby is beautiful. Yes.

RASCOE: She is beautiful. But your mother said something that I think is so important. She said, she looks like herself.

GOLDBERG: Well, yeah, I mean, let's face it. You know, the standard of beauty when I was a kid didn't include me (laughter).

RASCOE: Yes.

GOLDBERG: So everyone was judging what beauty was. And that was based on something 60 years ago.

RASCOE: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: Beauty has changed, and we have all figured out that we are going to look how we look. I'm fundamentally lazy when it comes to that. I don't want to keep up to other people's standards because it's too difficult. I'm - it's based on something I can't control.

RASCOE: Talk to me about your brother Clyde...

GOLDBERG: Ah...

RASCOE: ...Who was also your protector.

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

RASCOE: And then there's a very - you know, not to give too much away, but after his passing away, you talk about all these women that showed up at all his memorial services (laughter).

GOLDBERG: Girl - oh, my God. We had, like, four different services for him...

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah.

GOLDBERG: Because my brother loved to travel. He loved to travel, so - and he loved to drive. When I tell you that two or three women per memorial per memorial...

RASCOE: Per memorial.

GOLDBERG: ...Would come up and say, oh, I don't know if you know Clyde and I were - we were going to move in together.

RASCOE: (Laughter).

GOLDBERG: And it's like, oh, cool, cool. OK.

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah.

GOLDBERG: And then, you know, 12 minutes later, here's another one saying, oh, I don't know if you knew, but Clyde and I were together. And I'm looking at the other lady thinking, does she know about you - but that - nobody knew about each other.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Each other...

GOLDBERG: I'm telling you, he was - not only was he remarkable. He's a really great man, you know? He's the standard of man that you want. You want somebody who can hear you. You want somebody who has a sense of humor, who is not hung up on what you're not.

RASCOE: Well, I want to just end things out because you say such beautiful, like, remarks at the end about grief. And there may be someone who's listening - you know, Mother's Day is coming up soon...

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

RASCOE: ...And they may have had this loss.

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

RASCOE: And I guess, what would you say to them?

GOLDBERG: This is my recommendation. If you have friends who have not lost their mothers, ask if you can join them for Mother's Day. It's a wonderful thing. It seems weird. It seems harsh. But most people will understand that you're hoping to make a connection because love is love.

RASCOE: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: Love is love. And so if you can share your love with somebody who didn't know they had a daughter from another mother (laughter)...

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yeah.

GOLDBERG: ...Go be part of that and celebrate. Celebrate the mother you had. We mostly mourn our loss, you know.

RASCOE: Yeah, yeah.

GOLDBERG: But it's a huge one. It's a huge one. It's the first person who gazed at you. And even if you had a rotten relationship, pull all of that and then pull the good stuff. And if there's none, then find some from somewhere else.

RASCOE: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: Don't keep yourself in pain on this day. Celebrate who you can.

RASCOE: That's Whoopi Goldberg, the icon...

GOLDBERG: (Laughter).

RASCOE: ...The EGOT, all of that. Her new memoir is "Bits And Pieces." It's out this week. Thank you so much for joining us.

GOLDBERG: Thank you. I - it was terrific talking to you.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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