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Whoopi Goldberg: ‘I Was Afraid If I Didn’t Write It Down, I’d Forget It All’

Entertainer shares why she wrote her new memoir, ‘Bits and Pieces,’ and how she honors her late loved ones

spinner image Whoopi Goldberg against purple ombre background
AARP (Timothy White)

In her new memoir, Whoopi Goldberg recounts how she unexpectedly lost her mother in 2010 from a stroke, and then her brother five years later from a brain aneurysm. The losses rocked her and led her to write Bits and Pieces: My Mother, My Brother, and Me, “so that I could stabilize myself, because I realized that I was feeling a little at wit’s end,” Goldberg, 68, says. “In my mind, it feels like it just happened.... It’s still very fresh. I do miss them.” The EGOT — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony — winning performer and cohost of The View shares with AARP her perspectives on grief, how she honors her loved ones’ memories and what retirement looks like for her.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Did writing this book help you work through your grief?

I think going to work every day [helps]. I think doing all the grownup stuff I’m supposed to be doing [helps]. It doesn’t go away. It just kind of evolves, and sometimes … it’s just some dumb commercial — the Geico commercial came on during the Super Bowl, and they had revisited the Neanderthal [caveman characters]. My mother and I loved these guys. And so during the Super Bowl, all I did was cry ’cause I wanted her to see that the Neanderthals had moved up in the world.... My brother was great because he remembered everything. He could tell you how far it was from the edge of the doorway that we used to go in every day to the top of it. His brain was like that. I find myself wanting to call him because I get a glimmering of something, and I think, Oh, let me call. And then I realize that I can’t do it. That’s part of why I wrote [the book], because I was afraid if I didn’t write it down, I’d forget it all.

spinner image Book cover that says Whoopi Goldberg, Bits and Pieces, My Mother, My Brother, and Me
In her new memoir, "Bits and Pieces," Goldberg shares intimate details of her childhood and family life, including her tight-knit relationship with her mother and brother.
Courtesy Blackstone Publishing

Is there anything specific that you do to honor your mother or brother?

Every day, every day, I talk to them. I do all of our holiday traditions. I start cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving at 9 p.m. at night and I baste it all night so that the whole room smells like turkey. The same with birthdays. I celebrate their birthdays. I put a little cake out and then I eat it. And all the holidays — because to me, I saw in a movie once — somebody said to somebody else: “People are only dead if you forget them.” And so I try not to forget them.

In the book, you give advice for grieving a loved one. What has grief taught you?

Well, here’s the thing. We never didn’t sign off with love. Even when we were pissed at each other … we’d say, “Listen, you know I love you and that nothing will ever change that.” And that is what you have to say to your family so that you don’t regret not saying, “Hey, I love you.” [Say it] as often as you mean it, which is much more often than you think. That’s my advice to people: Don’t ever let people go to sleep without telling them. Don’t let them sign off without telling them, because stuff happens.

Given how your mom and brother both died, are you doing anything preventively to check for brain aneurysms?

[After my mother died] nobody said to us: “Hey, by the way, you should check.” After my brother died, I was like, Yeah, maybe I’m going to check. Maybe I’m going to look. Because there’s a whole section of me that is a hypochondriac [so] I have to be very careful. There’s a teeny, tiny little hole … that’s the size of the aneurysm that’s in my head now. So as long as we watch it … they don’t go boom and grow and then kill you. They slowly grow and kill you.

Have the deaths of your mother and brother — and perhaps getting older — made you rethink your physical or dietary habits?

My mother and my brother had the best eating habits. We grew up as vegetarians. I said, “When I grow up, I’m never going to eat another vegetable … I don’t care.” My mother and my brother would try anything. My daughter is the same, my granddaughter is the same. I have no interest. I live in a house with a gazillion stairs. I go up and down the stairs all day long, and I’ll maybe take a walk around the block.

You write about a sometimes rocky relationship with your daughter. How are things between you now?

We talk maybe six times a day. We’re a chatty family in that way.... She’s really quite a wonderful woman. I feel like because my mother and I and people we loved surrounded her … she didn’t always have the best time, but it was never boring and she wasn’t always right because she was a kid. She gets it now, as does my granddaughter who has a 10-year-old.

Will you spend Mother’s Day together?

Well, her birthday is on Mother’s Day. This year I won’t be able to be with her. But I said, “It’s OK, because you’re going to Vegas, and the whole trip is on me.” She and about 15, 20 people are going, and her kids are going.

You talk about how your career started on stage. Would you ever return to the stage? What role would tempt you to return?

Well, Phylicia Rashad and I were talking about getting on stage together to do Having Our Say. LaTanya [Richardson] Jackson, who is Sam Jackson’s wife, would be our director. We’re talking about that. I also still have to do Sister Act [3]. I just also finished a comic book, which is going to come out, I think two months after Bits and Pieces comes out. It’s called The Change [out July 9]. And I have a documentary we need to do. There’s lots going on.

spinner image Whoopi Goldberg sitting next to Joy Behar at a desk with a mug in front of each of them
Goldberg, seen here on "The View" with fellow host Joy Behar, has co-hosted and moderated the daytime talk show since 2007.
Lou Rocco/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images

So it sounds like there’s no retirement in your near future?

Oh listen, I’m going to change what [retirement] looks like, because I do this crazy show [The View] every day, and we have had more people in their 90s coming to the show. It’s so magnificent. I say to people in their 60s: “Y’all are the teenagers. We’re just the teenagers.” These are the new young people, because I never met anybody who was 90 when I was little. So AARP [and retirement age is] no longer something to be feared by people. You are getting older — thank goodness. You’re lucky you lasted long enough to do that.

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