Roseann "Rosie" O'Donnell (born March 21, 1962) is an eleven-time Emmy Award-winning American television host, stand-up comedian, actress and author. She has also been a magazine editor and continues to be a celebrity blogger, LGBT rights activist, television producer and collaborative partner in the LGBT family vacation company R Family Vacations.
Raised Irish Catholic, O'Donnell lost her mother to cancer as a pre-teen and has consistently stressed values of protecting children and supporting families throughout her career. O'Donnell started her comedy career while still a teenager and her big break was on the talent show Star Search. A TV sitcom and a series of movies introduced the comic to a wider audience and in 1996 she started hosting The Rosie O'Donnell Show which won multiple Emmy awards.
During her years on The Rosie O'Donnell Show she wrote her first book, a memoir called Find Me and developed a reputation for being "the queen of nice" as well as a reputation for charitable philanthropy. She used the book's $3 million advance to establish her own For All Kids foundation and promoted numerous other charity schemes and projects encouraging other celebrities on her show to also take part. O'Donnell came out stating "I'm a dyke!" two months before finishing her talk show run, saying that her primary reason was to bring attention to gay adoption issues. O'Donnell is a foster—and adoptive—mother. She has since continued to support many LGBT causes and issues.
In 2006 O'Donnell became the new moderator on The View boosting ratings and attracting controversies with her liberal views and strong personality, dominating many of the conversations. She became a polarizing figure to many conservatives and her strong opinions resulted in several notable controversies including an on-air dispute regarding The Bush administration's policies with the war in Iraq resulting in a mutual agreement to cancel her contract. In 2007 O'Donnell also released her second memoir, Celebrity Detox, which focuses on her struggles with fame and her time at The View. She continues to do charity work and remains involved with LGBT and family-related issues.
While she attended Commack High School, O'Donnell was voted homecoming queen, prom queen, senior class president and class clown. It was during high school that she began exploring her interest in comedy, beginning with a skit performed in front of the school in which she imitated Gilda Radner’s character Roseanne Rosannadanna. After graduating in 1980, O'Donnell briefly attended Dickinson College, later transferring to Boston University, before ultimately dropping out of college.
I was 20 years old, and I was at a comedy club in Long Island. This woman came over to me and she said, I think you're funny. Can you give me your number? My dad is Ed McMahon. I was like, yeah, right. I gave her my father's phone number. I was living at home, I'm like, whatever. And about three days later, the talent booker from Star Search called and said, we're going to fly you out to L.A. [...] I won, like, five weeks in a row. And it gave me national exposure.
In 1988, she transferred to VH1, where she hosted Stand-up Spotlight, a showcase for up-and-coming comedians. In 1992 she starred in Stand By Your Man, a Fox Network sitcom co-starring Melissa Gilbert. The show bombed, just as O'Donnell's movie career took off.
With New York City as the show's homebase, O'Donnell displayed her love of Broadway musicals and plays by having cast members as guests, encouraging the audience to see shows, premiering production numbers as well as promoting shows with ticket give-aways. After the September 11, 2001 attacks Broadway and tourism in New York City was down and many shows were in danger of closing. O'Donnell was among many in the entertainment field who helped the city rebound by encouraging viewers to visit and support the performing arts. She announced that she would donate $1 million dollars for aid in the rescue efforts and encouraged other celebrities and citizens alike to "give till it hurts".
On May 19, 1999, a month after the Columbine shootings, O'Donnell interviewed actor Tom Selleck, who was promoting a film The Love Letter. After a commercial break, O'Donnell confronted him about his recent commercial for the National Rifle Association and challenged him about the NRA's position on the use of assault rifles. According to Selleck, the two had agreed not to discuss the topic prior to his appearance on the show. O'Donnell maintains that Selleck and his publicist had been informed that the topic would be discussed. She said at the end of the segment the conversation had "not gone the way I had hoped" and added "if you feel insulted by my questions, I apologize, because it was not a personal attack. It was meant to bring up the subject as it is in the consciousness of so many today." Around the same time, the cast from Annie Get Your Gun was to appear on the show but refused O'Donnell's request to remove the line "I can shoot a partridge with a single cartridge" from the song "Anything You Can Do" and agreed to perform "My Defenses Are Down" instead.
Later in 1999, O'Donnell discontinued her contract with Kmart as their spokeswoman as gun enthusiasts complained that she shouldn't be the spokesperson for the largest gun retailer. O'Donnell countered that "Kmart is, in fact, a seller of hunting rifles, not handguns or assault weapons. Such sales are not illegal or immoral in any way when they are conducted ... with background checks and safety locks available." Kmart employees told the New York Daily News that it was Kmart who terminated the agreement with O'Donnell, which both Kmart and O'Donnell denied publicly.
In May 2000, O'Donnell's bodyguard applied for a concealed firearm permit in Connecticut. O'Donnell stated that it was not she who requested the permit, but Kroll, the security firm through which the guard was hired and was contracted by O'Donnell's employer Warner Brothers. Numerous parents of children who attended the same school as O'Donnell's children expressed their concern about the possibility of O'Donnell's bodyguard being armed while on school grounds. O'Donnell confirmed "the guard does not normally have a gun, but is trained in self-defense techniques. And there was never any intention of his carrying a gun at school." O'Donnell added that because of threats, she and her family need protection, which she attributes, ironically, to her "tough gun-control rhetoric".
On November 1, 2006, Nightline aired a video report about the opening of The Children's Plaza and Family Center in Renaissance Village, a FEMA trailer park in Louisiana. This was an emergency response initiative of Rosie's For All Kids Foundation with the help of many local nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses, all efforts were to assist the families displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
On May 18, 2007, O'Donnell and Pogo Games announced a joint-effort to raise money for Rosie's All Kids Foundation. EA, which owns Pogo, committed $30,000 and more money can be raised based on the amount of playing time people spend on certain games. They are also holding a sweepstakes in which winners get to fly to New York and meet Rosie and attend a charity function as her guest.
Rosie appeared again on True Colors Tour 2008.
With a strong start and a circulation close to 3.5 million things looked promising but the magazine stumbled as conflicts emerged between O'Donnell and the editors. The contract gave O'Donnell control over editorial process and editorial staff but veto power remained with publisher Gruner+Jahr USA. O'Donnell quit the magazine in September 2002 following a dispute over editorial control. "If I'm going to have my name and my brand on the corner of a magazine, it has to be my vision" she told People. Rosie magazine folded in 2003.
In late 2003, O'Donnell and the publishers each sued the other for breach of contract. The publishers claimed that, by removing herself from the magazine's publication, she was in breach of contract. The trial received considerable press coverage. O'Donnell would often give brief press interviews outside of the courtroom responding to various allegations. Of note was a former magazine colleague and breast cancer survivor who testified that O'Donnell said to her on the phone that people who lie "get sick and they get cancer. If they keep lying, they get it again". O'Donnell apologized the next day and stated "I'm sorry I hurt her the way I did, that was not my intention." The judge ruled against both sides and dismissed the case.
In 2006, O'Donnell responded to a question on the "Ask Ro" section of her website in which she stated that she would love to do another magazine. In addition, O'Donnell has written a new book, Celebrity Detox, which was released on October 9, 2007.
In her January 31, 2002, appearance on the sitcom Will & Grace, she played a lesbian mom. A month later as part of her act at the Ovarian Cancer Research benefit at Caroline's Comedy Club O'Donnell came out as a lesbian, announcing "I'm a dyke!" "I don't know why people make such a big deal about the gay thing. ... People are confused, they're shocked, like this is a big revelation to somebody." The announcement came two months before the end of the hosting of her talk show.
Although she also cited the need to put a face to gays and lesbians her primary reason was to bring attention to the gay adoption issue. O'Donnell is a foster and adoptive mother. She protested against adoption agencies, particularly in Florida, that refused adoptive rights to gay and lesbian parents.
Diane Sawyer interviewed O'Donnell in a March 14, 2002, episode of PrimeTime Thursday, telling USA Today she chose to talk to Sawyer because she wanted an investigative piece on Florida's ban on gay adoption. She told Sawyer if that was done, "I would like to talk about my life and how (the case) pertains to me." She spoke about the two gay men in Florida who face having a foster child they raised removed from their home. State law won't let them adopt because Florida bans gay or bisexual people from adopting.
O'Donnell's coming out drew criticism from some LGBT activists who cited her repeated references to being enamored of Tom Cruise on The Rosie O'Donnell Show as deceptive. She responded in her act stating, "I said I wanted him to mow my lawn and bring me a lemonade. I never said I wanted (to perform a sex act on him)."
Rosie and her family currently reside in Nyack, New York, a suburb of New York City that is located in Rockland County and in Miami's Star Island. O'Donnell's brother Daniel, who is also gay, represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a member of the New York State Assembly. O'Donnell and fellow actress Bridget Moynahan are 3rd cousins.
In 2003 O'Donnell and Carpenter partnered with travel entrepreneur Gregg Kaminsky to launch R Family Vacations catering to gays and lesbians, "the very first all gay and lesbian family vacation packages" where "gays and lesbians can bring their kids, their friends, and their parents." Although O'Donnell is not involved on a day-to-day basis, she does contribute to the creative aspects of "advertising and marketing materials" and initiated the idea for the company when she filled in as a last-minute replacement headliner on one of Kaminsky's Atlantis Events gay cruises and also came up with the name "R Family Vacations."
On July 11, 2004, the first cruise was held with 1600 passengers including 600 children. In addition to traditional entertainment and recreational activities, the company partnered with Provincetown’s Family Pride, a 25-year-old Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for GLBT families to host discussions on "adoption, insemination, surrogacy, and everything else that would be helpful to gay parenting." All Aboard! Rosie's Family Cruise, a documentary film about the trip debuted on HBO on 6 April 2006 and was nominated for three Emmy Awards. Of the experience O'Donnell stated "we didn’t really realize the magic that was going to take place. People who had never met another gay family met other families and it was powerful."
Quickly acclimating to a four-person format, O'Donnell led the daytime women's chatfest steering the opening "Hot Topics" portion of the show where newsworthy items were discussed. Unlike previous years, politics and taboo subjects were readily explored with the two comics (O'Donnell and Joy Behar) often giving strong opinions against President Bush's policies including the war in Iraq which was losing support amongst Americans. As a conservative counterpoint Elisabeth Hasselbeck would support the Bush Administration's issues and the two would get into an adversarial give-and-take at least until both had made their points. Always outspoken, O'Donnell sometimes provoked debate, one time stating "radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam" or criticizing fellow TV personalities. In January 2007, she questioned American Idol for airing auditions that humiliated contestants. "To make fun of someone’s physical appearance. And when they leave the room, laugh hysterically at them. Three millionaires, one probably intoxicated.
In 2008, The View won an Emmy for "Outstanding Special Class Writing" for a specially-themed Autism episode broadcast when O'Donnell was co-host. Janette Barber, O'Donnell's longtime friend and producer/writer of the Rosie O'Donnell Show, accepted the award on behalf of herself and the other two winners, Christian McKiernan and Andrew Smith.
In response, Trump began a media blitz in which he appeared on various television shows, either in person or by phone, threatening to sue O'Donnell. He called her mean-spirited names, threatened to take away her partner Kelli, and claimed that Barbara Walters regretted hiring her. Walters responded that both Trump and O'Donnell are highly opinionated people and that Trump has never filed for bankruptcy, but several of his casino companies did but are now out of bankruptcy. She also denied that she was unhappy with O'Donnell, saying, "I have never regretted, nor do I now, the hiring of Rosie O'Donnell."
O'Donnell has been accused of serial anti-Catholicism and labeled a bigot by Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for what he deems "relentless and profoundly ignorant attacks on the Catholic Church and its teachings. On the 24 February 2003 episode of Phil Donahue's talk show O'Donnell referred to the "pedophile scandal"* in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston resulting in $157 million awarded to 983 claimants, stating "I hope the Catholic Church gets sued until the end of time. Maybe, you know, we can melt down some of the gold toilets in the Pope’s Vatican and pay off some of the lawsuits because, the whole tenet of living a Christ-like life, has been lost in Catholicism." (*Pedophile, as in this instance, is commonly misused to describe all sexual offenders of children.)
On The View O'Donnell has regularly joked about communion rituals alongside co-host Behar's drunk priest comments. On 2 October 2006 she compared the Republican Party cover-up of the Mark Foley scandal to the cover-up of child sexual abuse by Catholic Church officials who actively concealed perpetrators by moving them from parish to parish as detailed in Amy Berg's award-winning film about the abuse within the Catholic church. O'Donnell said "the most interesting thing about Deliver Us from Evil (is) that the person who was in charge of investigating all the allegations of pedophilia in the Catholic church from the ‘80s until just recently was guess who? The current Pope." Although Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from November 1981 to April 2005, responsibility to investigate sexual abuse of minors by priests only started in 2001 and the Pope has denounced the abuse.
On April 19, 2007 the all-woman panel on The View discussed the Supreme Court of the United States ruling on Gonzales v. Carhart decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. O'Donnell cited a Gloria Steinem quote, "If men could get pregnant abortion would be a sacrament" adding "How many Supreme Court judges are Catholic?" and "[H]ow about separation of church and state?" This sparked reaction from conservatives calling her statements "anti-Catholic bigotry" and suggested that such statements against other religions would not be tolerated.
655,000 Iraqi civilians dead. Who are the terrorists? ... if you were in Iraq and another country, the United States, the richest in the world, invaded your country and killed 655,000 of your citizens, what would you call us?Conservative commentators responded by claiming O'Donnell was comparing American soldiers to terrorists. On 23 May 2007 a heated discussion ensued, in part, because of what O'Donnell perceived as Hasselbeck's unwillingness to defend O'Donnell as not against the troops with O'Donnell asking her "Do you believe I think our troops are terrorists?" Hasselbeck answered in the negative but also stated "Defend your own insinuations. O'Donnell stated that Republican pundits were mischaracterising her statements and the right-wing media would portray her as a bully attacking "innocent pure Christian Elisabeth" whenever they disagreed. Despite repeated attempts by their co-hosts to change the topic or cut to a commercial break, O'Donnell and Hasselbeck continued their debate.
According to ABC News, O'Donnell said that she knew her time on the show was over when she saw the exchange reported in the news media with the split screen effect showing her and Hasselbeck on either side. O'Donnell and ABC agreed to cut short her contract agreement on May 25, 2007 as a result of this issue. ABC News reported that her arguments with Hasselbeck brought the show its best ratings ever.