O'Donnell, Rosie

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O'Donnell, Rosie

The Rosie Show, Rosie Magazine


Dubbed "The Queen of Nice" (a term which she staunchly denies), Rosie O'Donnell is the host of a top–rated, syndicated television talk show, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, which has a viewing audience of nearly four million and has forever changed the face of daytime television. In April 2001 the outspoken entertainer launched the publication of her own magazine, Rosie, and just a few months previous to that, had released her first Christmas album—selling 500,000 copies immediately. She is a movie star, a stand–up comic, a Broadway alumna, an author and publisher, a one–person industry, and one of Time magazine's 25 most influential Americans. Increasingly so, she is also a political activist—which has earned her both applause and criticism. Undaunted, she has put her money where her mouth is, speaking out and contributing millions of dollars to causes she believes in and leaving the rest behind.

Personal Life

Born Roseanne O'Donnell on March 21, 1962 in Commack, Long Island, New York, she is the daughter of Edward O'Donnell, Sr. and Roseanne O'Donnell. Her father immigrated to the United States from Belfast, Northern Ireland; he was an electrical engineer who designed spy satellite cameras. Her mother, after whom she was named, encouraged her eldest daughter's penchant for telling jokes and doing imitations. She also introduced young Rosie to Broadway musicals, which she soon embraced with a passion.

O'Donnell's world changed forever on March 17, 1973 when her mother died of pancreatic and liver cancer. She was buried on her daughter's eleventh birthday. O'Donnell's father became emotionally distant from his children after his wife's death, leaving Rosie and her four siblings (two older brothers, Edward, Jr. and Daniel; one younger sister, Maureen; and one younger brother, Timothy) to fend for themselves. O'Donnell's preferred outlet for dealing with her grief was performing. At school, O'Donnell was always a cut–up. Bubbly and popular, she was the prom queen, homecoming queen, and president of her class. She also did some acting as a member of the drama society and played sports, including baseball. When she graduated in 1980, her goal was to become a Broadway actress.

Comedy, however, proved to be O'Donnell's true calling. She made her stand–up debut in 1978 at the age of 16 when, on a dare, she performed on amateur night at a Round Table restaurant in Mineola, Long Island. She was immediately enthralled by the experience and continued to perform while still attending high school. When O'Donnell appeared at Huntington's East Side Comedy Club, which later relocated to Farmingdale, New York, its manager, Richie Minervini, was smitten. He told Nancy Harrison of the New York Times, "She came in and went on stage, and I'll tell you what. She had talent right off the bat. She wasn't really funny but she had a charisma. She had a presence. She had a desire."

Today O'Donnell rides the waves of success as if she had always been on top. Her talk show earns her more than $25 million, giving her a second–place ranking (below Oprah; above David Letterman and Jay Leno) in Forbes' 2000 listing of the top 100 highest paid celebrities in the talk show business. Her success helped O'Donnell become a household name across the United States. Thereafter she began to use her immense popularity and celebrity status on behalf of many causes, including breast cancer awareness, pro–choice initiatives, AIDS benefits, and homelessness. In 1997 she founded "For All the Kids Foundation" to raise money for children's charities. She also promoted children's literacy through "Rosie's Readers" in 1999—a joint project with eToys. But her vehement anti–gun stance cost her at least one endorsement when she quit as a K–Mart spokesperson during the late 1990s after discovering that the discount chain sold guns.

The latter issue also caused her viewers some heartburn. In one highly reported incident, actor Tom Selleck appeared on her show to plug his new movie. Because he had previously filmed a commercial for the National Rifle Association (NRA), O'Donnell turned the conversation to gun control and directed her anti–NRA opinions toward him—on the air. The Miami Herald later quoted Selleck as saying that it was "an act of moral vanity" for O'Donnell to assume that someone who disagreed with her cared any less about the issue of gun control.

O'Donnell—unlike her colleagues, also revealed her political affiliation (Democrat, liberal) shortly after her show first aired and since has spent many televised minutes directing peppery put–downs toward Republicans, conservatives, New York's Rudy Giuliani, and anyone else who disagrees with her views. Regarding her activism, O'Donnell told National Review interviewers, "I have a responsibility as well as an opportunity to speak to millions of people on a daily basis. It's sad that celebrities' opinions are given so much weight, but they are, in the culture we live in." There are, of course, millions of Americans who would beg to differ, but O'Donnell is not concerned with demands for equal time for opposing views. "I never enter it into the equation," she went on.

Off screen, O'Donnell continues to work for the causes she supports—whether it's sponsoring the Florida gubernatorial candidacy of former Attorney General Janet Reno, serving as emcee for the Million Mom March, or fighting for national health care and national day care for children. She spends her private time between residences in Miami, Florida; Nyack, New York; Manhattan; and (until 2001) a 12–acre Greenwich, Connecticut spread, which she sold for an estimated $8 million.

Chronology: Rosie O'Donnell

1962: Born in Commack, NY.

1978: First stand–up comic debut at age 16.

1980: Graduated from high school.

1984: Rosie is "discovered" on television's StarSearch competition.

1986: Television debut on Gimme a Break.

1992: Feature film debut in A League of Their Own.

1996: Launched The Rosie O'Donnell Show.

1999: Released her first Christmas album.

2001: Launched Rosie Magazine.

The recipient of many awards—including four consecutive Emmys for her talk show and several American Comedy Award nominations, O'Donnell's serious side is directed toward child welfare advocacy. As she stated in a June 2000 National Review article, "I always knew that if I were in a position to have an effect on society, I would use it to benefit kids." And she has—donating literally millions of dollars to children's charities through a foundation she personally set up. O'Donnell hinted in the November 2000 issue of Ladies' Home Journal that she planned to quit her highly profitable Rosie show when her contract ran out in 2002 in order to concentrate more on her first love, facilitating the adoption of children. In 1995 O'Donnell, who had never married but very much wanted a family, decided to adopt a child. She now has four. "Being a mother is the most difficult and beautiful experience anyone can have," O'Donnell once remarked to a People reporter. "...I have a greater capacity to love and feel life." In 2000 O'Donnell opened the Rosie Adoptions office in New Jersey, and by the end of the year, she claimed responsibility for nearly 40 adoptions, including a son for former Charlie's Angels star Kate Jackson. Jackson told a Time magazine interviewer, "I call Rosie my son's 'angel mom,' because God used her as the conduit to bring him to me."

Career Details

Following graduation from high school, O'Donnell began touring as a stand–up comedienne. Though she loved being on the road, she also wanted to pursue her education. She spent short periods at Dickinson College and Boston University but by 1981 her college days had come to an end.

In 1984 O'Donnell received a break when she appeared on the television show Star Search, which featured up–and–coming talent. She won five televised competitions and made it to the finalist level before losing to another contestant. But she won about $14,000, which enabled her to move to Los Angeles. O'Donnell then struggled to make it as an actress while continuing to do stand–up comedy.

O'Donnell made her television debut in 1986 when she appeared in the final season of the situation comedy Gimme a Break starring Nell Carter and Joey Lawrence. After a Break was cancelled in 1987 O'Donnell joined the adult music video channel VH–1 as a "veejay" around 1988. When veejays were phased out a year later she stayed with the network as the host of VH–1 Stand–Up Spotlight beginning in 1990. For the next four years, O'Donnell produced the show and helped select the featured comedians. She returned to the television situation comedy format in 1992 as one of the stars of Stand By Your Man, a short–run show about two sisters who move in together when their husbands go to prison.

O'Donnell also made her feature film debut in 1992 in A League of Their Own. This popular comedy about an all–women's baseball league that was formed during World War II also starred Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, and Madonna. In 1993 she played the confidante of star Meg Ryan's character in Sleepless in Seattle. That same year, she also appeared in the buddy comedy Another Stakeout with Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez. O'Donnell's film career really shifted into high gear in 1994. In addition to appearing in a movie version of the classic television series Car 54, Where Are You? and in the film I'll Do Anything, she took part in a live–action version of the television cartoon The Flintstones in the role of Betty Rubble, Wilma Flintstone's best friend. Also in 1994, her lifelong dream came true when she made her Broadway debut as Rizzo in the musical Grease.

By 1995 O'Donnell had adopted her first child and decided that as a new mother, she needed a more stable working environment. She returned to television. Later that year she cut a deal for a new syndicated talk/variety show for which she would serve as both host and executive producer. Inspired by the talk shows she used to watch after school as a child such as The Dinah Shore Show and The Mike Douglas Show, she promised a fresh view and no violence.

Launched in June 1996, The Rosie O'Donnell Show was an immediate hit and it went on to change the face of syndicated daytime talk television. Much of its success had to do with O'Donnell herself. Critics and audiences alike found her engagingly ordinary. She freely admitted her love of junk food, displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of television and popular culture, and worshipped celebrities (especially actor Tom Cruise) as any fan would. Writing of her appeal, Betsey Sharkey of Mediaweek observed, "O'Donnell's essential charm is her kick–off–your–shoes–and–stay–awhile sensibility. [She] is a master at making everyday life a laughing matter."

O'Donnell also used her success to promote interest in the theater. She often featured performers from Broadway musicals on her show, for example. She hosted the Tony Awards on CBS–TV in 1997 and again in 1998 and gave a tremendous boost to the program's typically anemic ratings. O'Donnell also presided over the Grammy Awards (which honor those in the recording industry) in 1999 and 2000.

Despite her many personal and professional responsibilities, O'Donnell still managed to find a little time to devote to films. In 1998 she played a nun in Wide Awake, and in 1999 she provided a voice for the animated feature Tarzan. In mid–2001 there were rumors that she was looking into the syndicated version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? "I don't have any illusions that people aren't going to get sick of me," she told Paula Span of the Washington Post. "I know it's going to happen." Until then, she doesn't appear to be losing any sleep over it.

Social and Economic Impact

For many, Rosie O'Donnell introduced a refreshing change to daytime television—avoiding sex, violence, backstabbing, and condescension. Although she since has promoted her own political, opinionated, and often esoteric agenda, she has remained "the girl next door," whom many viewers can identify with even if they do not share her opinions. The approachable, loveable persona she has developed keeps her in demand, in the spotlight, and often in hot water. But for those whose causes find kinship in O'Donnell's own agenda, they could not have a better, more loyal, or generous friend.

Sources of Information

Contact at: The Rosie Show, Rosie Magazine
30 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 800E.
New York, NY 10112–0002
URL: http://rosieo.warnerbros.com/pages/rosieo/home.jsp


"AP Top News at 10 p.m. EDT." Associated Press Online, 19 May 2000.

Ault, Susanne. "Rosie's lifeline?" Broadcasting & Cable, 4 June 2001.

Johnson, Tricia. "Gimme Shelter." Entertainment Weekly, 17 August 2001.

"Not–so–Rosie Times for Women's Mags." U.S. News & WorldReport, 18 June 2001.

"People in the News." The Miami Herald, 20 May 1999.

"Rosie O'Donnell, Political Activist—A celebrity and her platform." National Review, 10 June 2000.

"Talking Heads." Forbes, 20 March 2000.

Tyrangiel, Josh. "People: Father Flanagan Meets Mia Farrow." Time, 16 October 2000.

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