Maya Rudolph’s Chance Encounter With Questlove Helped the Comedian Accept Her Mother’s Death

Comedian Maya Rudolph is as versatile in her personal life as she is with her TV and film career. Born into a tight-knit, creative family, Rudolph has raised four children with acclaimed filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson. She also continued to expand her work well beyond Saturday Night Live.

Backed by the memory of her mother, the late singer Minnie Riperton, Rudolph proves you can be a Hollywood star and still find time for a personal life. In fact, Questlove helped her accept her mother’s death years after Riperton passed.

Maya Rudolph’s showbiz family bond

The creative bond between Rudolph’s mother and father looms large in her childhood memories. In an interview with The Guardian, Rudolph fondly recalls her chaotic time being raised by traveling musicians. Her mom was a well-known singer in the ’70s, voicing the No. 1 hit “Lovin’ You” at the peak of her career.

But Riperton’s life was tragically cut short in 1979. The 31-year-old singer died of breast cancer — less than two weeks before Rudolph’s seventh birthday.

Not only was Riperton a major talent, but her father was also a talented musician. Many of Rudolph’s early memories involve watching her mother singing on stage while her father, Richard Rudolph, played backup guitar.

Maya would ultimately take her childhood impressions of show business to Saturday Night Live, where she excelled. With a biracial background and a chameleon-like ability to switch personas, Maya played characters as different as Vice President Kamala Harris and Paris Hilton.

Questlove reconnected Rudolph with her mother

The memories of her mother in her prime came flooding back to Maya in an unexpected way. While working on Saturday Night Live, she had a chance encounter with Questlove, a talented musician and founding member of The Roots. He told Maya that he had some footage of Minnie Riperton thanks to his collection of music videos. What Maya saw astounded her. It took some time for her to overcome the raw emotion of the experience.

Not only did Questlove show Maya compelling footage of her mother but it also came right as YouTube was ramping up. This provided even more videos of Riperton’s performances.

Maya no longer had to rely upon memories from when she was in elementary school. Instead, she could watch her mother’s talents from a perspective previously hidden. Once the initial emotions settled for Maya, a new connection with her mother was possible after nearly three decades.

Rudolph carries on the family tradition

Host Maya Rudolph during Saturday Night Live's "Backstage Memories" sketch
Maya Rudolph hosts SNL in 2021 | Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Maya now continues the creative legacy with Anderson, a frequent Oscar nominee and well-known auteur. She appeared in Anderson’s 2014 release, Inherent Vice, filming her scenes just weeks before having the couple’s fourth child, Ida. Less than a week after giving birth, she even came back for a reshoot.

Anderson paid tribute to the performance by including a song by Maya’s mother in the soundtrack. Maya is also in Anderson’s newest film, Licorice Pizza, which hits theaters in late December. It stars Bradley Cooper alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper Hoffman.

Despite being half of a Hollywood power couple, Maya usually sounds like a parent who doesn’t spend most of her time doing films and photoshoots. She has even cut short interviews to attend her kids’ functions and talked openly with The Guardian about the physical changes that come with bearing four children.

What we see from Maya is much the same as the image she conjures of her parents: an ability to balance her own career while still showcasing a total commitment to the needs of a creative family. Despite her talent and fame, however, Maya has never been a natural for the red carpet. She was once so overwhelmed by the Oscar experience — for Anderson’s There Will Be Blood — that she told George Clooney she once appeared with him on E.R.

When Maya came to her senses, she remembered she had a role on Chicago Hope instead and had never actually met Clooney before. Though she has been around showbiz since the day she was born, she maintains a down-to-earth lifestyle that continues to connect with audiences. When her children want to find her on YouTube, there is an ever-expanding list of footage to choose from.

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