The Controversy That Put Whoopi Goldberg’s Career on Hold

In 2004, Whoopi Goldberg was not at the peak of her screen career, but she definitely had a lot going on. While making appearances in Star Trek and Jiminy Glick movies, she had her own show (Whoopi) going on NBC. Meanwhile, she had hosted the Oscars just two years earlier.

However, Whoopi’s steady roll suddenly came to a standstill in July of ’04. It began when Slim-Fast dropped her as a spokesperson. Looking at her work in 2005, you only find one small voice role and a handful of writing credits.

She recently described the period to the New York Times Magazine with her trademark humor. “For a good three years, I couldn’t even get arrested,” she said. It all followed some jokes she told about George W. Bush at a fundraiser for John Kerry (the Democratic Party’s ’04 nominee).

While Whoopi’s words seem tame in 2019 — and probably were considered such a few years after she spoke them — the controversy genuinely put her career on hold. Here’s what happened.

Whoopi’s pun on ‘Bush’ prompted outrage from conservative media and corporate sponsors.

Whoopi Goldberg and Jack Nicholson in 1984 | The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

At the Kerry fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall, Whoopi ran with jokes that referenced the president’s name and how it also was a word for female pubic hair. “We should keep Bush where he belongs,” The Guardian reported Whoopi saying while gesturing at her crotch. “And not in the White House.”

In the following days, Slim-Fast removed her from its ad campaign. “We are disappointed by the manner in which Ms Goldberg chose to express herself and sincerely regret that her recent remarks offended some of our consumers,” a company official said.

The media outlets owned by conservative Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch also churned up the outrage machine. “Jerky jokester Whoopi in dirty diss at Dubya,” read a New York Post headline from that week.

Whoopi didn’t sound too broken up about the Slim-Fast gig. “While I can appreciate what the Slim-Fast people need to do in order to protect their business, I must also do what I need to do as an artist, as a writer and as an American, not to mention as a comic,” she said in a statement.

However, it definitely affected her work in Hollywood.

Whoopi’s workload took a significant hit following her remarks.

(L-R) Marlo Thomas, Whoopi Goldberg, & Cybill Shepherd march in pro-choice demonstration. | Robert Sherbow/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images

In Whoopi’s Times Magazine interview that ran July 8, she noted how most outlets who reported on her Bush bit didn’t even repeat her comments. “Before I got offstage, it was reported that I’d been vulgar and crude and said horrible stuff. I didn’t. Nobody wrote what I actually said.”

Hoping to avoid unnecessary controversy, the Democratic National Convention uninvited Whoopi from its ’04 events. Meanwhile, her acting jobs stopped coming for several years. (Note that she did work on Chris Rock’s Everybody Hates Chris in 2006.)

At the time, Whoopi called attention to now-well-known conservative propaganda machine. “I’ve done material on every president in the past 20 years, from Reagan to Carter, from Clinton to Bush. It seems now that people from the other side are using this to further their own agenda.”

So could the whole thing have been avoided? Maybe — if Whoopi had allowed the the fundraiser’s organizers to vet her jokes. That didn’t happen. “I Xeroxed my behind and I folded it up in an envelope and I sent it back with a big kiss mark on it,” she said about that (per The Guardian).

I guess the moral of the story is, if you ask Whoopi to perform, she’s going to say what she feels like. That’s what made her famous as a performer and beloved as a personality.

Also seeWhy Whoopi Goldberg Said Her 3rd Husband Will Be Her Last