Whoopi Goldberg’s Early Career Job Was Makeup Artist to the Deceased

Whoopi Goldberg might be best known for her commentary on The View, but before she sat around the table as a daytime TV host she had a series of odd jobs. As a single mom, Goldberg made ends meet working as a bank teller, a bricklayer, and an assistant in a funeral home while she honed her skills as a stand-up comic, an improv actor, and began auditioning for big name productions. 

“I needed money, and I needed to work,” Goldberg explained.  “So I figured I’d rather lay bricks than lay men,” she said. 

Whoopi Goldberg smiling slightly in front of a black background
Whoopi Goldberg | Marco Piraccini/Getty Images

Goldberg is licensed makeup artist and a talented actor

Whoopi Goldberg grew up in New York City, where her dreams of becoming an actor took root. She finally moved to California where she received her first big break in 1985. Director Steven Spielberg gave her a chance by casting her in the starring role of The Color Purple. From there, the actor only moved on up. She won an Oscar in 1990 for her role in the blockbuster hit Ghost and continued to make audiences fall in love with the variety of characters she was able to make come to life. 

One of Goldberg’s first jobs was in a funeral home

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Goldberg’s life wasn’t always one of glamour on the big screen though. In fact, one of her first jobs was helping to make other people look glamorous. 

“I did hair and makeup on dead people,” she revealed to the Huffington Post. “There was an ad in the paper!” Goldberg exclaims. “And I’m a licensed beautician as well, because I went to beauty school.”  She grins as she retells the memory. 

Her skills as a beautician helped her to pay the bills before she ever made it big in show business.  While she had worked other odd jobs before this to make ends meet, she notes that working in a funeral home can be a rough gig explaining that it takes a great deal of love and fortitude to help people prepare for their “big send-off.” 

Working with the deceased can be pretty eerie

When she was new to the job, Goldberg revealed that a funeral home can be full of odd noises which can make employees jittery. In fact, Goldberg told Oprah Winfrey on Master Class that working in the funeral home elicited a few spooky experiences for the young actor. Her boss at the time wanted to prepare her for the task of handling the everyday fears which might impact her ability to do her job well.  So he asked her to come down to the basement of the funeral home with him to have a conversation. Her boss was preparing to teach her a lesson. 

Goldberg shared the story with Oprah, explaining how the basement of the funeral home was full of refrigerated drawers for the bodies. As she waited for her boss to arrive, Goldberg heard an odd creaking sound. “As I start to look around, I see that one of the drawers is moving, and it’s moving out, it’s opening. As my brain puts together the fact that the drawer is opening … I’m getting up to run. It’s all coming together at the same time.” As the drawer slowly creaks open Goldberg remembers that’s when her boss sat up from inside the drawer and casually said: “Hello there.”

Though she laughs as she recalls the story now, the fear she felt at the time was very real. She admits that as she jumped up to race from the room, away from the awakening cadaver, she smacked her head right into the solid wooden door to the room and knocked herself out.  

When she finally came to, she had a bruise and a solid lesson learned. Her boss’s prank helped her to see that the worst-case (imaginary) scenario of working with the dead had already happened and any fears she might have had were completely dissipated. “It was the greatest,” she said. “Once he did that, I was fine.” Goldberg affirms that she continued to work there with no ghostly mishaps after that.