Whoopi Goldberg’s Great Story of Leaving the Welfare Rolls Behind

While most Hollywood stars have charming stories of trying to make it in the movie business, Whoopi Goldberg’s path to fame stands out. Prior to creating the theater show that led to an audition with Steven Spielberg, Whoopi and her daughter needed help.

In fact, the two came close to being homeless in San Diego in the early 1980s. At one point, Whoopi’s struggles as a single mom forced her onto the welfare rolls. Getting to attend the Oscars in 1986, she reflected on how she’d been receiving public assistance just two years earlier.

Even though she didn’t win the Best Actress award for her work on The Color Purple, that year turned out to be a huge one for her career. She’d soon be making over $1 million per film and would establish herself as a huge star by the late ’80s.

But Whoopi didn’t forget those days on welfare. Looking back on that time in her book Is It Just Me? Or Is It Nuts Out There?, she recalled a triumphant moment when she no longer needed assistance.

Whoopi sent her last welfare check back with a note attached.

Actress Whoopi Goldberg in Manhattan Sweatshirt | Bob Sacha/Corbis via Getty Images

In her 2010 book, Whoopi discussed the many misconceptions about Affirmative Action and public assistance. “I know what I’m talking about when I’m talking about the value of welfare because I was on it,” she wrote. “And thank God for the welfare system.”

Whoopi wrote about how the assistance got her through “a very tough time,” but she kept things in perspective. She knew that when she began receiving welfare checks that she’d find work again soon. And when the day arrived, she didn’t cash the last government check.

“When I did get on my feet, I sent the check back,” she wrote. “I didn’t need it.” Before she mailed the envelope, she wrote a note saying she found a job and wouldn’t need help anymore. (“Please remove me from the roll.”)

Once director Mike Nichols saw her solo show and helped get it to Broadway, big paydays took the place of those tiny welfare checks. Still, Whoopi kept souvenirs from that time in her life.

Whoopi framed her welfare card and hung it on the wall.

Whoopi Goldberg attends the 1986 Academy Awards in Los Angeles. | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The night before Whoopi would learn if she’d won the Oscar for The Color Purple, she co-hosted the landmark Comic Relief benefit with Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. That HBO all-star show raised proceeds to help the poor — something Whoopi obviously could identify with.

At the time, she told The Washington Post she couldn’t understand how America’s poor were being left behind. “There’s more than enough opportunity here,” she said, questioning the budget cuts of the Reagan administration.

As a reminder, she told the Post she’d kept her welfare card from her days of hunger in San Diego. Not only did she keep it; she’d framed it and hung it on the wall of her home. Whoopi was clearly one of the lucky ones, and she didn’t plan to forget it during the first years in which she found success.

Also see: How Whoopi Goldberg Reacted to Hollywood’s Issues With Her Hair