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Rosie O'Donnell biography

Actress, comedienne, talk show host. Born March 21, 1962, in Commack, Long Island. Her father designed cameras for spy satellites and her mother was a homemaker. When Rosie was 10 years old, her mother died of pancreatic and liver cancer, leaving Rosie and her four brothers and sisters to fend for themselves emotionally. Rosie often sought the comfort of movies and television; finding idols and role models in Lucille Ball, Barbra Streisand, Carol Burnett, and Bette Midler. Rosie caught the acting bug when she imitated Gilda Radner’s character “Roseanne Rosannadanna” for a high school skit--inciting praise, then a conviction to pursue an acting career through comedy. By watching and imitating other comics, such as Jerry Seinfeld, O’Donnell eventually came up with her own material and honed her magnetic presence for the stage. After graduating from high school (O’Donnell was elected prom queen, homecoming queen, most school-spirited student, and class president), she embarked on a grand tour of the United States, appearing in 49 states over a five-year period. It was a difficult and enlightening time for O’Donnell, as she realized the unhealthy lifestyle and the sexist climate revolving around the comedy world. She told Robert Hoffler of Buzz, “Everybody was doing drugs and drinking, and I was just this little girl on the road, scared in her room.”

O’Donnell studied briefly at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania and Boston University and made five winning appearances on Star Search before moving to Los Angeles in 1984. She landed a part on the last season of NBC’s popular sitcom Gimme a Break before cable music video channel, VH-1, snatched her up as a veejay. When the station decided to stop using veejays, O’Donnell convinced them both to create a showcase for comedians, Stand-Up Spotlight, and keep her on as its host. Stand-Up Spotlight became the VH-1’s most popular show, and O’Donnell hosted for four years. In 1992, after appearing in several television specials, O’Donnell made a much-desired and anticipated move to film when Penny Marshall cast her as Madonna’s loveable sidekick in A League of Their Own. During filming, O’Donnell forged many connections and friendships which served to enhance her career, including an enduring relationship with co-star Madonna. Her role spurned a string of “best-friend” roles including “Becky,” Meg Ryan’s closest pal in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle.

She played assistant district attorney, Gina Garrett, in John Badham’s Another Stakeout alongside Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez, and made a cameo in Carl Reiner’s Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct spoof, Fatal Instinct. She also appeared as a wise-cracking hairdresser in Beautiful Girls. O’Donnell began a trend of making praiseworthy performances in less than extraordinary films. In 1994, O’Donnell’s dream of performing live on stage materialized when she was cast as Rizzo in Tommy Tune’s Broadway revival of Grease!. However, both the production and O’Donnell’s performance met lukewarm reviews. O’Donnell also expressed concern about the message of the play, with its sexist premise about a girl who must transform herself into a tightly-clad tramp to gain acceptance by her boyfriend and his friends. Following her Broadway debut, O’Donnell appeared in Lesli Linka Glatter’s coming of age film, Now and Then alongside Demi Moore and Melanie Griffith and made a cameo on the TV sitcom Bless This House. In February 1995, after a two-year hiatus, O’Donnell returned briefly to stand-up in order to prepare for an HBO comedy special. In 1995, O’Donnell accepted a post as host of a variety talk show for NBC, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, featuring such attractions as celebrity guests and Broadway performances. Inspired by The Merv Griffin Show, O’Donnell pitted her nice and cozy attitude against the swarm of sensationalist talk shows commanding the airwaves. Her move to television also allowed her to continue in show-business while raising her two adopted children, Parker and Chelsea Belle in New York (producers built a deluxe nursery for her children right in the Rockefeller Center studio). The show quickly became one of the most popular in daytime television, and O’Donnell was hailed as the “Queen of Nice” due to her down-to-earth frankness and eye-to-eye sense of humor. O’Donnell continued to make occasional appearances in films; playing a nanny in the children’s film Harriett the Spy and a schoolteacher-nun in 1998’s Wide Awake. She blossomed in the children’s movie arena, playing the voice of Terk, Tarzan’s gorilla-companion in Disney’s animated production of Tarzan in 1999. Although O’Donnell’s repertoire is broad rather than deep, her appeal crosses the boundaries of many different media, attesting to her status as a thoroughly versatile and talented performer. Her continual support of Broadway shows, and theatre in general, brought renewed attention to the stage, and the Tony’s award show enjoyed its highest ratings in years when she hosted. In 1999, she hosted the Grammy awards.

After living in Los Angeles for 10 years, O’Donnell returned to New York, where she feels more at home with the matter-of-fact attitude toward celebrity. In late 1999, she adopted a third child, Blake Christopher. O’Donnell received two Emmy awards in 1998 for “Outstanding Talk Show” and “Outstanding Talk Show Host” (the latter for which she illustriously tied with established talk show great, Oprah Winfrey).

In November 2000, O'Donnell admitted that she is planning to leave her talk show after her contract expires in 2002 in order to spend more time on her nonprofit organization, Rosie Adoptions. The organization helps facilitate the process of adoption between birth mothers and adoptive families. In early 2002, Rosie began making headlines again, with word that she would officially come out as a lesbian in her autobiography Find Me (April 2002).

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