Today I would like to wish a happy 54th birthday to a woman who has always used the power and voice of her celebrity status for social justice. Rosie O’Donnell was born in Commack, NY, the third of five children. She was popular in high school, known to be outgoing and funny. She began exploring comedy with Gilda Radner impressions and took that passion with her to college.
After stints at Dickinson College and Boston University, she left college to build on her promising standup career. She got a slot on Star Search and won several weeks in a row, giving her a national profile. O’Donnell built that opportunity into a series of TV and movie appearances. After 15 years of increasing success, she launched her own daytime talk show. The Rosie O’Donnell Show (I really loved this show) quickly took over, with her outspoken, open personality and sense of fun capturing the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.
During this time, O’Donnell became a foster parent, adopting her first child, Parker, just before her show took off. A strong advocate for children’s rights and quality foster, adoption, and care programs, Rosie always took time to share her views and her dollars to support these causes. She gained additional fame in 2002. After appearing as a lesbian single mother on Will and Grace (fantastic episode), she announced at a comedy show to support Ovarian Cancer Research, “I’m a dyke!” While her coming out was not a huge surprise, she was among the first of the early 21st Century wave of celebrities to come out.
Once she was out, she became a strong vocal advocate for the LGBT community, building on previous quietly visible support. She especially focused on the challenges of LGBT parenting, notably shining a harsh light on Florida’s rabidly anti-gay adoption laws (and others like it). After ending her show in 2002, she wrote a book and launched a magazine, donating significant proceeds to children’s charities and cancer research. She also started a family-friendly LGBT travel company, increasing her focus on parenting for all.
Rosie joined The View in 2006. Somewhat ironically for a woman called “the Queen of Nice,” her outspoken views and willingness to speak truth to power ruffled many feathers. She regularly spoke out against the tragic residue of the George W. Bush administration and made sure the chats on the show were informative and thought-provoking. As a former Catholic and strong supporter of children, she came under fire for speaking out about the abuse scandals in the church. Undeterred, she famously observed,
I hope the Catholic Church gets sued until the end of time. Maybe, you know, we can melt down some of the gold toilets in the Pope’s Vatican and pay off some of the lawsuits because, the whole tenet of living a Christ-like life, has been lost in Catholicism.
She also gained attention for questioning Donald Trump’s attempts to assume a position of moral authority when his Miss USA Pageant faced scandal. Never mean but always willing to be honest and direct, her approach eventually led to her departure from The View — a significant loss. Thank goodness they at least have our Whoopi!
Rosie O’Donnell is very present in the public eye with her wife and children, helping put a familiar, human face on LGBT parenting. She donated all the proceeds from her second book to her children’s charity and continues to spend millions on improving the world for the vulnerable and marginalized. She also donates her talent, helping headline Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours tours.
A strong voice, a fierce advocate, a caring parent, and a great example — Rosie O’Donnell is an easy woman to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Rosie, and thank you!