The special will reflect on the characters that made the actress/comedian famous.
By TERRY MORROW
Staring age 50 in the face has Whoopi Goldberg taking stock.
"This is new territory for me, this aging thing, the idea of suddenly being eligible for AARP, whoa!" said the 49-year-old actress.
And, in this time of personal reflection, Goldberg is revisiting some characters that garnered her critical attention years ago. Her special, "Whoopi: Back to Broadway -- The 20th Anniversary," airs at 10 tonight on HBO.
When she first made her mark more than two decades ago, critics and audiences didn't know what to make of Goldberg. There she was -- a thin, dreadlock-wearing, young black woman in baggy clothes and wire-rimmed glasses.
Her one-woman show had her weaving in and out of characters. One minute she was Fontaine, a male dope smoker prone to political rants; the next, she was a little black girl who dreams of growing up to have beautiful long blond hair.
For the 20th-anniversary special, in which she re-teams with Mike Nichols to produce, Goldberg reprises Fontaine, who's commenting on 9/11, and a handicapped woman who found romance.
In between those characters, Goldberg has sandwiched a new creation -- a Southern woman dealing frankly and uncomfortably with menopause.
During a telephone chat with reporters to talk about her special, Goldberg reflects on her own aging, or rather, coming of age in midlife. She doesn't recognize the latest acts on the radio anymore, and shopping at places like The Gap can be a trying experience for a middle-aged body.
Those kinds of awkward life changes are mirrored in the special.
As one ages, "you have to find ways to empower yourself," she said.
"You have to find a way to move forward and not get stuck in lethargic territory. The loss we will suffer in our lethargy ... [is] going to be so big-picture, so long-term, that it frightens me.
"I wanted to shake things up a little bit. I hope maybe that's what people get from the show."
The three-time divorcee, who has a daughter and is a grandmother, says she's already becoming more mellow. In her career, she embraces what she has accomplished, not her failures.
Goldberg also has found fame in movies such as "The Color Purple" and "Ghost" -- for which she became only the second black woman to win an acting Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress. (The first was Hattie McDaniel, who won in that category for her work in "Gone With the Wind.") And Goldberg was the first woman to host the Academy Awards.
She's not ashamed to do television, even game shows or use the small screen to speak her mind on topical issues. "Whoopi," her short-lived NBC sitcom, had her playing an opinionated liberal who often annoyed her more conservative peers.
"The thing I wanted to prove to myself [is] that I had longevity," she said, "and 20 years says longevity. I am the person I wanted to be.
"I am the woman I hoped to grow to be. I can get lots better. I have a good family. I have a good life. I have a good soul and a good heart. Those are all the things I hoped for in my life."