Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg Actually Broke Up Before That Infamous Roast, He Says
It wasn't the backlash to the Cheers star's racist jokes that ended their relationship.
Ted Danson and Whoopi Goldberg's high-profile eighteen-month romance first made headlines for contributing to the end of Danson's marriage to second wife Cassandra Coates. However, their story took an even more controversial turn in 1993 during the infamous Friars Club roast, for which the Cheers starred donned blackface, that appeared to precede the end of their relationship by just weeks. Years later, though, Danson revealed that the timeline was not what it appeared to the public and that the co-stars had actually broken up before the backlash to the roast. Read on for a look back at their relationship, the surprising truth about when they split, and Danson's reason for showing up to honor his ex.
Danson and Goldberg's affair made headlines.
Danson and Goldberg first crossed paths in late 1988 on The Arsenio Hall Show, during which Danson—the show's first guest—called Goldberg "a very sexy and very funny lady" ahead of her entrance, after host Arsenio Hall made a comment that women couldn't be funny and beautiful at the same time. However, it wasn't until they were cast together on the 1993 film Made in America that their romantic feelings blossomed.
At the time Danson wasn't just a household name from his monumental run on Cheers—he was also a married man and father of two. Rumors of their affair soon made tabloid headlines and an expensive divorce followed. Without a prenuptial agreement, the actor was reported by The Telegraph to have settled with Coates to the tune of $30 million.
Danson was lambasted for his appearance at Goldberg's roast.
In the wake of Danson's marriage ending, he and Goldberg kept a low profile until October 1993, when the New York Friars Club, known for its raucous and boundary-pushing roasts, hosted a special event for the Sister Act star. Danson appeared in blackface makeup to deliver a monologue that included racial slurs, explicit jokes, and eating watermelon. The stunt made a number of attendees uneasy, leading Goldberg to defend Danson, saying at the event (per Roger Ebert), "Let's get these words all out in the open. It took a whole lot of courage to come out in blackface in front of 3,000 people. I don't care if you didn't like it. I did."
The event made headlines amid a preexisting national conversation around issues of political correctness. In a press conference that followed, Goldberg continued to claim that she saw no issue with Danson's monologue. "We were not trying to be politically correct," she said, per The Baltimore Sun. "We were trying to be funny for ourselves."
Danson later revealed they had already split.
Despite standing by each other during the media firestorm that followed the roast, the pair announced their separation in a Nov. 5, 1993 statement. "We would like to set the record straight in regards to our relationship," the statement read, as reported by Variety. "We are no longer romantically involved. We look forward to working together again in the future and hope that we may do so without the kind of media scrutiny we have been subjected to over the past year."
While a later report suggested that Danson broke up with Goldberg because his parents disapproved of him leaving his wife for her, in the public eye, the breakup appeared inextricably tied to the roast and the media circus that had surrounded their relationship from the start.
Only years later, in a 2011 interview with NPR's Fresh Air, did Danson disclose that his romantic relationship with Goldberg had already ended when they entered the Friars Club in 1993. The actor further revealed that he had only performed at the roast due to a contractual obligation. "We were no longer actually going together at that moment and we had tried to back out of, you know, of doing this, and they said no, no, no, you have to contractually, you have to," The Good Place actor explained.
Their friendship never recovered.
Despite expressing a desire to work together again, not even a friendship between Goldberg and Danson could be salvaged. And they both moved on quickly. She married actor Lyle Trachtenberg in 1994 (they divorced a year later), while Danson wed current wife Mary Steenburgen in 1995.
In a 2018 profile of Danson in Closer Weekly magazine, Goldberg shared that they had not stayed close, lamenting that "the loss of his friendship hurts a great deal" and that Danson was the one ex that she had not stayed in touch with. "I'm friends with almost every man I've gone out with, except this man," she said.
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