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Whoopi Goldberg reveals mom's electroshock therapy after breakdown made her forget who her kids were

The longtime The View host reflected on her relationship with mom Emma Harris ahead of releasing memoir Bits and Pieces: My Mother, My Brother, and Me

Beatriz Colon
Beatriz Colon - New York
New York WriterNew York
May 2, 2024
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Whoopi Goldberg's mom was "always my world," however there was a time when she was growing up where they barely recognized each other.

When the longtime The View host was around eight years old, in the early 1960s, her mother Emma Harris, who passed away aged 78 in 2010, suffered from a mental breakdown.

At the time, studies around women's mental health were scarce, if non-existent, and countless women of the 60s were victims to harmful solutions to their mental health struggles – from overuse of prescription drugs to electroshock therapy – something the Sister Act actress' mom was a victim of.

Speaking with People ahead of the May 7 release of her memoir, Bits and Pieces: My Mother, My Brother, and Me, Whoopi looked back on the effects her mom's two-year hospitalization and electroshock therapy had on her and her late brother, Clyde K. Johnson, growing up.

It wasn't until years later that Ms. Harris, who was a teacher, admitted to her daughter that the medical intervention practically wiped her memory.

 She revealed: "My mother at one point when I got older … said, 'Can I tell you a secret?' I was like, 'Sure'... She said, 'I didn't know who you were when I got out of the hospital.'"

Whoopi Goldberg and mother Emma Johnson on March 29, 1986© Getty
The Oscar winner and her mother in 1986

"I'm sorry, what? I'm sorry, what?" Whoopi recalled thinking, and shared that her mother further told her: "Yeah, I had no idea who you were. I just knew I never wanted to go back to that hospital. So I had to do everything I could. If they said the sky was green, and I could see it wasn't green, and it was blue, I'd say, 'Yes, the sky is green.' 'Cause I never wanted it again.'"

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She further remembered: "I said, 'So you carried this for 40 years?' She said, 'Well, what else was I going to do?'"

Whoopi Goldberg with her tree at the 2nd Annual 'A Night of 100 Trees' Gala, benefitting the New York Special Olympics, held at Limelight in New York City, New York, 7th December 1983© Getty
Whoopi, pictured above in 1983, was born and raised in New York City

Whoopi went on to reflect on her mother's legacy and impact, noting: "Living without my mother, who was always my world, who had always been that center of gravity. Suddenly the center of gravity wasn't there."

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Ms. Harris – who was married to Whoopi's dad Robert James Johnson, who passed away in 1993 – died in August of 2010 after suffering from a stroke; Whoopi's brother Clyde similarly passed away five years later from a brain aneurysm.

(Original Caption) Los Angeles: Whoopi Goldberg holds her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Ghost March 25.© Bettmann

Further honoring her mom's legacy, Whoopi shared it lives on in the students she taught, and ultimately said: "They’re power people now. All of her kids are power people."

"They loved being with her because she was like a big kid. She wanted to know. She would say, 'Let's find out together.' … She was really something. She really was."

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