Roseanne Teresa O'Donnell is a comedienne, actress, and talk show host. She was born in Commack, New York (Long Island). Her brother, Daniel O'Donnell, is a member of the New York legislature.
O'Donnell began her acting career doing stand-up comedy around the East Coast, and was soon cast as Maggie O'Brien on the Nell Carter sitcom Gimme a Break. Her heavy-set appearance and tomboyish, husky New York accent stood her apart from other actresses and comediennes. She hosted the VH1 stand-up comedy series Stand-Up Spotlight in the late 1980s, and eventually was cast as the lead in her own sitcom in 1992, called Stand by Your Man. It was quickly cancelled from lack of viewers.
In the early 1990s O'Donnell starred in a string of comedy films including A League of Their Own, Another Stakeout and Sleepless in Seattle. She was highly acclaimed for her performances, but quickly lost that popularity by appearing in a string of flops in the mid 1990s. These included Car 54, Where Are You?, The Flintstones and Exit to Eden.
Her popularity then rose again as she took roles in less commercially successful but highly acclaimed films like Now and Then, Beautiful Girls and the children's movie Harriet the Spy. In 1996 she was given her own daytime talk show, called, appropriately enough, The Rosie O'Donnell Show. The show proved extremely successful as O'Donnell was dubbed "The Queen of Nice." Having all manner of entertainment performers on her show, she also brought on various charitable projects, earning millions of dollars for various charities.
Children's charities were a clear favorite of O'Donnell, and she began to adopt children to raise, eventually adopting four.
In the year 2000 O'Donnell partnered with the publishers of McCall's to revamp the magazine as Rosie's McCall's (or, more commonly, Rosie). Rather than cover the magazine with thin models and fill it with stories about how to be more beautiful, she opted for stories about depression, breast cancer and foster care. In this, she continued her tradition of standing up for what she believed in.
In 2002 O'Donnell decided to stop working on her talk show, favoring a return to stand-up comedy. Her show, which was to still be called The Rosie O'Donnell Show, was to be hosted by comedienne Caroline Rhea. Just before quitting, O'Donnell proved rumors to be true when she came out of the closet as a lesbian. (In fact, within the gay community this was common knowledge.) She had various reasons for doing so, including the need to put a familiar and beloved face with homosexuality, but her primary reason was more important. As a lesbian adoptive mother (with a long-time lover) she was infuriated that adoption agencies, particularly in Florida, were refusing adoptive rights to able and loving gay parents. She hoped to educate viewers around the world on this subject.
After leaving her show and coming out, O'Donnell underwent an image change. She returned to stand-up comedy, and within her first few shows made fun of various celebrities (among them former comedienne-turned-fashion critic Joan Rivers). She also received what was considered by many to be an unflattering, somewhat masculine haircut (remniscent of Cyndi Lauper's hair in the 1980s.) The tabloid press again picked up on her life, claming that she had abandoned the "queen of nice" image. O'Donnell pointed out that her stand-up routine had always been very political and abrasive, and that her haircut was a personal choice. She eventually claimed that she had cut her hair in imitation of Boy George, in hopes that he would allow her to produce his stage show in the United States. If that was the true motive, it proved successful.
In late 2003 O'Donnell entered into a massive legal battle with the publishers of Rosie magazine. They claim that the fall of the magazine (and its eventual shutdown) was due to O'Donnell's uncooperative (and allegedly rude and violent) behavior at the magazine's offices. They claim that by removing herself from the magazine's publication she was in breach of contract. O'Donnell claims that there was no way she could conscionably continue to be a part of the magazine because they were steering away from her vision and demanding that content be printed that she did not agree with.
The trial received massive press coverage. O'Donnell would often give brief press interviews outside of the courtroom responding to various allegations. Of note was a former magazine colleague who testified that O'Donnell said to her on the phone that "people who lie die of cancer."