The Truth About Marlee Matlin And Whoopi Goldberg

Marlee Matlin's Academy Award win for Best Actress in 1987 was historic because not only was she the youngest recipient of the award, but she was also the first deaf actor to win an Oscar, per The Hollywood Reporter. The veteran actor has long been outspoken about ableism in Hollywood. "[T]he roles, for the most part, are played by actors who are NOT disabled," Matlin told The Washington Post in 2017 while discussing the industry's casting of on-screen characters with disabilities. "Where is the authenticity there?"

In fact, before filming began on the critically acclaimed movie "Coda," Matlin threatened to walk away from the project when executives wanted to hire non-deaf actors to portray deaf characters. "If you go down that route, I'm out, because I don't want to be part of that effort of faking deaf," she recalled to The Guardian in 2021. "The West Wing" star was fed up with Hollywood's casting protocol. "Deaf is not a costume," Matlin said.

Long before Matlin took home an Oscar, she formed an unlikely bond with Henry Winkler. The "Happy Days" alum met Matlin's family when he came backstage after one of her performances as a child theater actor, per The Guardian. "The win reinforced what Henry Winkler told me when I was 12, that I should never give up doing what I love, despite the critics and naysayers," Matlin told THR while reflecting on her 1987 Oscar win. Winkler is not the only celebrity that Matlin is surprisingly close to. 

How Whoopi Goldberg helped Marlee Matlin

While discussing her prolific career, Marlee Matlin named both Henry Winkler and Whoopi Goldberg as being instrumental in her success. "I've had great mentors in my life," Matlin told People through an interpreter at the Producers Guild of America Awards on March 19. The "Coda" star mentioned how inspirational Goldberg had been. "She's gone through a great deal of breaking barriers. And she set an example for me as well," Matlin said. The actor also stressed how important it was to have a support network of friends and family.

Matlin and Goldberg worked together on the movie "The Player" in 1992, but their relationship predates that project. When Matlin won a Golden Globe for her work on "Children of a Lesser God" in 1987, she was overwhelmed by a scrum of photographers who jockeyed for her attention. The camera flashes and commotion was disorienting for Matlin. "[P]hotographers were screaming my name until Whoopi Goldberg flung her arms around me, gave me a squeeze, and said with no small irony to the crowd, 'Hey, guys, she's Deaf, she can't hear you,'" Matlin wrote in her 2009 book, "I'll Scream Later" (via ABC News).

In 2019, Matlin produced a short film starring a Deafblind man called "Feeling Through." Goldberg moderated a panel that included the film's director and Matlin, and described herself in opening remarks. "I'm a white woman with blonde curly hair ... and I'm not as cute as you are, but we're going to go ahead," Matlin said in response to her longtime friend.