Rosie O’Donnell is not easily ignored. She’s loud, brash, opinionated, and more than a little obnoxious at times. That’s why we loved her at first as a stand-up comic, and then as an actress in movies like A League of Their Own and Sleepless In Seattle.
But her biggest success would come on television as a talk show host. On the daytime The Rosie O’Donnell Show, she turned her lifelong obsession with movies, musicals and celebrities into a one hour love-in that lasted six years. She was called the Queen of Nice, which seems incredible when you consider her image today.
As co-host on The View, she proved anything but nice, drawing huge ratings with almost daily controversies. We loved her. We hated her. We couldn’t stop talking about her. And now she’s back at The View, but for how long? As the controversies continue to mount, there are persistent rumours of on-set friction involving O’Donnell. Same ol’ Rosie, it seems.
While her fate remains unclear, let’s take a look back at some of O’Donnell’s most memorable on-air moments, arguments and controversies:
1999: Rosie Vs. Tom Selleck
Some might forget that Rosie O’Donnell was once known for being nice. Her daytime talk show was a celebration of celebrities and Hollywood. But not long after the Columbine shooting, Rosie changed her approach – if only for one episode. Her guest was Tom Selleck, and O’Donnell took exception to the Magnum P.I. actor’s recent commercial for the National Rifle Association. What ensued was 10 minutes of awkward, uncomfortable debate on automatic weaponry.
1996. – 2002: Rosie Vs. LGBT Community
O’Donnell drew the ire of the LGBT community with her running Tom Cruise gags on The Rosie O’Donnell Show in which she claimed she had a crush on him. Several gay activists felt the joke was deceptive, making her look straight when she was a closeted lesbian.
Rosie countered the accusation by asserting she only wanted Tom to mow her lawn or fetch her a lemonade, not have sex with her. And on her final show in 2002, Tom showed up to do just that.
2003: Rosie Vs. The Catholic Church
While in semi-retirement after her talk show wrapped, Rosie didn’t exactly stay away from controversy. In an interview with Phil Donahue, she took aim at the Catholic Church over its handling of sex abuse charges. “I hope the Catholic Church gets sued to the end of time,” she said, adding they should use the golden toilets at the Vatican to pay the victims. Many Catholics called her comments bigotry.
2006: Rosie Vs Star Jones
Before replacing her on The View, O’Donnell had been a staunch critic of Jones’ assertion that she lost a huge amount of weight through diet and exercise. In several interviews, including one with The New Yorker, O’Donnell claimed Jones was lying to her fans and suggested that she had actually had a gastric bypass.
Jones was none too thrilled, even though she eventually confessed it was all true. Being caught out in that lie was said to have been a factor in her leaving The View in 2006.
2006: Rosie Vs. Kelly Ripa
O’Donnell hit the ground running on The View, quickly becoming the headline-grabbing Queen of Controversy. She called talk show host Kelly Ripa ‘homophobic’ when she remarked ‘I just don’t know where that hand’s been’ after guest host Clay Aiken jokingly put his hand over her mouth. Trouble was, Aiken didn’t officially come out till 2008. Ripa was so angry about O’Donnell’s remark, she called The View in mid-show and the argument was on!
Rosie Vs. Donald Trump (2006)
This fight went on for years. But it all started in 2006, when Trump reinstated the winner of his Miss USA Pageant after she had apparently violated some pageantry rules. Rosie didn’t think Trump should be judging young people on moral issues (or issues of marital fidelity or financial matters) because of his own bad track record. The public fight was afoot, with Trump taking the argument deeper into the gutter by calling O’Donnell a ‘pig’, a ‘loser’, and threatening to steal away her girlfriend. Yikes.
Rosie On 9/11
O’Donnell’s hatred of the Bush administration frequently went to extremes. On several occasions on The View, she pushed her belief that 9-11 was a conspiracy. “I do believe it’s the first time in history that fire has melted steel,” she said, drawing all manner of criticism.
2006: Rosie Vs. The Chinese Community
After an alleged drunken appearance by Danny DeVito, Rosie joked about how the story was being covered all over the world. She proceeded to use a series of ‘ching-chongs’ to imitate Chinese broadcasters, drawing the ire of the Chinese community with the slur. She apologized, though some felt her apology was a little half-hearted.
2007: Rosie Vs. American Idol
O’Donnell was a fan of American Idol. But even she was put off when singer Antonella Barba remained on the competition after racy photos of her appeared on the internet. O’Donnell questioned why the singer was allowed to stay, yet Frenchie Davis was kicked off four seasons earlier for working on an adult web site. “I think it’s racist,” Rosie said, going on to claim that Davis’ weight might have also been a factor. American Idol denied the claim in a nasty release that seemed more interested in criticizing O’Donnell’s character than addressing the issue.
2006. – 2007: Rosie Vs. Elisabeth Hasselbeck
These two View stars often confronted each other, and heated debates usually involved politics and the Iraq War. The biggest moment – which generated some of the show’s largest ratings – came in May, 2007 when Rosie brought up the Iraqi citizens who had been killed in the war by American involvement, asking ‘Who are the terrorists?’. Conservatives went ballistic, claiming Rosie was calling American soldiers terrorists. When Rosie complained later that Hasselbeck did nothing to defend her from conservative critics, Hasselbeck told her to ‘defend her own insinuations’. O’Donnell later claimed this confrontation was a set-up by the show’s producers, and quit.
2011: Rosie and Oprah
O’Donnell returned to the talk show format with The Rosie Show on Oprah Winfrey’s new network. Rosie was supposed to be the savior for OWN, but it never happened. The press had a field day covering the show’s low ratings, and enemy Donald Trump predicted it would fail. And it did. It was cancelled after only five months.
2012: Rosie and Star Make Nice
Leave it to Rosie to cause The View all manner of bad press without even being on the show. In an interview on The Rosie Show, Jones and O’Donnell publicly made up. Rosie also got Jones’ to dish on her recent return visit to The View, with Jones calling the interview an ‘ambush’.
If you’re keeping score, that Rosie interview reopened two controversies, and started a new one. Good work.
Who would have thought Rosie would return to The View this year? It seemed astounding considering all the bad blood. Yet, nobody could question Rosie’s ability to generate much-needed press. Heck, Rosie hadn’t even appeared on the show, and the departed Elizabeth Hasselbeck was already earning headlines by criticizing the network’s decision to take O’Donnell back.
2014: Rosie Vs. Ray Rice
Hitting the ground running, O’Donnell started her new View gig this fall by weighing in on the Ray Rice spousal abuse case. She said she was appalled at the football player hitting his wife, but she understood that someone who played a violent sport might not be able to turn off the violence in private. The co-hosts and conservative critics were ready once again to debate her every word.
Ongoing: Rosie Vs. The View
Rumours continue to swirl that O’Donnell’s newest stint on The View will be short-lived.
Multiple reports claim O’Donnell is a rude malcontent behind-the-scenes who is upset that Whoopi Goldberg remains the show’s moderator. Both creator Barbara Walters, O’Donnell, and The View have denied the claims. Ultimately, the ratings may end O’Donnell before her own self-destructive behaviour does, as they haven’t improved since she returned.