When O’Donnell started the blog, the reader-comments section filled up with hate messages of the “You’re a fat dyke” variety. “There’s always going to be people who think you’re an asshole,” O’Donnell says. “Chances are, whatever they’ve written, I already believe about myself. Every dark thought, I’ve already had about myself. Everyone goes through that, thinking they’re unworthy, they’re talentless, they’re stupid, they’re fat.”
O’Donnell, mind you, sometimes has dark thoughts about others. “Pilates my ass,” read a recent post about Star Jones. “That’s how she said she lost 200 pounds,” O’Donnell says, her voice rising. “Here’s what annoys me about Star Jones. As a former fatty, she has an obligation to her tribe. And to write a book about how to be the perfect woman that she now is, and to leave out gastric bypass and the supposed gender-identity issues of your husband, it’s just like selling bullshit to the point that it’s sickening.” She shakes her head. “She pretends that she was never one of us. And she pushed away a plate of Oreos with Joy [Behar, co-host of The View]. They had new Double Stuf Oreos they had to eat obviously because they had a Nabisco deal at ABC, and Star goes, ‘I’ll just have one, because I have self-control.’ And I thought, Joy’s gonna say it. She’s gonna say, ‘You lying sack of shit, you can only eat one because you poop soup!’ Authenticity is the only thing that people want to buy. If you give them the choice between loving Star Jones lying or loving Star Jones telling the truth, they’re going to love Star Jones telling the truth.”
“Why isn’t Oprah on an island with Stedman? I would take him and go.”
O’Donnell and her four siblings grew up in a middle-class household in Commack, New York, raised by her homemaker mother, also named Roseann, and her father, Edward, an engineer for a defense corporation. Rosie adored her mother, and they bonded over two things, show tunes and Streisand.
When Roseann was dying, a young Rosie decided that she would become famous, reasoning that if Streisand’s mom were sick, Streisand would be able to go on the Tonight show and ask fans to send in money. “I thought fame and the fantasyland of movies would save me,” she wrote in her 2002 memoir Find Me. “I was certain it would protect me from scary dreams and dead mothers.”
O’Donnell did her first stand-up gig at 16 at an open-mike night at a Mineola club called the Round Table. She shakes her head. “If my kid at 16 said, ‘By the way, I’m going to Vinnie’s Yuk Yuk Palace with a bunch of 30-year-old men, I’d be like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s the fact that I had no parents giving me any kind of limits that allowed me to go do what I wanted to do.” (Rosie’s father maintained the household, but wasn’t emotionally there for the kids after his wife died, O’Donnell says.) O’Donnell dropped out of Boston University at 18 to work the club circuit, being picked up at airports by strangers from the clubs and staying in cruddy hotels. The break that launched her career was a 1984 appearance as a finalist on Star Search.
O’Donnell still dreams of her mother, she says. “The latest one was that she was alive and had a whole family of kids in their twenties,” she says. “My brothers and sisters and I pulled up to this nondescript suburban house and saw her through the window with these 20-year-old kids who were now her family. She had left us to be with them, and no one told us, and somehow we found her and were going to meet her and all of her children. It was intense.” A friend once asked O’Donnell if she would ever get over her mother’s death. “I remember thinking, No, I probably will not.” She shrugs. “I don’t know what you do.”
It is a cloudless July day, and the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn is sailing from New York for Nova Scotia. Some 2,200 giddy passengers are aboard for R Family Vacations. Excited kids of all hues are racing through the hallways or being photographed jumping into the pool by their doting same-sex parents. Founded in 2004, when Kelli and Kaminsky realized, after vacationing themselves, that there were no cruises for gay families, the operation is now in its third year. The first trip was to the Bahamas (that’s the one chronicled in All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise, which was received with a standing ovation when it was premiered at Sundance and has since won enthusiastic reviews), then came the Nova Scotia journey last summer. This summer, one ship will head to Alaska, and another will leave for the Galápagos in November. A Caribbean trip is set for February 2007.