Roseanne Barr

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ABC had all the information. The network chose to place that information aside and hope for the best.

In a better-than-anyone-even-anticipated result, the Roseanne reboot dominated prime time on arrival, attracting millions of appreciative, nostalgic and downright curious viewers. Enthusiasts waxed rhapsodic that an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump was beating liberal Hollywood at its own game. The commander in chief even personally congratulated her on her ratings, which remain the former Apprentice host's benchmark for success. ABC quickly renewed the show for a second season.

All Roseanne Barr had to do was not tweet. Or at least not tweet something that, as a pioneering stand-up comedian and sitcom star—and as a 65-year-old woman—she knew darn well was an unequivocally racist remark. She failed. But not at making a "joke," as she claims comparing Obama aide Valerie Jarrett to the spawn of the Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes was supposed to be.

And so ABC's risky gambit blew up in its face Tuesday. It's biggest scripted hit of the season imploded, torpedoed by the titular star whose inarguably galvanizing presence provided the wind in Roseanne's lofty sails, until her lack of self-control sank the whole enterprise.

Alas, that wasn't all she wrote.

 

Roseanne Barr

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Despite a tweet about leaving Twitter before ABC Entertainment Group President Channing Dungey declared Roseanne officially canceled, Barr was back at it Tuesday night, retweeting supporters (many of whom had very strong "conservative" leanings) and insisting she's not racist, but rather was just acting like an "idiot" on Ambien. She also denied she was blaming Ambien, instruction someone who implied as much to "stop lying."

To which Ambien maker Sanofi replied, "People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication." 

While peeking into someone else's medicine cabinet has never done a house guest any good, being an "idiot" under the influence of a sleep aid may be an "explanation not an excuse," as Barr tweeted. Yet being exhausted or feeling a little loopy just means that stuff you'd in all likelihood still come up with clear-headed and on eight hours' rest has found an express route out of your brain.

And in so doing, she explained it all.

So that begs the question: What the hell happened to Roseanne Barr?

The answer is, a lot of stuff happened to her. She's had an incredibly fascinating life, and her entrée into the comedy world and what she managed to achieve meant a lot, to a lot of people. It still does, and probably still will in the future, though it will never be the same. Meanwhile, now she means all new things to certain people who are handily adopting her for their own agenda in light of the trumped-up debate now taking place about free speech and a nonexistent double standard.

There was a point to Roseanne 2.0, important social commentary that was struggling to be heard (unlike the 1988-'97 go-round, when it was heard loud and clear and widely applauded, especially in hindsight). And amid the hype, there was enough likability left in the character of Roseanne Conner and how Barr portrayed her that—even if you don't agree with her politics—still provided for some enjoyable, albeit conflicted, viewing.

We'll never know if the rest of the cast would've been able to shake the "we're back, wink" gloss that coated some of every episode had they returned for a second season. Barr, however, had slipped right back into her role like a comfortable slipper, a scenario that ultimately made far more sense than the arc of her character in real life. 

Roseanne, Laurie Metcalf, Roseanne Barr

ABC

Roseanne Barr, when she got her start as a stand-up comedian—crediting, like so many other famous names have, recently departed Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore for giving her a boost—was, like now, a tough, acid-tongued woman with blue-collar roots who'd been around and seen some stuff.

The daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, she was born in Salt Lake City, where her parents kept their religion a secret to better fit in with the heavily Mormon community in their working-class neighborhood. As she's said in various interviews, her mother would freeze and make her kids hide in the basement when the doorbell rang, still traumatized by the horrors of the Holocaust.

"You weren't supposed to think there," Barr later told The Guardian. "First of all it was frowned upon to be a girl, and second of all to be a fat, dark-haired girl who had no waist, and third to be a loudmouthed, short, fat, dark girl."

 

Barr suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was hit by a car at 16, and was institutionalized at Utah State Hospital for eight months. She got pregnant as a teenager and opted to put the child up for adoption. She and her daughter, Brandi, eventually reconnected.

She married Bill Pentland, a Colorado motel clerk, when she was 21 and, going from mountain cabin to 8'x46' trailer, they had three kids in just over three years.

Roseanne Barr, Bill Pentland

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They divorced in 1990, but Pentland wrote the foreward to Barr's 2011 book Roseannearchy: Dispatches From the Nut Farm, recalling that after about five years of traditional domesticity Barr "began to explore radical feminism and Wicca and went to work at a women's collective bookstore, staffed by the angriest bunch of ball-bustin' babes" he had ever met in his life. His "rad-lib" sister-in-law Geraldine—the inspiration for Laurie Metcalf's Jackie Conner—was living with them at the time, Pentland wrote, and she applauded Barr's evolution.

2011 was a different time than 2018, but even then Pentland noted that he didn't think Sarah Palin would have been so Sarah-Paliney "had there never been a Roseanne Conner."

So Barr built an act around her hardscrabble beginnings, armed with lots of opinions on the differences between men and women and the haves and have-nots. Also as you've heard many a comedian say, she truly made it once she scored her first-ever five minutes on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, in 1985.

Three years later, Roseanne premiered on ABC in all its groundbreaking glory. The Conner family was solidly working class, not your average how-do-they-afford-that-nice-house family that people were far more used to seeing on a network comedy. The show dealt with economic hardship and the pain of unemployment, sexual harassment on the job, substance abuse and teen sex. Eventually the show had multiple gay characters, and in the 1994 episode "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Barr shared a kiss with a lesbian character played by guest star Mariel Hemingway.

 

"The religious right was very upset, and there were other upset people," Hemingway recalled to The Hollywood Reporter in March. "When you're doing something, you're in it and you don't realize the impact that it will have. But then, it was several weeks later, and they were about to air it, and it was so controversial."

ABC almost didn't air it, but Barr demanded they stay the course. And they did.

''I like playing a guy like this without making him a knuckle-dragger,'' John Goodman told the Washington Post when the show first premiered. ''Plus I love working with Rosy—she makes me laugh so damn much...There's no acknowledgment of the fact that they are anything other than ordinary Joes, but I like to think of them as semiwitty and I like the fact that they enjoy each other's humor, because you will see that we crack up and that's the way it is in life. You make each other laugh."

Roseanne Cast

ABC/Dan Watson

Meanwhile, Barr's life off-screen was a tabloid fever dream. 

She battled behind the scenes for the Roseanne credit she rightly felt she deserved, telling Howard Stern in March that it was a gut punch to see her show premiere and have the credits read "created by Matt Williams," when the show's entire premise was based on her life. That, of course, led to her being painted as difficult or otherwise demanding and diva-like by the press.

Barr also underwent multiple cosmetic surgery procedures during the show's run and had a very public struggle with keeping her weight under control, at one point tipping the scale at 350 pounds. She eventually had a gastric bypass in 1998, telling People in 2007, "I had my entire digestive system removed, so I should look thinner."

Roseanne Barr, 2018 Golden Globes, Red Carpet Fashions

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

In 1991 she told a small gathering of therapists and members of the Survivors United Network, held at a church in Denver, that she was a survivor of incest. She said that she sought therapy after an event two years prior triggered repressed memories of suffering sexual abuse as a child, People reported at the time.

"This is the truth I unraveled: My mother abused me from the time I was an infant until I was 6 or 7 years old," Barr further told People. "She did lots of lurid things. She hurt me psychologically and physically." She also alleged that her father molested her till she was 17 and left home. (Through a lawyer, Barr's parents denied any and all allegations of abuse.)

After The Tonight Show made her a star, "I had people surrounding me who were abusive to me, who lied to me, made deals behind my back," she said. "The worse I was treated, the more loyal I was."

"Only in the last two years have I realized the consequences of keeping our secret," Barr continued. "I have lived the majority of my life in a flesh prison that I was always trying to blow up, break out of, whittle away. I tortured my body, smoking five packs of cigarettes a day and indulging in drug, alcohol and food abuse that had me weighing either 100 lbs. or 200 lbs. I was scratching and tearing at my body—mutilating myself. It was as if punishing my body would turn me into an angel of some sort, an angel that could transcend my own body—a body I hated because it was the holder of the truth, the secret."

In 2008 she told The Guardian that she and her father, who had since died, had forgiven each other and he still guided her from beyond. "We had, like, an understanding for a minute and it was forgiveness on both sides...Everybody does something they find abhorrent in someone else, so I forgive my dad for what he did and I hope my kids will do that for me." (She had talked about being a very un-present parent for son Jake and daughters Jessica and Jennifer until they were teenagers.)

Roseanne Barr, Tom Arnold

Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images

In 1990 she married Tom Arnold, who appeared regularly as Dan Conner's reliably unreliable pal Arnie on Roseanne, came on first as a writer and became a producer on the show a couple years in. He was then an executive producer from 1991 until 1994, when they divorced in spectacularly ugly fashion.

Barr (who became Roseanne Arnold for awhile and did a mud-wrestling themed shoot with her husband for Vanity Fair) alleged that Arnold was physically abusive, which he denied, and that he bilked her for as much money as he could get. He has forever insisted that she had him banned from ABC.

"I took all your money, and I ruined your career," Arnold accused her of thinking when they both were on The Howard Stern Show post-split, Barr in studio and Arnold by phone. "No, you didn't ruin my career, I'm still working," she replied. "You ruined your career."

Let's just say, Arnold's had a gleeful past few days on Twitter.

Barr went on to marry bodyguard Ben Thomas in 1995 and they have a now teenage son named Buck together.

Though the series finale of Roseanne in 1997 was simultaneously underwhelming and traumatizing due to the decision to reveal that Goodman's Dan had died of a heart attack, the family hadn't really won the lottery (a plot point that framed the entire final season) and Roseanne Conner was making up a lot of what you'd just seen for a book, history had been made. The bad ending hadn't spoiled all that had come before it.

The show itself was never nominated for a best comedy series Emmy, but Barr, Goodman and Laurie Metcalf all won for acting, Metcalf ultimately collecting three Emmys.

Roseanne "gave me a way to save my own life and the life of my children," Barr said on The Oprah Winfrey Show ahead of the finale. "And these great people who I learned from and had fun with and love, it was just awesome...But I did get to work things out in my head and nobody gets that kind of a chance. I got to be responsible for my work, which, you know, there's so few of us who get that."

"But you fought it, you fought it," Winfrey said, "and they did bad press about it, and you kept fighting 'cause you didn't give a hoot what they said. And you kept fighting." 

"I needed to for my own self," Barr said. "I needed to create a mother who was good."

Roseanne Barr

Scott Everett White/NBC

That was 21 years ago. The ensuing years are where it all gets confusing.

It's a fallacy to treat Barr now as simply a once-beloved talent who received blind, blanket admiration—like, say, Bill Cosby. She was purposely polarizing (plenty of folks washed their hands of her when she "sang" the national anthem in 1990), outspoken, sometimes obnoxious (just how much was subjective) and always pretty fearless. 

But all the crumbs that led to now are out there, just scattered far and wide over two decades.

 

Roseanne Barr, Johnny Argent

RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

She underwent her gastric bypass in 1998, after which she hosted her own talk show, The Roseanne Show, for two years. In 2002 she and Thomas divorced. She soon met her current boyfriend, Johnny Argent, when she ran a writing competition on her blog and he entered. They talked on the phone for a year before finally meeting. The resided together on a macadamia nut farm on the Big Island of Hawaii, hence her book, Dispatches From the Nut Farm.

"I like to shop, to buy cards, I like to take photographs, to grow things, to cook, to blog, and to talk to my boyfriend," Barr told The Guardian in 2008.

She continued on with her stand-up, filming myriad specials, but no plan for a return to television in a new scripted capacity ever stuck. 

In London to perform when she talked to The Guardian, she said, "Humanity is a failed experiment. But I think I'm God and I'd like to start over. I don't want to die, I just want everyone else to. I certainly would not be lonely. It would be exciting never having to listen to another person again but just my own self droning on and on. That's why I write a blog. And I read it too...I think I should be here alone to rethink the world, I do. I want these lesser humans gone."

The writer noted that it was hard to tell when Barr, who has studied Kabbalah and considers herself spiritual, was being serious or not. "I'm God because I have the power to control my mind," she added, somewhat assuaging the writer's concerns.

It was a month before Barack Obama was elected president and Barr scoffed at Sarah Palin, all of a sudden on the national stage after John McCain picked the Alaska governor as his running mate, calling herself a feminist. 

"She's a careerist. I had a time in my life too when I didn't stay at home with my kids because I was on a bigger mission," Barr said. "She'll pay for it later though. She'll get her karma...In the '60s we used to say if a woman ruled the world there would be no war. But that's not right. What we mean is a thinking, conscious woman, and there's no place for any of us in this world. To make it in a man's world takes a certain kind of woman. Sarah Palin is the kind of woman they want right now."

Now the image is re-emblazoned on people's brains, but back in 2009 it was very easy to not see Barr's truly bizarre photo shoot for Heeb magazine—a Jewish satirical publication that had the award-winning comedian pose in Hitler garb, complete with mustache, and take a sheet of burnt gingerbread "Jew cookies" out of an oven.

Creepy and offensive to most? Yes, but...Barr's Jewish, right? So it didn't mean what it looked like, but still...? Oh well, not worth thinking about too hard in the moment.

In 2011, she and Argent showed off their farm for the short-lived reality series Roseanne's Nuts. The following year, Barr announced she was running for the Green Party nomination for president with the slogan "Yes We Cannabis!," a nod to the intent to legalize and tax marijuana on the party platform. She lost the primary to Jill Stein, but then won the Peace and Freedom Party nomination.

Barr said that, since she wasn't on the general election ballot in her home state of Hawaii, she voted for Obama. More interested in shaking up the system than burning it down entirely, she had said at a Green Party debate in San Francisco, "For those people, if they could just leave the Democratic Party and register as Greens, they could still vote for Obama but it would be sending the Democratic Party itself a message it needs to hear."

Aside from sometimes radical political musings, her schismatic Twitter history began in earnest, however, in 2012, when she tweeted the address and home phone number of the parents of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, but was later acquitted of murder and manslaughter.

"At first I thought it was good to let ppl know that no one can hide anymore ... If Zimmerman isn't arrested I'll rt his address again – maybe go 2 his house myself," Barr wrote. (The Zimmermans sued her in 2014; a judge ruled in her favor in 2015.)

That made her a hero to some, her brazen ways seen as being used for good.

In December 2013, however, she reportedly tweeted that then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who is black, was "a man with big swinging ape balls." (Rice retweeted a person who, in response to Sara Gilbert denouncing Barr's Valerie Jarrett comment, pointed out Barr's heinous since-deleted comment about Rice.) 

Roseanne Barr

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

But optimism was running even higher then, and in 2014 Barr joined NBC's Last Comic Standing as a judge, where she remained for two seasons.

In 2015 she talked about regularly using medical marijuana to treat glaucoma and macular degeneration, and in February 2016, she said she would be investing in a pot dispensary in Santa Ana, Calif. She told the Orange County Register in a statement, "I'm proud to be a cultural pioneer at the forefront of another wave of progress! And we're proud of the city of Santa Ana as we continue to move into the era of recognizing cannabis as the natural, therapeutic, herbal substance medical science has proven it to be. Roseanne's Joint will be a responsible, contributing member of, and addition to, the community."

Regarding going into business with Barr, her partner and lawyer Aaron Herzberg told the paper, "We think it will bring credibility and a good name and frankly, good values." He added, "She's very spiritual, she's very holistic, she's extremely into natural remedies, and I can tell you that she believes very strongly that marijuana is medicine. And she wants us to educate patients in a way that I don't think many other dispensaries are doing and make it a safe and comfortable environment."

Following up a year later, after a dispensary called Bud and Bloom opened in place of Roseanne's Joint, Barr responded to the OC Weekly via Twitter, "It didn't work out for me and the investor." Herzberg had no comment as to why he didn't ultimately go into business with Barr.

 

In that span of time, however, Barr had unleashed some of her more fiery political opinions.

Talking to Dave Rubin on The Rubin Report that August, she compared the 2016 presidential campaign to a circus—"Greatest f--kin' P.T. Barnum on f--kin' drugs"—and said she loved "every f--kin' second of it."

When Rubin brought up that she didn't "love" Hillary Clinton, Barr said forcefully, "I like her. I've met and had dinner and lunch with her. I've spoken to her about women's issues and Jewish issues, and things like that. And charities, and how I don't think that charities should...they shouldn't have a f--king bank's worth of money if they're trying to help people." (She was referring to the by-then controversial Clinton Foundation, started after President Bill Clinton left office.)

"It's all just a double mind f--k," she concluded. "Double talking, Big Brother mind f--k, where the rich is gettin' way richer. ANybody who's contaminated with money is a filthy, dirty f--kin' rat...Capitalism is on its death bed." Barr was there to talk about what she described as "socialist solutions," while the system currently in place was "national socialism" (the misnomer claimed by the fascist Nazi party), based on "vampire capitalism."

So, Barr had a very big problem—as do many—with the fairly agreed-upon conclusion that politics have been soiled by money, that most politicians are more or less owned by Wall Street and lobbyists, the system is rigged, etc. Her language was strong, and faulty in places, but it aligned with a lot of people who preferred Bernie Sanders for president.

But at some point—damn that Twitter!—she also started tweeting about and retweeting, let alone just your average Trump boasts and questionable claims from sources such as InfoWars, but also someone who defended Pizzagate, the nutter conspiracy theory that had Democrats, including Hillary Clinton, running a child-trafficking ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor (don't worry, a "concerned" citizen with a gun showed up and found nothing in the basement). She also propagated the theory that there was a hit put out on DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was shot and killed in 2016.

She became virulently anti-Palestinian, conceivably in support of Israel but in that way that's going to help nobody in the end, and retweeted a graphic comparing Islam to Nazism. She dismissed the existence of transgender people.

Then, simply, there was her support of—and vote for—Donald Trump, which no matter what you think of him didn't seem to align with any of the socially minded concerns she had previously voiced.

Yet instead of grinding to a halt, the wheels at ABC were turning, and in May 2017, the planned reboot of Roseanne was officially announced.

"The Conners' joys and struggles are as relevant—and hilarious—today as they were then, and there's really no one better to comment on our modern America than Roseanne," Channing Dungey said in a statement.

Cue the brushing aside of major concerns and a lot of half-hearted jokes about Twitter-mad Roseanne Barr returning to her old stomping grounds as the excitement built over the return of all the major living cast members, including Johnny Galecki (who, in a twist of fate no one could have predicted, became the most successful sitcom star of them all after original Roseanne).

Then the promotional tour started, and Roseanne-in-person was still recognizable, unlike Roseanne-on-Twitter. 

"You were kind of the original crazy tweeter running for president," Jimmy Kimmelobserved when Barr and Goodman appeared together on Jimmy Kimmel Live in March.

Roseanne Barr, Jimmy Kimmel

Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images

"Yeah," she laughed, "Trump totally stole my act."

"And I've been paying women hush money for years!" quipped Goodman.

Barr reminded that the division between Roseanne Conner and sister Jackie over Rosie's vote for Trump was an accurate reflection of real-life families torn up over politics.

Asked if that was a problem in her own family, Barr said, "We had some pro-Hillarys and some pro-Trump, and there was a lot of fightin'." 

"Weren't you a good friend of Hillary Clinton's at one point?" Kimmel asked.

Feigning being startled, Barr acknowledged, "Yeah, I was." "I think you accused her of being a murderer on Twitter, didn't you?" Kimmel smiled, to which she exclaimed, "I did not!"

Meanwhile, Goodman's cracking up next to her, Kimmel actually having arranged for the Conner family couch, complete with multicolored blanket across the back, to serve as their seats.

Jimmy informed her he was going to find the tweet and she laughed, "I deleted it, so f--k you!"

"I had some disagreement with her foreign policy," Barr said demurely. "She had one!" Goodman interjected. Asked if he agreed, Kimmel said, "Never mind her foreign policy, how about Captain Wacko we've got running the country here." Admitting he was surprised by her allegiance, Barr said, "I'm still the same—you all moved! Y'all went so f--king far out you lost everybody...I mean, seriously, a lot of your audience, and including me...no matter who we voted for, we don't want to see our president fail." And then they both agreed that they didn't want Mike Pence to become president.

 

So, with everyone chuckling and having a good time, comedians on talk shows getting laughs, and Barr in the company of outspoken Trump critic Kimmel and Goodman, who's been playing now former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday Night Live... it all sort of read as absurdist comedy. What had come before was still getting a pass.

"People think this show is more political than it is. It's more about how a family deals with a disagreement like that. But I get it, it creates website clicks," Sara Gilbert, who helped set the whole reboot in motion at ABC and was serving as an executive producer in addition to reprising the role of Darlene Conner, explained to The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.

Barr, meanwhile, told THR that her kids had taken over her Twitter. "Well, I've wanted her off [Twitter] forever," Gilbert added.

Well, yeah. That would have helped, considering the rapturous response from some corners—and the numbers, which don't lie—when the show finally premiered. Think pieces abounded: Why more people should watch. Why no one should watch. Why the show is good but I'm not watching. What the show is trying to say—and what it isn't saying.

 

Roseanne, Roseanne Revival

ABC

But none of it matters anymore, because Barr couldn't control herself. On May 3, she tweeted—and not from the goodness of her heart—"follow @StormyDaniels so u can stay informed of what's important in our country! thanks!" Any seed of truth about what's important and what isn't was buried in Barr's mean-spirited intent and in the profane vitriol that ensued as Roseanne fans piled on.

Then, as Memorial Day became Tuesday morning, Barr tweeted "Chelsea Soros Clinton," a reference to 87-year-old liberal billionaire George Soros, who according to a particularly pervasive conspiracy theory is pulling all the Democratic Party strings, everywhere, and whom Barr referred to as a Nazi "who turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered in German concentration camps & stole their wealth." (The Hungarian-born businessman survived the Holocaust as a teenager, but another virulent conspiracy, born from an interview quote ripped out of context, has him conspiring with Nazis in Hungary to confiscate property from fellow Jews.)

But rather than bullying and conspiracy mongering, it was overt racism that ultimately did her in, Barr having already flung the descriptor of "Nazi" around to describe Parkland High School activist David Hogg a few months ago.

 

On Tuesday morning, folks who if nothing had happened probably just would've tuned into the Roseanne revival's second season this fall, woke up to the debacle over Barr's repulsive Valerie Jarrett tweet. ABC announced the show's cancellation in record time, Channing Dungey calling Barr's tweet "abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values."

As for the rest of her tweets...

Compartmentalizing only works for so long. What takes place on Twitter doesn't always reflect reality, but Roseanne Barr's abuse of the medium is about as real as it gets.

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