Ted Danson (lost video recordings of actor's blackface performance at Whoopi Goldberg's Roast; 1993)

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A photo of Danson in blackface, taken during the controversial 1993 roast.

Status: Lost

Ted Danson is best known as one of the lead actors from the long-running TV show Cheers. His performance of Sam Malone landed him ten Emmy nominations, of which he won two. Ever since he has had small roles in other television series and films.

Danson had a few notorious controversies in the early 1990s. He had an affair with actress Whoopi Goldberg which ultimately led to him getting a divorce from his second wife, Cassandra Casey Coates. During his relationship with Goldberg, he did a performance in blackface during a "roast" (a comedic routine where comedians jokingly take stabs at each other out of admiration).

The performance

The performance in question took place on October 8th, 1993, at the Friars Club Comedy Roast in the ballroom of the New York Hilton hotel. Wearing a typical old-fashioned minstrel costume and make-up, Danson made jokes about his sex life with Goldberg, racially mixed children, reportedly used the word "nigger" well over a dozen times in his dialogue and even ate watermelon at some point.

While the performance won Goldberg's blessing (saying it "took a whole lot of courage") who took credit for writing Danson's dialogue, many other attending African-American celebrities found the performance degrading and offensive. These included New York mayor David Dinkins who left early and talk show host Montel Williams who compared it to a "meeting of the Klan".

Danson would finally publicly apologize for the performance after his affair with Goldberg had run its course.


Many sources claim the performance was videotaped, with at least one mention of a closed-circuit camera showing the uncomfortable reaction among the black celebrity guests. However, aside from a few snapshots taken by members of the press, no footage of the performance has surfaced online or even on the wide media coverage.

It is speculated that Danson's publicists held it from being leaked out of not wanting it to damage his career any further than it already had. It is unknown if the tapes were destroyed if they really do exist (though most evidence strongly points to their existence).

The performance remains a piece of "treasure" by Danson's fans. He is now ashamed of it, however, which makes a release, official or unofficial, quite unlikely.

In the same year, radio host Howard Stern did a video parody of the controversy, where he himself wore similar blackface, glasses, hairdo and clothes as Ted Danson, with Sherman Hemsley as Whoopi Goldberg. This one skit is easily available but is not to be confused with the actual Danson footage (Ironically, Stern got similar controversy in later years when this skit resurfaced without the original context).

In 1999, the cable television network CineMax Reel Life released the documentary Let Me In.... I Hear Laughter: A Salute To The Friars, which tells the history of the club and its roasting scene. The documentary addresses the controversy surrounding Danson's roast, and plays an audio recording of the session's opening. Whoopi Goldberg can be heard laughing in the midst of applauses as Ted Danson walks on stage with blackface. Due to the nature of the event, video footage is replaced by a still picture of Danson and Goldberg from a news article about the roast., leaving an audio piece from the skit partially found.



The documentary Let Me In.... I Hear Laughter: A Salute To The Friars, in which audio from the event can be heard (at 37:44)


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