Top 100 - 2011

Rosie O’Donnell

Rosie O’Donnell shows us that popular television can be an instrument of learning and exploration. Rosie has a long history on television, in movies (Sleepless in Seattle, A League of Their Own) and in standup. What we have always like about Rosie is that she’s a no nonsense truthsayer. She says it like it is, even if that’s sometimes unpopular. Which brings us to her appearance on Who Do You Think You Are?, the television series that follows celebrities around as they trace their roots. Cameras follow Rosie as she traces her maternal side to Canada, where her ancestors landed, and then back to Ireland where they left a workhouse to take assisted passage. While readers of Irish America are familiar with this episode in Irish history, it’s still shocking how the story of the Famine is still little known. Rosie was visibly moved as she toured the workhouse, especially where the children slept in the attic on straw beds, and heard about the devastating separations, as families were split up – husband from wife, mother from child, brother from sister.

See if you can still access the show on Primetime on Demand or on NBC.com or catch a rerun. It shows what happens when you are confronted with your history. In Rosie’s case, she said the attic and the workhouse reminded her of a concentration camp. It bought new meaning to her own life and she realized that if it wasn’t for the suffering her forbearers had endured, she wouldn’t be here. She said that she believes they lived on in her that and she couldn’t wait to tell the story to her children.

So for exploring the history of her Irish roots and being an instrument of awareness to the general public we celebrate Rosie as one of the Top 100.