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ROSIE!
HOW A SAD KID LEARNED TO LAUGH BIG

Comic actress Rosie O'Donnell wasn't always the funny lady you see on TV today.

As a child she was "kind of shy," she said in a recent interview. "My nickname was Dolly Bloomer Bottom. I didn't like it."

It wasn't until she reached high school that she blossomed -- she was homecoming queen and class president before graduating in 1980. She was also, not surprisingly, class clown.

Rosie's sense of humor was a result of her struggle to cope with an almost unbearable tragedy: the loss of her mom when she was 10.

Rosie says her father, perhaps because he couldn't deal with his grief, discouraged Rosie and her siblings -- two older brothers and a younger sister and brother -- from expressing theirs. Not allowed to cry or be openly sad, Rosie learned to disguise her sorrow in humor and laughter.

Perhaps because her home was unhappy, Rosie loved school.

"I loved school lunches, especially pizza day," Rosie recalled. "Gym was my favorite class. My gym teacher, Ms. Greenwald, was always fun. She had a warm, mothering smile."

Rosie was always certain that her dream of fame and fortune would someday come true. In her teens she started doing stand-up comedy at a friend's brother's comedy club. She got her first national exposure in 1984 when she won on "Star Search," a TV talent show.

Soon after that, Rosie moved to Los Angeles, where she was discovered. She made her TV debut on the NBC sitcom "Gimme a Break." And her appearance in two movies, "A League of Their Own" and "Sleepless in Seattle," let the world know about this funny lady. Her own talk show followed.

Though at 35 Rosie's all grown up, she's still a kid at heart. In fact, she almost prefers the company of kids to adults because, she said, "kids are honest. They tell you just what they think."

Two years ago, she adopted a baby boy, Parker. She also founded the For All Kids Foundation to raise money for kids' charities. Earlier this year she published "Kids Are Punny" (Warner Books, $10), a sweet, funny collection of jokes sent by kids to her talk show. Book profits go to charity.

It means a lot to Rosie that kids be encouraged to dream. Her advice: "Believe in yourself, never give up, and know that everything is possible."

-- Chicago Tribune

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