Sources say behind-the-scenes drama and her failing marriage led O'Donnell to quit
Her first run on The View was full of controversy and on-air clashes. Her return, seven years later, was hotly anticipated. But just six months later, Rosie O’Donnell is exiting again, leaving the ABC talk show without its resident spitfire.
Why? The 52-year-old comedian announced Friday that she’s refocusing her life after separating from wife Michelle Rounds.
“She’s focused on her kids now. This is the right thing for her to do,” her rep Cindi Berger tells PEOPLE. “The stress of a daily live talk show is a lot – and the separation is a lot, and you reach a certain point where you have to put health and family first, and she has.
“She had a wake up call in 2012, a near fatal heart attack, and her doctors told her, ‘You have to take care of yourself, you have five children.’ Reliving her heart attack as she went through the editing process of her [HBO] heart documentary was sobering for her.”
Still, a source with ties to The View tells PEOPLE that the show’s infamous behind-the-scenes drama also affected O’Donnell, 52.
When O’Donnell came back in September alongside new co-hosts Rosie Perez and Nicolle Wallace, she expected to be the “de facto moderator,” the show insider says. But View vet Whoopi Goldberg was also a head of the table.
“Once it became clear that Whoopi would not in any way be taking a backseat to her, it became all the more difficult for Rosie to reconcile the fact that she was so diametrically opposed to so many of the things Whoopi had to say, from her support of [Bill] Cosby to her position on foreign invasions, to more recent events,” the insider says.
“It was bad enough that Whoopi was sitting in what Rosie considered “her” seat … but to sit there and spout things that made Rosie’s blood boil, was almost too much to take,” the insider continues. “What made it even worse was that Rosie didn’t even really expect this from Whoopi – she thought the two of them might be somewhat aligned ideologically, and that Nicolle would be the one she’d clash with.”
But a source close to the show denies any tension between O’Donnell and Goldberg, 59, saying they’ve been friends for years.
“The show has been plagued by behind the scenes drama from the start,” the source tells PEOPLE. “This decision has nothing to do with that.”
As for the on-air arguing, “that’s all part of The View,” the source says. “It’s different women with different perspectives, and it’s not like it was [O’Donnell’s] first time. She knows what the show is, and the most important thing was that she put herself and her family first.”
Despite the problems on set, the show insider says she “would have hung in there” if her marriage hadn’t fallen apart.
O’Donnell and Rounds wed quietly in June 2012, going public in August after Rounds recovered from a rare tumor. They separated in November and will share custody of 2-year-old daughter Dakota. (O’Donnell also has four kids with her ex-partner Kelli Carpenter).
The View insider says the breakup “brought things to a crisis point for Rosie.”
“She’ weathered a break-up with kids before and knows the attention her family needs following something like this, and there’s just no way she’d continue to stick with a dysfunctional and unhealthy work situation in the face of what she needs to deal with at home,” the insider says. “It’s not worth it.”
• Reporting by LIZ McNEIL