1970 Humor Heals
After her parents divorce, DeGeneres, 13, uses her comedic talents to help her mother Betty recover. “I was helping [my mother] cope with a broken heart. It brought us closer together and made me realize the power of humor,” DeGeneres tells Teen People in 2006.
- Teenage Trauma
DeGeneres and her mother leave New Orleans for the small town of Atlanta, Texas. Her older brother Vance, 18, stays in New Orleans with their father, Elliott, an insurance salesman. In Texas, DeGeneres is secretly molested by her new stepfather as her mother struggles with breast cancer. After she graduates high school and moves back to New Orleans, she finally tells her mother the truth.
- circa 1977 Sibling Rivalry
Brother Vance hits New Orleans’ New Wave rock scene and attracts the attention of local girls. “Everybody knew who he was,” DeGeneres later tells PEOPLE. “That’s what motivated me to do something, because I watched him get all this attention and glory.” After a semester at the University of New Orleans, she drops out to pursue comedy.
DeGeneres, 21, develops a relationship with Kathy Perkoff, 23, a poet. “They were two very creative people, crazy and young and very much in love,” Perkoff’s sister Rachel remembers. The pair’s happiness is abruptly cut short when Perkoff dies in a car accident. Afterwards, DeGeneres writes her first monologue, “A Phone Call to God,” about mortality, and performs it at her first stand-up job, emceeing at a New Orleans comedy club. Her performance wins her the 1984 Showtime’s Funniest Person in America award.
- 1982 On the Road
DeGeneres begins the first of many tours, criss-crossing the country to perform in small bars and clubs. “You have to be really, really tough-skinned,” she tells W. “There’s lots of traveling, lots of being by yourself, lots of really rude drunk people. You’re not just in big cities; you’re in small towns, mini malls, strip malls…lots of places where, literally, the soup of the day got top billing. There would be a chalkboard on the sidewalk and it would say: SOUP OF THE DAY: BROCCOLI. AND ELLEN DEGENERES.”
DeGeneres becomes the first female comedian Johnny Carson invites for a chat on the couch onThe Tonight Show. “I’m sitting on this mattress infested with fleas [in 1980], and I thought, ‘I’m going to do this on Johnny Carson, and I’m going to get called over to the couch, and I’ll be the first woman in history ever to get called over,’” she says on Today. “I had created that experience because I wanted it.”
- 1989 August 27 Let’s Play Secretary
DeGeneres expands her repertoire to television with the Fox sitcom Open House, which features her as Margo Van Meter, a sparky receptionist at a L.A. real estate firm. The show lasts one season, but it introduces DeGeneres’ observational, oddball sense of humor to Hollywood execs. “In Open House I was trying to be this goofy character,” she tells theSeattle Post-Intelligencer. “She was so over-the-top and so weird.”
March 29 Star of the Small Screen
DeGeneres finds her niche in the ABC sitcom TheseFriends of Mine as bookstore employee Ellen Morgan. The show, which costars Jeremy Piven and Joely Fisher, is revamped in its second season as Ellen. It enjoys huge success and earns DeGeneres four Outstanding Lead Actress Emmy nominations, a writing Emmy win, and three Golden Globe nods in its five-year run.
April 14 “Yep, I’m Gay”
DeGeneres publicly comes out on the cover of Time, making her TV’s first openly gay star. Conservative Rev. Jerry Falwell proclaims her “Ellen DeGenerate,” while the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation later gives her a special honor. “I didn’t choose to be anything other than a comedian,” she tells Time. “I just happen to be gay, and I didn’t feel like keeping it a secret, so I announced it. It all turned into this whole big political thing.”
April 30 Ellen Comes Out
A record 42 million people tune in as DeGeneres’ TV persona “comes out” on Ellen that features Oprah Winfrey. After religious groups protest the show, ABC cancels Ellen in 1998. “I tried to incorporate educational things about what people actually go through when they’re coming out, and it wasn’t funny,” DeGeneres tells the New York Times. “Because it’s not funny.”
- 1997 May 05 Ellen and Anne
Actress Anne Heche, 27, and DeGeneres, 39, who met at the Vanity Fair post-Oscars party in March, announce their relationship to PEOPLE. “When I saw Ellen across the room, I just, like, swung across on the chandelier, and dropped down beside her. Our souls connected,” Heche tells Oprah. “I don’t feel like I’m gay,” adds Heche, who has been with men in the past. “I just feel like I’m in love.”
- 1999 On the Silver Screen
DeGeneres appears in two movies – Ron Howard’s Edtv, and The Love Letter. Edtv, starring Matthew McConaghey, is a critical success, but The Love Letter is forgettable.
- 2000 August 18 The End of the Affair
After 3½ years together, Heche and DeGeneres announce that they’ve broken up. Heche is found behaving strangely on the outskirts of Fresno, Calif., and is briefly hospitalized. The following year, she marries cameraman Coleman (Cooley) Laffoon.
October Mama Approves
DeGeneres quickly finds new love. Her mother Betty tells the New York Post that DeGeneres has a new girlfriend: 31-year-old actress/photographer Alexandra Hedison. “As a mother, I’m just happy to see my child happy,” Betty says, “so much has happened to Ellen, she’s been so devastated.”
- 2001 September 24 Ellen, Part II
DeGeneres plays another lesbian named Ellen in CBS’ The Ellen Show. “A lot of the humor on sitcoms comes from being sarcastic and mean-spirited,” she tells The New York Times. “I just have never liked that. I like things that are funny because they’re silly or because they’re smart.” Her show is scheduled Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and is canceled three months later.
November 04 A Spoonful of Ellen
The Emmys are delayed twice after 9/11, but CBS and the Academy promise a show that will “reaffirm the spirit of the American people.” In her second turn hosting, DeGeneres is lauded for her deft, sensitive performance. “I felt it was important for me to be here tonight,” she says during the telecast, “because what would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?” DeGeneres gets a standing ovation at the close of the ceremony.
- 2003 May 30 The Life Aquatic
DeGeneres voices Dory, a neurotic fish with a memory problem, in Disney’s Finding Nemo. The movie grosses more than $860 million worldwide and wins Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. “I wrote it completely with [Ellen] in mind,” Nemo director Andrew Stanton tells the Chicago Sun-Times.
September 08 Comeback Kid
The Ellen DeGeneres Show launches DeGeneres back into the national spotlight. Her dance moves, A-list guests and deadpan comebacks earn her multiple Daytime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Host. “I want the show to reach people and to be something positive,” she tells W. “[in 1998], I lost my show, I lost my entire career, and I lost everything for three years. I got to learn that I was strong enough to start over again.”
November 08 Hawking AmEx
American Express signs DeGeneres as one of its spokespeople for a global ad campaign. Photographer Annie Leibovitz shoots the print ads, and humorous TV commercials feature DeGeneres dancing and working with animal colleagues.
Just as their relationship is ending DeGeneres, 46, and girlfriend Hedison are featured on the December cover of the gay lifestyle magazine Advocate. At the VH1 Big in ’04 awards on Dec. 1, actress Portia de Rossi, 31, and DeGeneres click, and the two newly single actresses connect.
- 2005 June Makeup and Revelations
DeGeneres lands on the cover of fashion magazine Allure with the headline, “The Comedy and the Tears.” She publicly reveals her stepfather’s sexual abuse for the first time: “It’s important for teenage girls out there to hear that there are different ways to say no. And if it ever happens to them, they should tell someone right away.”
September 18 A Gracious Host
DeGeneres hosts the 57th Annual Emmy Awards a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina. She keeps the evening respectful but light, starting with her opening monologue: “This is the second time I’ve hosted the Emmys after a national tragedy, and I just want to say that I’m honored, because it’s times like this that we really, really need laughter. And be sure to look for me next month when I host the North Korean People’s Choice Awards.”
February 25 Oscar Calls
DeGeneres is tapped to emcee the 79th Annual Academy Awards at Kodak Theatre, the second woman (Whoopi Goldberg was first) ever to host the show solo – and the first to do so in pants. Her performance gets mixed reviews.
March She Does Menswear Right
DeGeneres appears on the cover of W, but refuses to wear a dress. “I don’t want to apologize for who I am,” she says. “I usually wear Jil Sander, or I wear Marc Jacobs, or I wear Viktor & Rolf…I love clothes…You know, I’m not wearing Kmart.”
June 16 More Emmys for Ellen
At the Daytime Emmys, DeGeneres’ show wins six trophies, including her fourth straight win for Outstanding Talk Show and third for Outstanding Talk Show Host, beating Rosie O’Donnell and The View. In 2008, she wins her fourth consecutive Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show Host.
August 16 Ellen Marries Portia
DeGeneres, 50, and girlfriend Portia de Rossi, 35, marry at their L.A. home. Their intimate ceremony comes after a judicial ruling that struck down California’s laws against gay marriage. “What can I say? I’m the luckiest girl in the world,” says DeGeneres. In November, Californians vote to ban same-sex marriage, setting the stage for a court battle over the legitimacy of marriages like DeGeneres. “I was saddened beyond belief,” she says of the ban.
September Ellen Named Latest CoverGirl
On an episode of her talk show, DeGeneres announces that she is the “new face of Cover Girl.” While striking an exaggerated model-like pose, she then explains, “That’s the first thing they teach you when you’re a CoverGirl.” The 50-year-old host, who appears in ads in January, admits, “It’s a very cool thing, I’m honored and the photo shoot was ‘easy, breezy, beautiful … CoverGirl.’”
September Ellen Replaces Paula on Idol
When judge Paula Abdul decides to leaveAmerican Idol, DeGeneres steps onto the judges’ panel with Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi. “Hopefully I’m the people’s point of view because I’m just like you,” she says. “I’m looking at it as a person who is going to buy the music and is going to relate to that person.”
July Another Idol Farewell
Months after Simon Cowel announces his departure from American Idol, DeGeneres follows suit after just one season on the judges’ panel, citing that the show “didn’t feel like the right fit for me.” “I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings,” she says.
Ellen Lee DeGeneres was born January 26, 1958 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was the daughter of an insurance salesman and a working mother who were divorced when DeGeneres was a teenager. When she was growing up she dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but she gave up the idea because she was “not book smart.” Instead, she waited tables, sold vacuum cleaners, painted houses, worked as a legal secretary.
DeGeneres’ older brother, Vance, was the creator of the Play-Doh character “Mr. Bill” on the long-running NBC comedy skit program Saturday Night Live, and was long considered the humorous member of the family. Then once, during a public speaking event, DeGeneres found herself frightened by the crowd and used humor to get through the experience. She was a hit, and received offers to do stand-up comedy. She began performing in 1981, bolstered by her mother’s moral and financial support.
Vance, Betty and Ellen DeGeneres
At the age of 23, she began performing at a local coffeehouse. She got her big debut in 1986 when, acting on a tip from Jay Leno, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson sent a booking agent to catch her act at the Improv in Hollywood. As a result of that engagement, DeGeneres was invited onto The Tonight Show and earned the distinction of being the only female comic to be invited by Johnny Carson to sit on the famed “couch” during her first visit. She then began making regular appearances on the talk show circuit, including performances on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Later with Greg Kinnear, Larry King Live, and Good Morning, America. She was also profiled in detail on ABC’s PrimeTime Live.
Her wit won over audiences, and DeGeneres finally found success as an actress with her own prime-time sitcom—the self-titled television series, Ellen. The series was originally titled These Friends of Mine, but was renamed in 1994. From that point, she enjoyed a dizzying evolution from its beginnings as an ensemble show to its development into a showcase for DeGeneres.
The show faced strong criticism when, in April 1997, DeGeneres’ character became the first lead in sitcom history to openly acknowledge her homosexuality on air. An ABC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, refused to air the landmark episode. Fearing controversy, some of the show’s sponsors, Daimler Chrysler among them, withdrew advertisements.
Several episodes following her reveal had gay themes and, throughout the remainder of the season, DeGeneres and ABC executives faced a storm of criticism. But the show also received rounds of applause from gay-friendly activists—including DeGeneres’ mother, Betty Degeneres, who appeared on numerous talk shows in support of her daughter. Despite a supportive audience; an Emmy Award for the coming-out episode; and the show’s groundbreaking place in television history; Ellen was canceled in 1998.
But DeGeneres had already made the move to the big screen, starring in the dark comedy Mr. Wrong (1996) as a woman in search of the perfect man. She has also appeared in the comedy EdTV (1999), starring Matthew McConaughey, and the television production of If These Walls Could Talk 2(2000), in which she shared a much publicized love scene with Sharon Stone.
Returning to television in 2003, Ellen DeGeneres became a big hit with daytime viewers with her self-titled talk show, Ellen. Since its inception, the show has won an Emmy, nearly a dozen Daytime Emmy Awards, and numerous People’s Choice Awards.
Also in 2003, DeGeneres lent her voice to the animated box office smash, Finding Nemo. The next year she received two Emmy Award nominations for her stand-up comedy special Ellen DeGeneres: Here and Now.
A unique combination of kind and funny, Ellen DeGeneres has been a popular choice for award show host in recent years. She has hosted the Primetime Emmy Awards twice, and the Academy Awards for the first time in 2007. In September of 2009, Ellen made headlines again when she was chosen to fill the coveted fourth slot as a judge on the ninth season ofAmerican Idol. Former judge, Paula Abdul, announced her departure from the show earlier in the year. Show executives had been searching for a replacement for several months.
In addition to her stand-up, film, and television career, Degeneres is also the author of several books, including My Point … and I Do Have One (1995) and The Funny Thing Is… (2004).
For several years, DeGeneres dated actress Anne Heche and, in 1999, the couple bought a home together in Los Angeles. Although at one point they publicly announced their desire to be married, the couple broke up in August 2000. DeGeneres then dated Alexandra Hedison for a few years before becoming involved with actress Portia de Rossi in December 2004.
DeGeneres married de Rossi on August 16, 2008, in what was perhaps the highest-profile gay marriage after California legalized the unions.
Portia, Ellen’s Mother, Betty DeGeneres, and Ellen
FROM THE ‘ELLEN SHOW:’
Ellen DeGeneres Bio
Host and Executive Producer
Beloved television icon and entertainment pioneer, Ellen DeGeneres’ distinctive comic voice has resonated with audiences from her first stand-up comedy appearances through her work today on television, film and in the literary world.
Ellen DeGeneres has made a home for herself in the daytime arena with her hit syndicated talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” The show, now entering its seventh season, recently won four Daytime Emmy Awards. During its six seasons, the show has earned a total of 29 Daytime Emmy Awards. Additionally, DeGeneres won five People’s Choice Awards for Favorite Daytime Talk Show Host and Favorite Funny Female Star — four years in a row. DeGeneres also won the Johnny Carson Producers of the Year Award in Variety Television from the Producers Guild in 2005 and 2006. Most recently, DeGeneres won her first “Teen Choice Award” for a new Twitter category and won the “Choice Twit” award. The show also won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Talk Show Episode.
“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” was launched in September 2003 to great success and critical acclaim. In its freshman year, the show won four Daytime Emmys, including Outstanding Talk Show, after garnering a record twelve nominations.
DeGeneres was recently included in Forbes’ top five “Most Influential Women in Media” and was voted “Best Daytime Talk Show Host” by Parade.com readers. In addition, DeGeneres has been voted “Favorite TV Personality” by The Harris Poll’s annual Favorite Television Star list, beating out Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno. DeGeneres was included in MSNBC’s “Power players who shape your TV habits.” DeGeneres also was honored with Television Week’s Syndication Personality of the Year and voted number one in Oxygen’s “50 Funniest Woman Alive” special — in the company of such comic legends as Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin, and has been included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.
In 2008, DeGeneres became the newest face for CoverGirl. The national print and commercial campaign for Simply Ageless Foundation premiered in December.
DeGeneres also continues to host Ellen’s Really Big Show for TBS. The one-hour variety special features performances by top talents from the worlds of comedy and music. DeGeneres most recently hosted her third TBS special, Ellen’s Bigger, Longer & Wider Show, as part of “A Very Funny Festival: Just for Laughs” in Chicago. The special was hosted from the famous Chicago Theater with guests including, Grammy-winning performer Kanye West, and magician David Blaine. The highly-acclaimed special aired on TBS.
DeGeneres had the honor of hosting the highly-rated 79th Annual Academy Awards and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. This follows her 2005 stint hosting the Primetime Emmy Awards, which marked her third time hosting the show. Her performance hosting the 2001 award show garnered rave reviews for providing a perfect balance of wit and heartfelt emotion to the post-September 11th telecast audience. DeGeneres won an American Comedy Award for her inaugural effort hosting the show in 1994. Additionally, DeGeneres co-hosted “American Idol’s” very successful “Idol Gives Back” special that raised money for children in extreme poverty in America and Africa.
In addition to her stints hosting the Oscars and the Primetime Emmy Awards, DeGeneres served as host for an array of industry events including the 38th and 39th Annual Grammy Awards, for which she earned an Emmy nomination.
DeGeneres partnered with American Express in 2005, appearing in their ad campaign “My Life, My Card,” including a national commercial and print campaign. DeGeneres currently appears in a new campaign entitled, “Are You a Card Member?” The national commercial pairs DeGeneres with pop sensation Beyoncé Knowles. DeGeneres also appears in the print campaign shot by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. In addition, DeGeneres appeared in the national commercial, which was perfectly suited for the animal-loving DeGeneres, who got a chance to work with a tortoise, a giraffe and penguins as part of the campaign, “My Life Goal: To Work with Animals” — which won a Primetime Emmy Award.
Prior to the launch of her talk show, DeGeneres scored simultaneous achievements on stage, film and in the literary world. She enjoyed unprecedented popular and critical response to her character, Dory, a fish with an extremely short-term memory in the blockbuster animated feature film, “Finding Nemo.” At the same time, DeGeneres crossed the country on a 35-city stand-up comedy tour entitled the “Here and Now” tour. Her stop at the famed Beacon Theater in New York was turned into an HBO special and was subsequently nominated for two Emmys. Finally, in October, Simon & Schuster published DeGeneres’ second book, The Funny Thing Is…, comprised of the author’s comedic short stories and essays. The book hit the New York Times Bestseller List upon its release. In 2005, DeGeneres was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for the audio version of the book. Her first book, My Point…And I Do Have One, published in 1995, debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller List.
DeGeneres’ career began as an emcee at a local comedy club in her hometown of New Orleans, which led to national recognition in 1982 when her videotaped club performances won Showtime’s “Funniest Person in America” honor. When DeGeneres moved to Los Angeles, she filmed her first HBO Special, “Young Comedians Reunion,” then in 1986 filmed “Women of the Night.” That same year, DeGeneres scored a first by becoming the first female comedian to be summoned by Johnny Carson to sit down with him after her performance. In 1989, DeGeneres received a Cable Ace nomination for her “Command Performance: One Night Stand” special. She was also named “Best Female Stand-Up” at the 1991 American Comedy Awards.
DeGeneres began her acting career in television on FOX’s sitcom, “Open House.” She moved on to ABC’s “Laurie Hill,” prior to being offered a part on “These Friends of Mine” by ABC. After the first season, the show was renamed “Ellen.” Running from 1994 to 1998, the show garnered record ratings, with DeGeneres receiving Emmy nominations each season in the Best Actress category. In 1997, DeGeneres was the recipient of the coveted Peabody Award as well as an Emmy for writing the critically acclaimed “Puppy Episode,” in which her character came out as a gay woman to a record 46 million viewers. DeGeneres followed with the CBS sitcom, “The Ellen Show,” which ran from 2001 to 2002.
In the course of producing and starring in “Ellen,” DeGeneres received numerous accolades including The People’s Choice Award in 1995, two Golden Globe nominations and two Screen Actors Guild nominations. Other television credits include executive producing and starring with Sharon Stone in the Emmy-nominated “If These Walls Could Talk II” for HBO, as well as a guest appearance on the “Larry Sanders Show,” for which she received another Emmy nomination.
DeGeneres’ feature film credits include “EDTV” for director Ron Howard, “Mr. Wrong,” “The Love Letter” for Dreamworks, New Regency’s “Goodbye Lover” and “Coneheads.”
Both on and off screen, DeGeneres’ humanitarian efforts take center stage. DeGeneres is passionate about bringing awareness to the people of New Orleans, her hometown, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Her efforts have resulted in “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” raising over 10 million dollars to improve the lives of New Orleans residents. Overall, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has raised over 50 million dollars and brought attention to various causes, including global warming and animals. Additionally, DeGeneres continues to raise awareness about breast cancer, and served as spokesperson for General Mills’ breast cancer awareness initiative, Pink for the Cure, and hosted special episodes of her show to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Since she was first nationally recognized in 1982 as a comedian in New Orleans, Ellen’s many contributions to the entertainment industry have earned her numerous accolades including a Golden Apple Award as Female Discovery of the Year from the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, a Lucy Award honoring women in Television and Film, as well as an Amnesty International Award.