How Ellen DeGeneres went from unknown comic to talk show superstar

Ellen degeneres hollywood walk of fameGetty/Kevin WinterEllen DeGeneres cracking a joke on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Today, Ellen DeGeneres is a Hollywood fixture. Her talk show has been on the air for 14 seasons, she’s won dozens of awards, and her hefty TV and film resume dates back decades. We’re used to her as a superstar. 

Of course, DeGeneres wasn’t always comedic royalty. Many years ago, she was a college dropout working odd jobs and trying to make a name for herself in comedy clubs. And even when she did win recognition and acclaim, her honesty about her sexuality nearly cost her everything. 

This is the incredible story of how Ellen DeGeneres rose to the top — and won over the world’s hearts in the process. 

Ellen DeGeneres was born in 1958 and grew up in Louisiana.

DeGeneres circa 1958.

Source: IMDb

She left University of New Orleans after one semester and worked odd jobs. She spent time as a house painter, vacuum salesperson, waitress, and even an oyster shucker.

But in the '80s, she started doing stand up at comedy clubs. By 1984, she was touring the country and even won Showtime's Funniest Person in America contest.

A poster advertising one of DeGeneres's early shows.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Two years later, she made her network TV debut on 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.' She was just 27 years old.

Soon, DeGeneres started to work in TV, picking up small sitcom roles in short-lived shows like 'Open House' and 'Laurie Hill.'

Source: IMDb

Her career picked up steam in 1994: She landed a starring role as Ellen Morgan on the ABC sitcom 'Ellen.'

Then, in 1997, everything changed. DeGeneres decided to come out as gay -- on the cover of time magazine.

She also sat down for candid interviews with Diane Sawyer and Oprah Winfrey.

'I never thought it was anybody's business, who I am and who I am with. So I thought, why do people need to know?' she told Winfrey. 'And then I realised that as long as I had this secret that I worried about all the time, that it made it look like something was wrong.'

Later in the interview, Winfrey asked DeGeneres why it was necessary for her to come out.

'Because it's ok,' she replied. Then, once again, with more conviction: 'Because it is ok.'

At the same time, DeGeneres's character on 'Ellen' came out as gay, too.

'The Puppy Episode' featured Winfrey as a therapist who helps Ellen come to terms with her sexuality. The episode brought in a whopping 42 million viewers the night it aired.

Source: New York Times

DeGeneres dated actress Alexandra Hedison next. They were together from 2000 to 2004.

Getty/Kevin Winter

That's when DeGeneres's TV career started picking up again. In 2001, she got a CBS sitcom called 'The Ellen Show.' Then, she hosted the Emmy Awards solo.

Getty/Kevin Winter; Staff
A few of DeGeneres's looks during the 2001 Emmy Awards.

Source: IMDb

Two years later, she voiced the famously forgetful Dory in 'Finding Nemo.'

Getty/Dan Steinberg; Disney

And a few months later, her now-famous talk show 'Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show' premiered. This was her very first monologue:

In its first season, 'Ellen' picked up the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show.

Getty/Peter Kramer
DeGeneres holding her first daytime Emmy for her talk show.

To date, the show has won dozens more Emmys.

Source: National Television Academy; IMDb

In 2004, DeGeneres started dating her future wife: actress Portia de Rossi.

Getty/Peter Kramer

They got hitched in 2008, and eight years of marriage later, they still make an adorable couple on the red carpet.

Getty/Christopher Polk

Source: IMDb

The next few years brought more milestones: Hosting the Emmys (again) in 2005, hosting the Oscars in 2007, and becoming a Covergirl spokesmodel in 2008.

Getty/Kevin Winter
DeGeneres hosting the Oscars in 2007.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter;

All the while, her talk show was thriving -- even when things went awry. After tearing a ligament in 2007, DeGeneres hosted the show from a hospital bed.

Source: People

In 2014, as a second-time Oscars host, she took this selfie with a handful of stars in the audience. It became the most-retweeted image of all time.

This year, Ellen reprised her role as Dory for the Pixar film 'Finding Dory.'


Source: IMDb

She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- and broke into tears during the ceremony.

Getty/Alex Wong

Even President Obama got a little choked up as he told the gathered crowd about DeGeneres's accomplishments.

'It's easy to forget (...) just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,' he said. 'What an incredible burden that was to bear. To risk your career like that. (...) And yet, today, every day, in every way, Ellen counters what too often divides us, with the countless things that bind us together. Inspires us to be better, one joke and one dance at a time.'

Here's video of the emotional moment.

Today, DeGeneres's talk show is in its 14th season, and she's still beloved by viewers.

Getty/Kevin Winter
DeGeneres accepting a People's Choice Award in 2016.

In fact, she's won the People's Choice Award for Favourite Talk Show Host nine times.

Source: IMDb

It's well-deserved success after decades of hard work, fierce honesty, and great dance moves.

Getty/Scott Barbour

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