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.
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.
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.'
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.
'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.'
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.
And a few months later, her now-famous talk show 'Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show' premiered. This was her very first monologue:
They got hitched in 2008, and eight years of marriage later, they still make an adorable couple on the red carpet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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