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Ellen DeGeneres: “Being truthful and honest saved me”

A popular comedian and TV host in the U.S. who paved the way for LGTBQ public figures to be “out” in the media.


Pixie blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and a charming smile along with a quirky carefree humor and charisma; Ellen DeGeneres is one of the most well-known U.S. TV hosts and comedians. Many know her, especially for her own daily talk show, The Ellen Show. Some might even remember her early days in stand-up, while others might be fond of her as the voice of Dory in Finding Nemo. Since coming out as gay in 1997, she's been an activist in the LGTBQ community. Although now many media outlets claim that ‘Ellen made gay OK,’ it seems to be forgotten that her decision to state her sexual identity nearly ended her career publicly. She became an inspiration for being herself.


“I think what saved me is being honest. I think I somehow had the courage to do something and to say something that I knew would possibly end my career. Instead of making business more important, I made my soul and my life more important. And I think by being truthful, and being honest, that saved me.” 


Ellen DeGeneres was born on January 26, 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana to an insurance salesman and a working mother who divorced when DeGeneres was a teenager. She moved to Texas with her mother and step-father, someone she has described in interviews as a “very bad man” who sexually assaulted her.


DeGeneres briefly attended the University of New Orleans to study Communications but dropped out early and went to work at a law firm, and later held a string of jobs including sales assistant, house painter, waitress, and bartender.


In the early 1980s, she began performing stand-up comedy at some of those bars and small coffeehouses. She was quite a hit, and she soon gained popularity, getting requests to tour around the United States. 


Her career hit a high note in 1986 when she performed at The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She was the only female comedian invited by Johnny Carson to sit on the famed couch during her first visit. Her act “Phone Call to God” was fresh; she was a natural. The audience welcomed her, and so did Johnny Carson, who appraised her work. This experience opened the door to regular appearances in other popular shows like 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.


Shortly after, she started her television career. Playing Ellen Morgan in the ABC sitcom series These Friends of Mine in 1994 was a pivotal moment. She soon became such a big part of it that it was renamed Ellen. Since she was not a celebrity or famous actress, the show was an opportunity to craft her persona and introduce herself to a broader audience.


She started to build up her personal hook: using comedy and lighthearted approaches to expose the audience to issues like gender equality, idealized ideas of beauty-based gender stereotypes, and homosexuality.


Throughout season four, there were a few hints about her character’s sexuality -who never had a successful relationship with a man. This gossip also sparked rumors about DeGeneres’ own sexuality. "The Puppy Episode” ended all of them: Ellen -character and actress- was gay. She was the first lead to acknowledge her homosexuality on public television openly. 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. And to put it in modern words: unfortunately, she was too.


When talking about her coming out years later, DeGeneres mentioned that she received a lot of backlash from the network and the industry. DeGeneres sank into a deep depression, where she stayed without work for more than three years. 


Finally, she got an offer to do her own talk show. It was challenging to get networks onboard as they didn’t want to risk it -she was still considered a controversial public figure. In 2003, The Ellen Show premiered. It was a talk show where she talked about anything and with a wide range of guests -singers, actresses, and presidents. Her fresh, relatable, carefree style from her stand-up days worked like a charm.DeGeneres lent her voice to Dory that same year in the animated Disney movie Finding Nemo.


As times evolved, she slowly regained her position in the television and comedy world. She became a popular choice to host televised awards and special events, and The Ellen Show received 64 Daytime Emmys. The final episode aired on May 26, 2022, shortly after accusations that the show was a toxic workplace. BuzzFeed News published a series of articles in which anonymous former employees alleged a bad atmosphere with racist comments and accused the executive producers of harassment.


As we observe it from today, one can take her trajectory as a good example of the American Dream. Of course, her remarkable career is not the reason why she is considered a role model. Ellen knew that her decision to come out publicly had a greater social impact, as she pointed out in the Tulane Commencement speech in 2009: “I lost my career … yet, I was getting letters from kids that almost committed suicide but didn’t because of what I did. And I realized that I had a purpose.” 


Ellen has paved the way for other gay and lesbian people to be “out” in the media and has helped society to be more accepting. She has cultivated herself as a public figure that speaks out about homosexuality and self-love and advocates for others to be true to themselves.


Sources

Biography.com Editors. (2021, May 21). Ellen DeGeneres - age, Wife & Life. Biography.com

DeGeneres, E. (2010, March 4). Ellen at Tulane Commencement 2009. YouTube.

Entertainment Tonight. (2022, May 1). Ellen DeGeneres on coming out in Puppy episode

Kim, E. K. (2019, May 28). Ellen DeGeneres opens up about being sexually assaulted as a

Zinoman, J. (2018, December 12). Ellen DeGeneres is not as Nice as you think. The New


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