The Story of Ellen DeGeneres' Rise to Stardom

The Life of Comedian and Talk Show Host Simply Known as "Ellen"

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Ellen DeGeneres (born January 26, 1958) is often simply known as "Ellen." The comedian turned actress, then daytime talk show host has made millions laugh over her successful career, due in part to the legendary Johnny Carson.

Among her many achievements, DeGeneres is probably best known for coming out as a lesbian in the late 90s. Her character on the sitcom "Ellen" was the first to kiss another woman in prime-time and her marriage to Portia de Rossi has been well-publicized. Beyond comedy and her personal life, Ellen is also respected for her caring nature and promotion of issues and people who might otherwise be forgotten.

Ellen's Early Years

DeGeneres was born in Jefferson, Louisana. She's the younger of two siblings born to Elliot and Betty DeGeneres. Her brother, Vance, is a comedy writer and was a correspondent on "The Daily Show" from 1999 to 2001.

Ellen had a fairly typical childhood, raised in New Orleans and Atlanta, Texas. Her parents divorced while she was in her teens. She graduated from Atlanta High School and moved back to Louisiana, where she attended the University of New Orleans. Ellen majored in communications but left after one semester.

The Young Comedian

Ellen did clerical work for a law firm, which was a followed by a string of jobs: working retail, waiting tables, house painting, bartending, and shucking oysters. She even sold Hoover vacuum cleaners door-to-door, a job she joked about with Willie Nelson -- also a former door-to-door vacuum salesman -- on her show.

She got her start in comedy at Clyde's Comedy Club. At the time, it was the only comedy club in New Orleans and she graduated from comic to emcee. This led to more shows throughout the South and soon the country.

Ellen toured the states, honing her comedic timing and craft. In 1982, she was selected by Showtime as "America's Funniest Person." This led to a series of cable and late-night television appearances, including a shot on "The Tonight Show" in 1986.

She transitioned from comedian to sitcom star with the success of "Ellen." The quirky show, based on her stand-up comedy, was likened to "Seinfeld" in its first few seasons.

Ellen, the Talk Show Host

In 2003, Ellen launched her daytime talk show "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." The new talk show crop was thick that year, but "Ellen" rose to the top and has been a show-stopper every since. In many polls, she even topped Oprah Winfrey among fan favorites when the two shows ran simultaneously.

Ellen has given the daytime show her signature touch – a lighthearted, carefree romp that begs its audience to forget their troubles and enjoy the conversation. She marks each show with a dance and many thanks at the end, often getting her audience involved in the action.

Key Moment in Her Career

Beyond her successful transitions from stand-up comic to talk show host, there are arguably two key moments in DeGeneres' career.

The first was her appearance on "The Tonight Show" in 1986. After her set, Johnny Carson invited her to sit next to him. This was a traditional signal to both comedians and the entertainment industry that Johnny thought this person was something special. Ellen was the first female comedian to be invited over and receive the honor.

The second was when she publicly announced her homosexuality. She did so on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and in "The Puppy Episode" of her sitcom, "Ellen." This included a now groundbreaking kiss between her character, Ellen, and a character played by Laura Dern. Ellen's coming-out was one of the top stories of 1997 and made "Ellen" the first prime-time show with an openly gay lead character.

Notable Achievements

  • Ellen married Australian actress Portia de Rossi -- best known for the TV show, "Arrested Development" -- on August 16, 2008. This was just months after the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on gay marriage.
  • In 2010, the couple successfully petitioned to have de Rossi take DeGeneres' last name. Her legal name is now Portia Lee James DeGeneres.
  • Ellen's mother, Betty, is one of her strongest supporters and an active member of PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Family of Lesbians and Gays).
  • Ellen played the voice of Dory in Disney and Pixar's "Finding Nemo" and the follow up "Finding Dory." This role plays a big part in rejuvenating her career.
  • Ellen received multiple standing ovations for her charm, tone, and uplifting personality when she hosted the Emmy Awards following the September 11 attacks in 2001. Degeneres returned as host in 2005, then hosted the Academy Awards in 2007 and again in 2014.
  • Over the years, Ellen has received numerous awards, including multiple Emmy's for "Outstanding Talk Show."
  • In 2010, DeGeneres launched the eleveneleven record label. The company is designed to promote talented musical acts that may otherwise be overlooked by larger labels.
  • DeGeneres was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 by President Barack Obama.