As a little girl growing up in New Orleans, LA, Ellen Lee DeGeneres dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Lucky for the millions of Ellen fans worldwide, she decided she wasn’t “book smart” enough to become a vet so she navigated a few careers as a waitress, vacuum saleswoman, house painter, legal secretary, and finally comedian and actress to become the Grammy winning funny lady she is today.
Working her way up as a stand-up comic, Ellen landed her first TV gig on the sitcom These Friends of Mine, which was quickly renamed Ellen in 1994. In 1997, as executive producer and the show’s star, Ellen decided to tackle the taboo issue of her own homosexuality on the show.
In April 1997 she became the first lead in sitcom history to openly come out of the closet. An ABC affiliate in Alabama refused to air the episode and some of the show’s sponsors pulled their advertisements. Although gay-friendly activists were supportive of the move, Ellen and ABC execs faced fierce criticism. Despite wining an Emmy for the “coming-out episode,” the show was canceled in 1998.
Ellen still enjoyed success as a comedian, making regular appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and Larry King Live.
Ellen was profiled in the 1991 documentary Wisecracks, which chronicled the hardships that women in comedy face.
She made the switch from the stage and small screen to the big screen in Mr. Wrong, EdTV, and If These Walls Could Talk 2.
But Ellen really became a household name with her daytime talk show, which aired in 2003. Also in 2003, Ellen took on the role of the beloved and forgetful Dory in Finding Nemo and since the launch of her talk-show she’s won 15 Daytime Emmy Awards for her show and 2 Emmy nominations for her stand-up comedy act Ellen Degeneres: Here and Now.
Though very protective of her private life, Ellen has also won over millions by taking a few of her affairs of the heart public. Her daily talk show is a balance between outrageous dance moves, subtle humor and tackling real issues.
In 2007, controversy was sparked when Ellen gave away one of her adopted dogs to her family friends. The owner of the agency she had adopted from claimed she violated the adoption agreement and removed the dog from her friends’ home. Ellen took the issue public, pleading for the dog to be returned to her friends and telling viewers to be more aware of the process of dog adoption.
Ellen was also an outspoken opponent of Proposition 8, the measure to end gay marriages in California. She and her longtime partner Portia de Rossi were married in August 2008 in what many call the highest-profile gay marriage in California.
A quiet but adamant advocate for gay rights, Ellen shapes her life around acting for what she believes in. Check out Ellen respectfully and comically giving Senator John McCain a piece of her mind on the issue of gay marriage.