Born on January 26, 1958 in Metairie, Louisiana, Ellen Lee DeGeneres is a popular comedienne, television host, and actress. She is also a lesbian and a gay-rights advocate.
DeGeneres began her pursuit of a comedy career in 1981 by performing at local clubs and coffee houses. Her first big show-business break came in 1986, when the producers of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson—acting on a tip from Jay Leno—booked DeGeneres for an appearance on Carson's program. DeGeneres subsequently began making regular appearances on the talk-show circuit, including The Late Show with David Letterman, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and Good Morning, America. From 1994-98 she starred in the prime-time television sitcom bearing her name, Ellen. And in April 1997, DeGeneres's character became the first lead in any sitcom to openly acknowledge her homosexuality on air.
DeGeneres dated actress Anne Heche from 1997-2000, and later (in 2004) became romantically involved with actress Portia de Rossi, whom she eventually married in California on August 16, 2008.
In 2003 DeGeneres lent her voice to the animated film Finding Nemo. That same year, she launched her own daytime variety show, Ellen, which continues to air on NBC television.
Though DeGeneres contends that “I don't have an agenda” besides simply “trying to influence people … to be more kind and compassionate with one another,” she has made her political perspectives clear on many occasions.
In October 2007, for instance, DeGeneres invited then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to be a guest on her television show. She called it “an honor” to have Obama on the program, and she did a freestyle dance with him.
In February 2008 DeGeneres made an appearance, via satellite, at a DC fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, who was also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Two months later, DeGeneres invited Mrs. Clinton onto her program. Clinton, like Obama, was on record as being opposed to gay marriage but supportive of legally protected civil unions. In the course of the interview, DeGeneres told Clinton: “One thing that is very important to me, and another reason that I like you so much, just today, this was just announced that you are going to defend gay rights as president and eliminate inequalities for same-sex couples in federal law.”
By contrast, when DeGeneres had Republican presidential nominee John McCain on her show in May 2008, she dealt with the topic of gay marriage quite differently. McCain's position on the subject was essentially the same as Obama's and Clinton's, but DeGeneres now delivered an impassioned mini-lecture on why she supported gay marriage. She also likened its opponents to people who had fought against voting rights for blacks and women in ages past, and she explicitly characterized McCain's perspective as an exclusionary, demeaning, “old way of thinking.”
Soon after Barack Obama's election victory in November 2008, television host Chris Matthews was a guest on DeGeneres's show and had the following exchange with her:
DeGeneres: “Amazing! And you must be thrilled? I mean what, what a moment.”
Matthews: “Well, I am thrilled!”
Matthews: (picking up a shot glass): “To Barack Obama!”
DeGeneres (toasting): “Yeah. To Barack Obama!”
Four years later (May 2012), when President Obama publicly endorsed gay marriage for the first time, DeGeneres told her TV viewers: “What an amazing day for our country. President Obama just came out in supprt of same-sex marriage and I say, Wow, Wow.... There have been moments in history where someone has had the courage to stand up for what they believe in, and then one action changes everything and I hope that this is one of those times. It takes a brave man to take a stand like this, especially in an election year. So, Mr. President, I say to you, Thank you very, very, very much.” She then led her audience in a standing ovation in Obama's honor.
In May 2012, DeGeneres brought onto her show Rainer Muuss, a kindergartener with considerable knowledge of U.S. presidential history. At one point in the interview, the youngster expressed his hope that Barack Obama would win re-election because the president had “said that men and men can marry each other, and woman and woman can marry each other, and I think that’s right.” The boy's remarks were met with thunderous applause from the audience, and DeGeneres told him: “I really like you.”
At an October 2012 awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DeGeneres described how “very, very scary” the prospect of a (Republican) Mitt Romney presidency was to her. Speaking to Politico in early November 2012—just before election day—she reiterated her fear that Romney might win: “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared of that, for many reasons. And obviously as a gay person he doesn’t believe in me having the same rights, so of course I’m not happy about that.” DeGeneres added that “as a woman who wants to have the choice to do what she wants to do with her own body,” she was “certainly hoping our president stays put.”
In a March 2014 interview with Barack Obama, DeGeneres lauded the president's signature Obamacare legislation by saying: “It’s doing very, very well … You’ve got 5 million people signed up so far. An enormous number of people have signed up, so it’s successful.... I think everyone’s very grateful that you did this. And I think it is important for people to sign up.”
In March 2015, DeGeneres invited Michelle Obama onto her show to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the First Lady's “Let's Move!” campaign against childhood obesity. At one point in the program, DeGeneres participated in a group dance routine led by Mrs. Obama.
Presenting herself as a devoted environmentalist, DeGeneres in April 2015 marked the occasion of Earth Day by encouraging all her fans to participate in the “Flip Your Fridge” campaign, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiative that urged consumers to recycle their aging refrigerators and upgrade to new, energy-efficient models. According to one of the campaign's sponsors, GeekSquad.com, “Flip Your Fridge is part of the EPA’s effort to slow climate change … [and] will go a long way toward lowering a household’s environmental footprint.”
Over the years, DeGeneres has supported dozens of charities and activist organizations. Among them are the Elton John AIDS Foundation, GLAAD, GLSEN, Habitat For Humanity, the Humane Society of the United States, Peace First, PETA, and UNICEF.
For additional information on Ellen DeGeneres, click here.