Born on January 26, 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana, Ellen DeGeneres hit it big as a stand-up comedian before starring on her own sitcom, Ellen. In 1997, she came out as gay, and became a staunch advocate of LGBT rights. She has been the host of her own award-winning talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, since 2003, and married girlfriend Portia de Rossi in 2008.
Her wit won over audiences, and DeGeneres finally found success as an actress with her own prime-time sitcom—the self-titled television series, Ellen. The series was originally titled These Friends of Mine, but was renamed in 1994. From that point, the show evolved from its beginnings as an ensemble effort into a showcase for DeGeneres.
The show faced strong criticism when, in April 1997, DeGeneres’s character became the first lead in sitcom history to openly acknowledge her homosexuality on air. An ABC affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, refused to air the landmark episode. Fearing controversy, some of the show’s sponsors, Daimler Chrysler among them, withdrew advertisements.
Several episodes following her reveal had gay themes and, throughout the remainder of the season, DeGeneres and ABC executives faced a storm of criticism. But the show also received rounds of applause from gay-friendly activists—including DeGeneres’s mother, Betty DeGeneres, who appeared on numerous talk shows in support of her daughter. Despite a supportive audience, an Emmy Award for the coming-out episode and the show’s groundbreaking place in television history, Ellenwas canceled in 1998.
But DeGeneres had already made the move to the big screen, starring in the dark comedy Mr. Wrong (1996) as a woman in search of the perfect man. She also appeared in the comedy EdTV (1999), starring Matthew McConaughey, and the television production of If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000), in which she shared a much publicized love scene with Sharon Stone.
While DeGeneres’ eponymous talk show is still responsible for the bulk of her earnings, the star is using her show’s assets, including adorable toddlers and YouTube stars, to make money in streaming. Her umbrella digital company, Ellen Digital Ventures, is a multi-million dollar business thanks to sponsored shows on proprietary streaming platform Ellentube and various mobile games including hit Heads Up. Now she’s headed to Netflix, where she will air her first stand-up special in 15 years.
Here’s her journey to season 15: