Photo via CBS News
Ellen DeGeneres is most well-known for hosting her own show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which premiered in 2003 and has been going strong ever since. Her most recent public appearance not on the show included her acceptance of a Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States earlier this month. What many people do not know, however, is how hard DeGeneres had to work to get to where she is today.
In 1994, Ellen starred in a show titled Ellen. In this show, DeGeneres played the main character, Ellen Morgan, and the show only aired until 1998. The year before the show’s cancelation, DeGeneres, and subsequently her character, came out as lesbian. This made Ellen the first prime-time sitcom with an openly gay main character. Unfortunately, ratings went down following the famous “Puppy Episode” where Ellen Morgan came out. The show began running “viewer discretion” introductions before each episode to warn viewers of the content many Americans were not comfortable with at the time. Ultimately, the show was canceled as controversy over DeGeneres’ sexuality began to overshadow who she was as a role model and a comedian.
Despite the drastic change in her career, DeGeneres did not give up. Her television career was revived with The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Thus far, the show has won 38 Daytime Emmy Awards, and DeGeneres herself has won four Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Talk Show Host. Additionally, the show’s YouTube channel is the fourteenth most subscribed-to channel on the entire website. DeGeneres’s light-hearted humor has spanned over 2,000 episodes and has proven that she is not going anywhere, despite the intense criticism she faced after announcing her sexual orientation.
Ellen’s history as a Hollywood icon is more complex than that of many similarly successful celebrities we see on TV today. She risked her entire career by coming out to the world at a time when doing so as a public figure was simply not done. Most recently, her courage was justly acknowledged by President Obama, when he awarded her the Medal of Freedom on November 22.
The award was given out to twenty other recipients this year, all of whom have helped move the country forward in some way. In his speech, Obama recognized how strong DeGeneres had to be to come out at the time when she did and to encourage ABC to allow her character to come out as well. His words brought DeGeneres nearly to tears, while simultaneously comparing her to a tortilla chip. Obama’s decision to give Ellen such a tremendous honor is an important reminder that she is more than just her ever-present smile and endless banter, she is a brave and inspirational role model who should not be discredited as anything less than that.