Born on January 26, 1958, in Metairie, Louisiana, Ellen Lee DeGeneres made her name in show business as a stand-up comic. In 1982, she was selected by pay-cable station Showtime as "America's Funniest Person," which launched her into the realm of sought-after comedians. By 1994, she was starring on her own ABC sitcom. In 1997, she came out as gay on the Oprah Winfrey Show, became a staunch advocate of LGBT rights and won an Emmy for her character’s coming-out episode of her show. But despite audience support and the show's groundbreaking place in television history, the surrounding controversy caused Ellen to be canceled in 1998.
After a few years of professional and personal setbacks, DeGeneres bounced back as the host for the Emmy Awards following the September 11 attacks in 2001. She received numerous accolades for her charm, tone and uplifting personality, which served as a balm to a grieving country.
In 2003, DeGeneres made a triumphant return to TV as the host of her own award-winning talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. She begins each show with a short monologue followed by a dance, which brings her into the audience before she settles into her onstage chair. She tends to end each show by exhorting her audience to be kind to one another. As she celebrates her 58th year, here are some fun facts about her life.
Before she found her calling as a stand-up comedian at age 23, DeGeneres was a college dropout who waited tables, shucked oysters, served as a bartender, painted houses and worked as a legal secretary. And when Willie Nelson appeared on her talk show, she revealed one more past job—one that they had in common—vacuum cleaner salesperson. Nelson sold Kirby machines door-to-door while DeGeneres demonstrated Hoovers in front of store customers.
Animal Lover and Vegan
When she was growing up, DeGeneres dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but she didn’t believe she was a good enough student to follow that path. Still, she always remained an animal lover and when she married Portia de Rossi in 2008, they served only vegan food (no animal or dairy products) at their wedding reception. Today, the couple lives on a farm with a variety of animals, from cows to dogs to horses. DeGeneres also promotes and features vegan recipes on her show and website. In 2009, PETA named her its Woman of the Year.
DeGeneres is the star of an EPCOT attraction at Walt Disney World. As part of the Universe of Energy at EPCOT, she is the main character in Ellen’s Energy Adventure. (The show’s first name was Ellen’s Energy Crisis, but the name was changed because it just didn’t sound that positive.) During the ride, audience members in the theater are transported to DeGeneres’s brain, which becomes a time machine taking them through primeval forests where dinosaurs dwell. Friend and neighbor Bill Nye is on hand to tutor DeGeneres and participants as they embark on a time-traveling quest for energy knowledge.
It turns out that DeGeneres’s dance moves run in her family. Family history experts at Ancestry uncovered that DeGeneres and Madonna are related through a common 10th great-grandfather: Frenchman Martin Aucoin. In the early 1600s, Aucoin’s daughters Jeanne and Michele left their native country of France to settle in Nova Scotia, where both of their families remained for several generations. DeGeneres’s family left Canada in the late 1700s when her fifth great-grandfather Joseph Martin relocated to Louisiana. In the late 1870s, Madonna’s second great-grandmother Emilie Daniel left Quebec and moved to Michigan. “It’s not every day you discover two celebrity icons are related, but it’s their similarities that make the connection so extraordinary,” said Anastasia Tyler, a genealogist at Ancestry. “They were born the same year, have both written books and been on tour, and are known for their impressive dance moves.”
Record for Most Retweeted Tweet
DeGeneres has made a name for herself as a reliable awards show host. She hosted the Grammys in 1996 and 1997, the Primetime Emmys in 2001 and 2005 and the Academy Awards in 2007 and 2014—which is when she actually made the record books. That second time she hosted the Academy Awards, she orchestrated a selfie during the broadcast, which became the most retweeted image ever. The photo of 12 celebrities broke the previous retweet record within 40 minutes, and was retweeted more than 1.8 million times in the first hour. By the end of the ceremony it had been retweeted over 2 million times, and less than 24 hours later, it had been retweeted more than 2.8 million times. Two years later, it still holds the record. Something for this year’s host Chris Rock to aspire to perhaps?