Ellen DeGeneres is one of the most successful female comedians of all time. Since breaking through in stand-up in the early 80s, she’s gone on to sitcom fame, major movie roles and success as a talk show host. She’s also one of the best-known openly gay women in America, and an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. But did you know the following facts about the woman famous enough to be known simply as Ellen?
25. She used to work as a vacuum cleaner saleswoman
After all her years as a film and TV star, it’s safe to say that Ellen DeGeneres has a very healthy bank account today.
But of course, things haven’t always been so rosy for the comedian, actress and talk show host.
DeGeneres was born on the 26th of January 1958 in Metairie, Louisiana, and went to study at Atlanta High School and the University of New Orleans.
- Credit: Alan Light via Flickr
Like anyone trying to break into show business, DeGeneres had to take normal jobs to make ends meet along the way.
It’s fascinating to think that one of the early jobs taken by the future superstar was that of a vacuum cleaner saleswoman!
Some of her other odd jobs included working as a paralegal, a waitress at TGI Friday’s, and an oyster shucker in New Orleans.
24. She was molested by her stepfather
She may have become famous for making people laugh, but DeGeneres has lived through some extremely unfunny circumstances.
When she was in high school, DeGeneres had to watch her mother Betty battle breast cancer.
As if this wasn’t traumatic enough, Ellen’s stepfather used the opportunity to molest his stepdaughter when Betty was in the hospital.
- Credit: Alan Light via Wikimedia Commons
DeGeneres has revealed that her stepfather (who is now deceased) began to abuse her when she was 15.
She reflects, “we are really vulnerable at that age, and we trust. And then when you are violated, you don’t know what to do and you don’t want to say anything because first of all, you just start wondering, ‘How did this happen, how was I that stupid?'”
“All of these things you think you could have controlled and you can’t.”
23. She’s distantly related to Madonna and the Duchess of Cambridge
DeGeneres has a very interesting family tree, with roots far away from her beginnings in Louisiana.
She once discovered that she is a distant relation of Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge (AKA Kate Middleton).
Apparently the talk show host received a letter stating that she is Kate’s 15th cousin through a distant ancestor.
As if this distant like to British royalty wasn’t enough, DeGeneres also has a familial link to pop music royalty.
Yes, believe it or not Ellen DeGeneres is 11th cousins with none other than Madonna, the Queen of Pop.
Apparently the pair share the same 10th great-grandfather, Martin Aucoin from France.
22. There was once a ride at Disney which took you through Ellen’s subconscious
You probably know Ellen provided the voice of Dory in Disney-Pixar’s animated blockbusters Finding Nemo and Finding Dory.
However, you might not have been aware that the woman herself was the basis for a ride in the Disney World theme park.
Yes, Disney’s Epcot theme park in Florida used to feature an attraction named Ellen’s Energy Adventure, which (bizarrely) took you on a ride through Ellen’s subconscious.
Featuring a specially made 45 minute film taking place in Ellen’s subconscious, the ride educated viewers on various different forms of energy, including fossil fuels and modern renewable sources.
Joining Ellen for the ride were Bill Nye the Science Guy, Jeopardy host Alex Trebek, and movie star Jamie Lee Curtis.
Ellen’s Energy Adventure first opened its doors in 1996, and it remained open until 2017.
21. She was raised as a Christian Scientist
Most people don’t know that Ellen and her brother Vance were raised in a family of Christian Scientists.
A controversial religious movement, the teachings of Christian Science include that sickness is an illusion which can be cured by prayer.
Ellen and her brother were associated with the new religious movement until she was 13 years old.
- Credit: Tulane Public Relations
The comedian once revealed that she didn’t take any aspirin until she was a teenager and that her upbringing in the church was extremely strict.
Her religious upbringing came to light when her father Elliott Everett DeGeneres passed away in January 2018.
Paying tribute to her dad, the talk show host revealed, “He never went to a doctor. We never had a vaccination. We never had medicine growing up and he lived to be 92.”
20. She lost a couple of sponsorship deals when she came out as a lesbian
Ellen DeGeneres was already a big name worldwide when she came out as a lesbian in 1997.
The actress and comedian addressed the matter in a uniquely high profile manner: by having her character on sitcom Ellen come out on the show.
This was a major landmark for television, which earned the show and its star huge media attention – but not all of this was positive.
One of network ABC’s affiliates in Alabama refused to air the landmark episode, while several of the show’s sponsors – including Chrysler – withdrew their advertisements.
At the time, DeGeneres and her then-girlfriend Anne Heche were the only openly gay power couple in show business.
DeGeneres said she and Heche later struggled to cope with the fallout from the public revelation.
19. She was the only female comic to appear on Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show wasn’t really that well-known for its diversity – at least, not until Ellen DeGeneres appeared on it.
In 1986, the young comedian made her first appearance on The Tonight Show and managed to break a notable record at the time.
She was the one and only female comic to sit on the famed couch and chat to Carson.
From there, Ellen did the rounds, appearing on the likes of The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Oprah Winfrey Show and Good Morning, America.
DeGeneres’ fame meant that she soon progressed to hosting herself – including some high profile awards shows.
She hosted the Emmy Awards in November 2001, she also hosted the Oscars in 2007 and 2014.
18. She had a breakdown after splitting up with Anne Heche
DeGeneres and actress Anne Heche were an item from 1997 until 2000, and their eventual split rocked the world of show business.
Previously, the couple had been like two peas in a pod – they often finished each other’s sentences and wore wedding bands on their fingers.
DeGeneres has admitted that she was utterly heartbroken when they broke up, and it also hit Heche hard.
- Credit: Alan Light via Wikimedia Commons
After news of the split broke, Heche was found walking on a freeway looking dazed and confused.
The police then sent Heche to University Medical Center, and she has since been treated for mental health problems.
DeGeneres wed actress Portia DeRossi in 2008, whilst Heche has since had relationships with several men.
17. Michelle Obama beat her in a push-up contest
Back in 2012, The Ellen DeGeneres Show hosted an illustrious guest in First Lady Michelle Obama.
This is back when it seemed as though Obama’s toned arms were the focus of the entire world’s media.
The pair began talking about their workout routines, as a tie-in with Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ Campaign.
Then Obama started to focus on push-ups and Ellen’s competitive spirit came out when she challenged the former First Lady to a contest.
They both whipped off their jackets and went head-to-head, with the studio audience on hand to count all of the reps.
Ellen was 54 years old at the time and managed 20 push-ups, whilst Obama (who is 6 years younger) managed to finish 25.
16. She’s worth approximately $450 million
Given that she’s headlined both a sitcom and her own talk show, Ellen DeGeneres has earned a lot of money over the years.
In 2019, her estimated net worth was said to be $450 million, although in 2021 Forbes estimated it was closer to $370 million. (Still nothing to cry about!)
She earns over $70 million a year thanks to her talk show and books, as well as her roles as a producer and actress.
- Credit: Toglen
DeGeneres made a high-profile return to stand-up by shooting a Netflix special in 2018, which earned her $20 million.
She and wife Portia DeRossi are also reported to have a lucrative side interest in real estate.
They’ve reportedly flipped 20 properties since 2003, including a mansion they sold to Ariana Grande for $6.7 million.
15. She wasn’t the funniest member of her family growing up
It may be surprising considering her line of work, but Ellen says she wasn’t the funniest person in her family growing up.
Apparently Ellen’s older brother Vance DeGeneres was the real joker of the household when they were young.
Fittingly, Vance also went on to pursue a career in show business, actually getting started before his sister.
- Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Vance (above right) was a member of a successful Louisiana rock band, The Cold, in the late 70s, then became a radio DJ.
He then became a comedian and screenwriter, and has collaborated with his more famous sister in this capacity.
The elder DeGeneres sibling co-wrote Ellen’s monologues for her stints hosting the Emmys and the Oscars.
14. She unknowingly drove past her ex-girlfriend’s fatal car crash
One particularly tragic story in Ellen’s life dates back to her earliest days as a stand-up comedian.
In her 20s, DeGeneres dated a poet named Kat Perkoff, who also happened to own a lesbian bar in New Orleans.
Her connection with Perkoff allowed Ellen to test her stand-up material at the club.
Sadly the relationship didn’t last, with DeGeneres deciding to end the relationship on learning Perkoff had been unfaithful to her.
Just after the break-up, Kat suffered a fatal car accident – and Ellen drove past the scene of the crash, not knowing that it was her ex-girlfriend.
The pair had been living together before Kat’s untimely death, meaning that Ellen simultaneously had to cope with the loss of her ex-lover, an empty apartment and a broken heart.
13. She was once sued by several record labels at once
The size of Ellen’s personal fortune must have proved handy when she was hit with a potentially costly lawsuit.
In 2009, legal action was taken against the talk show host by multiple record labels.
The lawsuit claimed that DeGeneres had played over 1,000 songs on her show for which she hadn’t paid licensing fees.
Strangely enough, this lawsuit coincided almost exactly with the news that Ellen was going to become a judge on American Idol.
And in an even more bizarre twist, one of the record labels who brought the suit had offered record deals to several American Idol winners in the past.
Fortunately Ellen managed to avoid a lot of trouble by dealing with the complaint outside of court.
12. Jennifer Aniston was the first ever guest to appear on her talk show
2003 saw the launch of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the talk show (whose title is often abbreviated to simply Ellen).
The show proved to be a huge success and has remained on the air ever since.
Ellen has interviewed a great many notable figures over the years, but do you know who her very first guest was?
It was none other than Jennifer Aniston, who was on the show to promote the final season of Friends. Yes, it was that long ago!
As well as scoring high in the ratings, The Ellen DeGeneres Show has received a staggering 171 Daytime Emmy Award nominations, and 61 wins.
Nothing lasts foever, though, and it has been confirmed that the talk show will be coming to an end in 2022.
11. She clashed with the Writer’s Guild of America during a writer’s strike
Ellen is a paid-up member of the Writer’s Guild of America, but she found herself in a bit of an awkward situation with the guild back in 2007.
A high-profile writer’s strike ran from November 2007 to February 2008, and it’s been estimated that the action cost Los Angeles’ entertainment industry over $1 billion in revenue.
DeGeneres showed her support for the strike but on November 9th, 2007, she revealed that she would be crossing the picket line.
The talk show host explained that if she didn’t do this, she would be letting down the 135 employees who relied on their paycheck to survive.
Following Ellen’s decision, the show ran as usual (with the exception of the opening monologue which was cut out).
The Writer’s Guild of America were furious with Ellen and said that she was not welcome in New York City
10. She only ever missed one episode in the first 11 years of her chat show
Working on The Ellen DeGeneres Show may pay well, but it also keeps its eponymous host very busy.
The show runs five days a week, and each season runs for 34 weeks of the year.
Ellen herself never missed a single show, until she had to take a day off in January 2014 due to a bad case of flu.
In Ellen’s absence, actress Ellie Kemper (of The Office and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) was called in as a replacement.
In more recent years, guest hosts have filled in for Ellen more frequently, with some very big names among them.
These include Miley Cyrus, Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson, Kristen Bell, Robert Downey Jr and Jennifer Aniston.
9. Her Oscars selfie became one of the most popular tweets of all time
Pretty much everyone on Twitter jumps at the chance to get a lot of retweets – so we can hardly blame Ellen for following suit.
Back in 2014, DeGeneres decided to try and break the world record for the most retweeted photograph – and she very nearly made it!
During her second appearance as Oscars host, she assembled a slew of stars including Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Lawrence. (Oh, and Kevin Spacey, but let’s try not to dwell on him.)
- Credit: @TheEllenShow Twitter
Bradley Cooper took the shot, which prompted Ellen’s caption, “If only Bradley’s arm was longer.” (Note we only just see Jared Leto on the left.)
The selfie had over 3.3 million retweets and 2 million favourites, and it was retweeted in over 151 different countries worldwide.
For a time this made it the second most retweeted tweet ever, but as of 2021 it’s ranked fifth.
8. The role of Dory in Finding Nemo was written specifically for her
Ellen DeGeneres has her share of acting credits, but her most celebrated role is one in which we never see her face.
The actress voices Dory, the Blue Tang with a short-term memory problem, in Disney-Pixar’s Finding Nemo and its sequel Finding Dory.
If the role of the scatter-brained fish seems tailor-made for Ellen, that may be because it was written with her in mind.
Finding Nemo’s writer-director Andrew Stanton has admitted that, early on, he intended to make Dory a male fish.
However, Stanton says he was inspired to make the character female – and cast DeGeneres – after watching her on television one day.
“I heard (DeGeneres) change the sentence — the subject of a sentence — five times before she got from beginning to the end. And a light bulb went off that was an appealing, progressive way to be able to do short-term memory that wouldn’t get old really quick.”
7. She had her own record label
What with comedy, acting, hosting and real estate, Ellen DeGeneres has her fingers in several different pies.
You might not have known, however that she also ventured into the music business, having founded her own record label.
DeGeneres set up the label, named eleveneleven, back in 2010 alongside business partner Mike Hamlin.
- Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
The first artist signed to eleveneleven was teen Youtube sensation Greyson Chance, who DeGeneres discovered on the 11th of the month.
The fact that she discovered Chance on the 11th, and a long-term fascination with seeing the time 11:11 on digital watches, explains eleveneleven’s curious name.
Unfortunately eleveneleven was not to last, as the label folded within two years of its formation.
6. She appeared on the cover of O Magazine
Ellen may be a big thing in the US daytime talk show game, but everyone knows there’s only one true queen in that arena.
We are of course referring to Oprah Winfrey, who has dominated the daytime talk show for decades.
Oprah is a one-woman media empire, also running her own magazine, O – which famously features her on the cover of every single issue.
However, back in 2009 Ellen campaigned to be featured on the cover of O – and Oprah agreed.
DeGeneres (who is good friends with Winfrey) was one of the very few people to share the O Magazine cover alongside Oprah.
Only one issue of the magazine (which ended its run in 2020) did not showcase Oprah herself, and this was a 2020 issue in honour of the late Breonna Taylor.
5. She has apologised to employees who have complained of a ‘toxic workplace’ on The Ellen DeGeneres Show
Ellen DeGeneres has long had a reputation for being overly friendly and approachable at all times.
It came as a shock, then, when people who had worked on her talk show spoke out about issues on the set.
A 2020 report by Buzzfeed featured numerous claims from former employees declaring the show a “toxic workplace.”
There were allegations of harassment from executive producers on the show, as well as racism.
DeGeneres issued a formal apology, stating she wanted her show to be a place “where everyone would be treated with respect,” and that she was “disappointed to learn that this has not been the case.”
Three executive producers on the show have since been fired, and it’s likely that this scandal has contributed to the decision to end The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2022.
4. She’s a college dropout
As we’ve seen, Ellen DeGeneres has achieved a great deal in her life – and she’s done so without a college education.
In the late 70s, DeGeneres enrolled at the University of New Orleans, majoring in Communication Studies.
However, Ellen decided that it wasn’t for her and dropped out after a single semester.
- Credit: Tulane University
Even so, later in life she was indeed awarded an academic title – just not by the conventional means.
In 2009, Tulane University in New Orleans presented the media icon with an honorary doctoral degree.
After receiving this rare honour, the comedian gave the university’s commencement speech later that year.
3. She was set up with Anne Heche by actor Vince Vaughn
Most people remember that Ellen DeGeneres’ first high-profile girlfriend was fellow actress Anne Heche.
However, you might not have known that another actor played match-maker to get them together.
That actor was none other than Vince Vaughn, who had co-starred with Heche in the 1998 remake of classic thriller Psycho.
Vaughn and writer Roger Friedman introduced Heche and DeGeneres at a Vanity Fair party in March 1997.
The two hit it off, and made their relationship ‘red carpet official’ at an event only 16 days later.
The couple had spoken openly about the possibility of a civil union (same-sex marriage was not legal at the time), but they ultimately split in 2000.
2. She previously championed veganism, but has since given it up
On top of being an outspoken LGBTQ+ advocate, Ellen was also a passionate vegan for a time, like her wife Portia DeRossi.
She had publicly declared herself to be a vegan and a “big animal lover,” and made steps to promote the lifestyle.
To this end she launched a website, Going Vegan with Ellen, to help educate people on how to embrace veganism.
- Credit: ABC/Todd Wawrychuk
DeGeneres had also planned to get into the food business by opening a vegan tapas bar in Los Angeles.
However, in more recent years it seems that Ellen has stopped feeling such passion for the vegan cause.
She’s admitted in interviews and in her 2018 stand-up special that she went back to eating fish “for no real reason.”
1. Her friendship with George W Bush has sparked controversy
In the past, Ellen DeGeneres has been a controversial figure among conservatives due to her sexuality and promotion of gay rights.
However, it has since come to light that the talk show host has a rather unlikely close friend in former US President George W. Bush.
She has interviewed the former Republican President on her show, and was pictured sitting next to him at a football game.
- Credit: Christopher Polk via Getty Images/Eric Draper
Many criticised DeGeneres’ friendship with Bush due to his track record of opposing LGBTQ+ rights, as well as for ordering the controversial invasion of Iraq.
DeGeneres defended the relationship, arguing that personal friendships should not be contingent on shared political allegiances or ideologies.