She’s won 30 Emmys, 20 People’s Choice Awards, and a treasure trove of others for charitable efforts. She was featured on Forbes’ list of top celebrity annual earners, raking in 77 million last year alone. But how did Ellen DeGeneres achieve such iconic status?
Through a unique blend of wit, quirk, kindness and a fearlessness to be herself. Let’s take a closer look at why Ellen DeGeneres is truly larger than life.
1. No Last Name Needed
Ellen’s hosted the Grammy’s, Emmy’s, and Academy Awards. Twice. She’s also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award. And arguably most reflective of her icon status—she’s on a very short list of people worldwide (think: Oprah, Bono, Beyonce, Madonna) who doesn’t need a last name for everyone to know the person being talked about. That speaks volumes in itself.
Ellen receiving Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama
It’s also refreshing that she’s the sixth most-followed person on the planet on Twitter. Not because social media followership means a damn thing but because there’s one less person famous for nothing who doesn’t have the world’s eyeballs on command. Like it or not, social media influences the masses, and more Ellens under a spotlight in this world would be pretty fucking all right.
2. “Yep, I’m Gay”
After nearly four seasons being the cute, sweet, girl-next-door bookstore owner Ellen Morgan on the sitcom “Ellen” — DeGeneres’ character came out on “The Puppy Episode” to a live studio audience and estimated 44 million viewers. Of course, viewership was way up because two weeks prior, a Time Magazine cover featured DeGeneres alongside the quotes, “Yep, I’m Gay.” DeGeneres had also publicly come out on Oprah’s show, which aired just hours before “The Puppy Episode.”
It’s easy to remember the good parts of the coming out, live cheers from the studio audience every time a joke or reference was made leading up to the end of the episode, even guest appearances by Oprah and Laura Dern because they wanted to be a part of the moment. However, there was plenty of backlash too, with people claiming she was trying to force her sexual orientation on people. “Ellen” lasted just one more season. Oprah received hate mail, death threats and racial slurs. Dern didn’t work for a year following her appearance as Ellen’s love interest in the episode.
DeGeneres wasn’t the first TV character to be depicted as gay, but she was the first to come out on live TV. Her character wasn’t invisible or negatively portrayed as those in the past. She helped usher in a new, more open era of LGBQT characters on television.
It was a turbulent time to come out. These days we live in a much different era of transparency, but it was Ellen who gave that movement considerable momentum.
3. A Sense of Humor We Can All Learn From
With all that she’s faced and accomplished, it’s easy to forget that Ellen is hilarious, and in a sweet, endearing type of way that’s atypical for famous comedians. When she tore a ligament in her back in 2007, instead of putting her on hold, a decision that would have been completely understandable, she decided to host it from her bed, with guests sitting in the bed next to her.
She opened a televised version of the Emmys following the 9/11 attacks with this apt joke:
“We’re told to go on living our lives as usual, because to do otherwise is to let the terrorists win, and really, what would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?”
Some other quotes that perfectly illustrate her witty humor:
“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”
“I’m a godmother, that’s a great thing to be, a godmother. She calls me god for short, that’s cute, I taught her that.”
“One time I actually cleaned out my closet so good I ended up on the cover of Time Magazine.”
A true reflection of her character:
“Contribute to the world. Help people. Help one person. Help someone cross the street today. Help someone with directions unless you have a terrible sense of direction. Help someone who is trying to help you. Just help. Make an impact. Show someone you care. Say yes instead of no. Say something nice. Smile. Make eye contact. Hug. Kiss. Get naked.”
On forging your own path:
“Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path. Then by all means follow that path.”
And finally, one final observation on the irony of real life:
“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for – in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it.
Read about other inspiring men, women, places, and moments in time, all part of VK Nagrani’s Badass series.