* DeGeneres began her pursuit of a comedy career in 1981 by performing at local clubs and coffee houses. Her first big show-business break came in 1986, when the producers of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson—acting on a tip from Jay Leno—booked DeGeneres for an appearance on Carson’s program. DeGeneres subsequently began making regular appearances on the talk-show circuit, including The Late Show with David Letterman, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and Good Morning, America. From 1994-98 she starred in the prime-time television sitcom bearing her name, Ellen. And in April 1997, DeGeneres’s character became the first lead in any sitcom to openly acknowledge her homosexuality on air.
* In a 1994 television role, DeGeneres played a character who berated a white police officer for allegedly disrespecting nonwhite immigrants who were passengers in her (DeGeneres’s) car. Said the DeGeneres character: “We are citizens of the U.S. of A., and just because her two little children happen to have a darker shade of skin doesn’t give you the right to question their nationality or harass my friend or treat us like we’re some type of second-class citizens. We are human beings, dammit, and we are doing nothing but exercising our God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
* DeGeneres dated actress Anne Heche from 1997-2000, and later (in 2004) became romantically involved with actress Portia de Rossi, whom she eventually married in California on August 16, 2008.
* In 2003 DeGeneres lent her voice to the animated film Finding Nemo. That same year, she launched her own daytime variety show, Ellen, which continues to air on NBC television.