Comedian and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres is the recipient of the Golden Globes Awards Carol Burnett Award for excellence in television. She was the first openly gay woman in entertainment to play an openly gay character on TV in her 1990s sitcom Ellen. According to a 2015 poll, DeGeneres has done more to change the conversation around LGBTQ rights than any other celebrity.
Ellen DeGeneres was born on January 26, 1958 in Metairie, Louisiana to Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Jane and Elliott Everett DeGeneres. Her parents divorced in 1974. After that, Ellen moved with her mother and stepfather to Atlanta, Texas. Her brother, Vance DeGeneres, stayed with their father.
After high school, DeGeneres moved back to the New Orleans area to attend the University of New Orleans, where she studied communications. After one semester, she left school to work in a law firm. Later, she worked at a J.C. Penney, a TGI Fridays and spent time as a house painter, hostess and bartender. Much of her comedic work relates to her childhood and early career experiences.
Here’s what you need to know about Ellen DeGeneres’ family:
1. Degeneres’ Father Passed Away in 2018
In early 2018, Ellen DeGeneres revealed that her father, Elliot Everett DeGeneres, passed away at 92 years old. She wrote in the tweet that the passing was not unexpected and she was able to say goodbye.
“He was 92 years old,” she said in the video. “He had a good, long life. And he lived his life exactly how he wanted. He was Christian Science in his early life. He never had medicine his whole life. He never went to a doctor. We never had a vaccination. We never had medicine growing up and he lived to be 92.”
She continued on, outlining the one vacation her family ever took together. It was a trip to the Warner Bros. lot she now tapes her show on. She said she was able to speak to her father shortly before his death and not long after that phone call, she left the studio and spotted a rainbow in the sky. He died just a few minutes later.
“He was very proud of me,” she said. “He loved this show. He was a kind man, a very accepting man. There was not one bone of judgment in his body.”
2. She Has Many Pets She Thinks of as Children
Though DeGeneres does not have any children and does not plan on having any, she does have a lot of pets and is an avid animal lover.
She and her wife Portia de Rossi have seven pets. They have four dogs: Wolf, Augie, Kid and Willis. They also have three cats named Charlie, George and Chairman. Ellen told People that she used to dream of becoming a veterinarian when she grows up, so now she has a passion for rescuing animals. The most recent addition to the family, Wallis, is a pure-bred poodle that the couple adopted.
“We’re like new parents,” DeGeneres said on her show. “We’re trying to do everything we can. We have a crate next to the bed, and we’re crate-training her at night and it gives me new respect for moms that have babies because, you know, to worry about your baby in a crate, I can’t even imagine.”
3. She is Married to Portia de Rossi
Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi got married on August 16, 2008 in an intimate ceremony that included their mothers along with 17 invited guests. When the couple tied the knot, they were one of the most prominent couples to do so after the Supreme Court of California legalized same-sex marriage.
While there are sometimes divorce rumors surrounding the couple, they seem happy enough on their social media profiles. The couple recently celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary, prompting DeGeneres to share a black and white photo of their wedding day on Instagram.
“Happy anniversary, Portia,” the post reads. “11 years. My favorite number and with my favorite person.”
4. Her Mother is an LGBTQ Rights Activist & Cancer Survivor
DeGeneres’ mother is Betty DeGeneres. She is an LGBTQ rights activist and a former speech therapist.
She was the first straight spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) National Coming Out Project. The HRC honored Betty in February 2018, granting her an Upstander Award at the 5th annual Time to THRIVE Conference.
“Betty has been a tireless, fearless advocate for the LGBTQ community, and we have been proud to call her not only a member of the HRC family for more than two decades, but a true friend,” said Vincent Pompei, director of HRC’s Youth and Well-Being Project. “Betty is the kind of mother all children deserve, and I am so excited to have our conference attendees hear her inspiring message about being a true supporter and ally of LGBTQ youth and the broader LGBTQ community.”
She is an active member of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). PFLAG presents the Betty DeGeneres Advocate Award every year to someone who uses their visibility to advance PFLAG’s vision of a world where diversity is celebrated. The award was named after DeGeneres because she has used her public stature to educate the role PFLAG plays in providing support and affirmation. Betty DeGeneres has published three books on how to be an incredible parent to LGBTQ children and has appeared on The Ellen Show countless times.
In May 2019, Ellen revealed that she was sexually assaulted as a teenager by her stepfather. She didn’t tell her mother about what happened until a few years later, and her mom didn’t believe her at the time, staying married to the man for 18 more years. She finally left him after he kept changing her story.
In 2007, Ellen spoke to USA Today about her mother’s battle with cancer, saying that her mother tried to shield her from the fact she had a mastectomy.
“She tried to shield me from it a little bit, but she needed my help with recovery and physical rehabilitation,” Ellen said. “It bonded us even more.”
5. Her Brother is in the Entertainment World
Vance DeGeneres, Ellen DeGeneres’ older brother, is an actor, comedian, producer and musician. He was born on September 2, 1954, a little over three years before Ellen’s birth.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Vance hosted a radio program on WRNO-FM called New Wave New Orleans and played bass guitar in The Cold, a new-wave band founded in 1979. The Cold was honored for their place in New Orleans music history in 2018 by being inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Fame. Since then, he has played in bands like House of Schock and Cowboy Mouth. Cowboy Mouth appeared on The Ellen Show in 2006 to perform their song “The Avenue.” Vance left the band in 2007 to pursue TV projects.
Vance DeGeneres spent six years as the co-president of Carousel Productions, Steve Carell’s production company at Warner Bros. As of 2018, he said he “currently has a TV development deal with Telepictures and AVGP.
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