It’s easy to forget that before Ellen DeGeneres was the mononymic Ellen – the duchess of daytime TV, half of one of Hollywood‘s best power couples and the voice of the world’s most famous fish – she was the star of her own sitcom, and she was in the closet.
But way back in 1997, Ellen came out, making the groundbreaking decision to have her sitcom character do the same. She was the first gay main character on American TV, and it pretty much changed everything.
44 million people watched the coming out episode, titled ‘The Puppy Episode‘, and both Ellen and Oprah Winfrey, who played the therapist who Ellen came out to, were swamped with hate mail. Nevertheless, it paved the way for countless other actors, comedians, TV writers and people around the world whose sexual orientation fell outside the narrow scope of heterosexuality to be open about their true selves.
Today, twenty years and a wildly successful career later, Ellen looked back on her momentous coming out along with contemporaries and mates Oprah Winfrey, Laura Dern and other cast members from the show.
Check out some of the highlights below, and take a moment to count yourself lucky to share the planet with someone who so bravely and effervescently changed history, popular culture and the world for good.
Onya Ellen. Here’s to twenty more years, and many more after that.