Celebs who came out later in life

Coming out is a very personal decision, especially for celebs. For starters, many famous LGBTQ people have to consider the effect coming out will have on their careers — a dilemma that older stars know all too well. Secondly, celebrities must assess how their announcement will affect their loved ones who might not yet know the truth about their sexuality. And to top it all off, celebs are typically pressured to answer questions about their coming out time and time again — no matter how much time has passed. 

The whole thing is a lot to deal with, to say the least, so it should come as no shock that so many prominent people put off opening up about their sexuality. In fact, there are a lot of celebrities in Hollywood who waited for decades before they came out to the world. Let's check out all the celebs who kept their sexuality under wraps for a long time.

Ellen DeGeneres broke barriers with 'The Puppy Episode'

Although it might be difficult to imagine a time when Ellen DeGeneres was not an out and proud lesbian, the truth of the matter is she concealed her sexuality from the world for a long 39 years. So, what compelled Ellen to wait nearly four decades before she finally came out to fans in 1997? Similarly to many other older celebs out there at the time, DeGeneres wasn't sure how coming out would affect her career. But the good news is DeGeneres did ultimately decide to come out — and she did so via an episode of her hit sitcom, Ellen. Pretty epic, right? 

The pivotal episode, titled, "The Puppy Episode," follows DeGeneres' character, Ellen Morgan, as she comes to the realization that she's gay. After Morgan accidentally outs herself to strangers over an airport public address system (it's a long story), she decides to break the news to her close circle of friends. Of course, the story doesn't end there. Following the groundbreaking episode, DeGeneres used her character's coming out as a means to confirm her own sexuality. 

"… [When] I decided to have my character on the show come out, I knew I was going to have to come out too," DeGeneres told TIME in an April 1997 cover story about her big announcement. "I never wanted to be 'the lesbian actress.' I never wanted to be the spokesperson for the gay community. Ever. I did it for my own truth."

Portia de Rossi overcame internalized homophobia

Speaking of DeGeneres, the comedian's wife, actress Portia de Rossi, has an emotional coming out story of her own. In de Rossi's case, she battled a lot of internalized homophobia before she was able to fully come to terms with her sexuality in January 2005 at age 32. "I just didn't want to be a lesbian," de Rossi admitted during an episode of the television series Conversation With Amanda De Cadenet (via HuffPost). "I'd never met one for a start and I just thought they were strange and that they hated men and they were very serious … and there were no out celebrities or politicians or anybody that I could look to and go, 'Oh, I could be like that.' … I just kind of thought I don't want to live like this. I don't have to, I don't need to, I just shut down the emotional life.”

But when de Rossi started dating DeGeneres towards the end of 2004, she knew it was time to make her sexuality public. So, de Rossi decided to bring DeGeneres as her date to the 2005 Golden Globes ceremony, and the move marked her coming out. "I think when I really, truly came out was the Golden Globes when Arrested Development was nominated," de Rossi recalled during an appearance on Inside the Actors Studio. "That was the first time we stepped out together as a couple, but, for me, it was the first time I stepped out as a gay woman, really."

Ricky Martin finally had enough

Sadly, many famous people hesitate to come out because they've been made to feel guilty about their sexuality. Case in point: Ricky Martin hid his sexuality from fans because he was told that his feelings were "evil." "I was afraid of rejection, 'cause unfortunately, first of all, for many years everyone, a lot of people told me that my feelings were evil — 'What you're feeling is not godly,'" Martin recalled during an interview with CBS Sunday Morning. "If I'm feeling this, I'm not a good person."

After a long period of reflection and some crash courses in self-love, however, Martin decided to come out as gay in 2010 at age 38. "I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man," Martin wrote in an announcement on his website, RickyMartinMusic.com (via CNN). "I am very blessed to be who I am … These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn't even know existed."

Additionally, Martin felt it was his responsibility to come out for the sake of his twin boys born via a surrogate in 2008. "To keep living as I did up until today would be to indirectly diminish the glow that my kids were born with," he penned. 

Wanda Sykes got political

Sometimes it takes a major event to inspire a person to come out, a phenomenon comedienne Wanda Sykes knows all too well. Shortly after California passed a ban on same-sex marriage (Proposition 8) in November 2008, Sykes took to an LGBTQ rights rally in Las Vegas, Nev. to speak out against the now-unconstitutional amendment. And, during Sykes' passionate speech about equality, she decided it was the right moment to announce that she's a lesbian. 

"I don't really talk about my sexual orientation. I didn't feel like I had to. I was just living my life, not necessarily in the closet, but I was living my life," a then-44-year-old Sykes stated in her speech, as shared by The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. "Everybody that knows me personally, they know I'm gay. But that's the way people should be able to live their lives. We took a huge leap forward and then got dragged 12 feet back … Now, I gotta get in their face. I'm proud to be a woman. I'm proud to be a black woman, and I'm proud to be gay." 

Sykes, who married her wife, Alex Sykes, in October 2008, has no regrets about coming out at the rally. "I mean, I am what I am and this is it," Sykes explained to journalist Piers Morgan in June 2011. "So now, you know, you thought I had a big mouth before, now it's just crazy … There's nothing that I can't say."

Elton John took his time

Out of all the celebrities who have come out later in life, Elton John might have the most interesting story to tell. For starters, John technically came out twice. How is this possible, you ask? Well, in 1976 at age 29, John came out as bisexual in an interview with Rolling Stone. When Elton was questioned on his sexuality, he coyly responded, "I don't know what I want to be exactly. I'm just going through a stage where any sign of affection would be welcome on a sexual level. But I really don't know." When pressed further, Elton added, "There's nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex. I think everybody's bisexual to a certain degree. I don't think it's just me…"

Although the 1976 admission might seem like a shut and closed case to some people, in 1988, a 41-year-old John confessed to Rolling Stone that he was finally "comfortable" with being gay. As for why John waited so long to confirm the news, he simply thought it wasn't necessary. "It's not exactly a secret. I live with my manager. I'm openly gay outside," John recalled telling Rolling Stone journalist Cliff Jahr. "I don't have a girlfriend. And nobody's ever actually out — I just thought it was common knowledge."' 

Ian McKellen took a stand

Similarly to the aforementioned Sykes, actor Ian McKellen is someone who was also inspired by politics to come out. Following the United Kingdom's passage of Section 28 in 1988, an amendment which outlawed local authorities from "intentionally promoting homosexuality or publishing material with the intention of promoting homosexuality," McKellen took to BBC Radio 3 to protest the bill as anti-LGBTQ. And McKellen, who was 48 at the time, outed himself in an attempt to drive his point home. 

When McKellen was asked if he'd like to see the bill repealed, he responded, "I certainly would. It's offensive to anyone who is — like myself — homosexual, apart from the whole business of what can and cannot be taught to children."

The good news is Section 28 was repealed in 2003, and McKellen has no regrets about coming out. In fact, McKellen is still thrilled with his decision. "I've never met a gay person who regretted coming out — including myself," McKellen tweeted in January 2018. "Life at last begins to make sense, when you are open and honest. Today is the 30th anniversary of the BBC radio discussion when I publicly said I was gay. So I'm celebrating!"

Anderson Cooper changed his mind

Anderson 360 star Anderson Cooper made history in 2012 when he publicly came out as a gay man, a move that cemented himself as the first openly gay primetime news anchor. "The fact is, I'm gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn't be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud," a then-45-year-old Cooper confirmed in an email to The Daily Beast reporter Andrew Sullivan (via CBS News). 

So, why did Cooper wait almost fifty decades to make a splash? Wouldn't someone like Cooper, who is a well-known trailblazer in the newsroom, want to pave the way for fellow LGBTQ journalists? Well, as Cooper put it at the time, he always thought that a person's private life should remain private. "I've always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss publicly," Cooper noted in his email.

Cooper's stance changed, however, when he started to assess the implications of his silence. "It's become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something," Cooper wrote. "This is distressing because it is simply not true. I've also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible."

Holland Taylor doesn't want to talk about it

Actress Holland Taylor generated a lot of buzz in December 2015 when sources confirmed her relationship with American Horror Story actress Sarah Paulson, a woman who is 32 years her junior. But if Taylor had it her way, the couple's May-December romance would have remained out of the tabloids. Why? Well, any talk of Taylor's relationships puts her in the uncomfortable position of also having to discuss her lesbian sexuality, a conundrum she finds really awkward. 

So, when Taylor was pressed about her budding romance with Paulson in November 2015, right before the news broke, she decided to "come out" once and for all. "I've been really wrestling with this lately because most of my relationships have been with women and I don't like talking about them because I don't like talking about the politics of it all because I'm not political about it," a 72-year-old Taylor explained, according to WYNC Studios. "I think we're ridiculous in this country about it. Ridiculous. And so, it's awkward because if I talk about relationships in my life or people that have been in my life, or somebody I've been seeing for a while or this, that and the other thing, I'd like to be able to just say that, without having to stop and say, 'so have you come out?' No, I haven't come out because I am out. I live out." Well said.

Lily Tomlin kept quiet for her mom

For many older celebrities, coming out can be a very emotional process, especially if family members are involved. Just ask Grace & Frankie actress Lily Tomlin, who kept her sexuality a so-called secret from the public for 70 years in an effort to please her mother, Lillie Mae Ford. When Tomlin, a lesbian, was asked about whether or not actors have a responsibility to come out, she reasoned, according to The Guardian, "I don't hold anybody to some strict expectation because I don't know what that person's circumstance is.The one reason I didn't come out more fully, really, is because I knew it would hurt my mother. She was so southern, so Methodist, she believed so much in Jesus."

So, when Ford passed away in 2005 at age 91, Tomlin felt more secure in discussing her sexuality publicly. Case in point: In a 2009 interview with The Advocate, a 70-year-old Tomlin decided to finally address coming out and to talk about her longtime partner, Jane Wagner. "We never hid anything and we never denied anything, but we never said anything specific," Tomlin said about her lack of officially coming out. "I referred to Jane a million times as my partner, and people interpreted that as they would." Of course, Tomlin no longer cares how people interpret things, and she said "I Do" to Wagner in January 2014 after 42 years together. Don't you just love happy endings? 

Meredith Baxter was pressured to come out

Family Ties alum Meredith Baxter shocked fans in December 2009 when, at age 62, she announced that she is a lesbian. Baxter, who had three marriages with men before coming out, told Today co-host Matt Lauer, "I am a lesbian and it was a later-in-life recognition. Some people would say, well, you're living a lie and, you know, the truth is — not at all. This has only been for the past seven years." 

Sadly, Baxter was somewhat forced to come out due to tabloid speculation about her sexuality. Although Baxter explained to Lauer that disclosing personal info about herself is "antithetical" to who she is, she ultimately came forward with her story because she didn't want to be "worried all the time." 

The upside to Baxter's coming out journey is that her loved ones and former cast mates always had her back. "The support from my family and anyone close to me has been so immediate and unqualified. I've really been blessed," Baxter confided to Lauer. Making matters even better for Baxter is that she married her longtime girlfriend, Nancy Locke, in December 2013. 

Cynthia Nixon's coming out wasn't straightforward

Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon was in a relationship with professor Danny Mozes for a whopping 15 years before the couple called it quits in 2003. Although the reason for the split was murky, it was clear Nixon had moved on when she was romantically linked to education advocate Christine Marinoni in 2004. But Nixon didn't know how to handle the situation when the press came knocking a few months into the couple's romance. So, Nixon hired a publicist who recommended that she keep her private life under wraps indefinitely — a decision she later came to regret. 

Fortunately, Nixon's new publicist, Kate Bush, encouraged her to confirm her same-sex romance.  Recalling the moment, Nixon said, "And I was like, 'Really, we can just confirm?' So that's what we did. It was so fantastic" (via The Advocate).

Still, it took a bit of time before Nixon actually addressed her sexuality. In fact, Nixon didn't place a label on her orientation until January 2012, shortly before she married Marinoni. Following an interview with The New York Times, in which Nixon described her "gayness" as a "choice," she clarified her stance in an email to Advocate. "While I don't often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual," a 45-year-old Nixon stated (via HuffPost). "I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have 'chosen' is to be in a gay relationship."

Kevin Spacey's coming out was controversial

It's no secret that celeb Kevin Spacey's coming out at age 58 was a bit … controversial. Following Rent actor Anthony Rapp's accusation that Spacey sexually assaulted him in 1986 when he was just 14 years old, Spacey released a statement in October 2017 that seemingly intended to distract from the troubling incident. After Spacey claimed that he didn't "remember" the encounter in question, he confirmed that he is a gay man. 

"This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life," Spacey wrote. "I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact that I have been so protective of my privacy. As those closest to me know, in my life I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man."