Secrets Ellen was forced to keep about her private life

Comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is more than a rad suit, sweet pair of kicks, and perfectly delivered punchline. The woman is a trailblazer who wagered her entire career on being true to herself. (She's also an unstoppable dancing machine.) DeGeneres' personal life blew up publicly in 1997 when she made the decision for both actress and character to come of the closet on her popular ABC sitcom Ellen. The revelation triggered a very public and swift fall from grace in a social climate that had not yet achieved today's levels of acceptance and equality toward the LGBT community. Revamped as a show about a woman exploring her newfound sexual identity, Ellen lasted just one more season

At great personal expense, DeGeneres broke barriers and is now considered a widely accepted and respected comedic and social icon. Though DeGeneres has bounced back funnier and more fervent than ever, let's recount the secrets she was forced to keep along the way.

The truth about her 'phone call to God'

Like many comedians, DeGeneres pulled from her darkest moments for her best comedy. Her breakthrough piece, "a phone call to God," was born from the heartbreaking loss of her 23-year-old girlfriend, but when DeGeneres delivered the monologue in the '80s, she didn't say "girlfriend." She referred to the young woman as her "best friend" and "roommate." Many years passed before she told the truth about her partner. 

In a 2015 interview for Oprah's Master Class, DeGeneres shared the whole story. She and her girlfriend had been living together, but their relationship had hit a rough patch. One night, they met up at a show and got into an argument. Her girlfriend wanted her to come home, but DeGeneres pretended she couldn't hear her over the music. Her girlfriend left the show and was involved in a fatal car accident. DeGeneres actually passed the accident scene on her way home from the show but had no idea until the next day, that her girlfriend was part of that grisly scene. 

As DeGeneres coped with the senseless tragedy, she thought, "Wouldn't it be great if you had a phone number for God?" That sorrowful contemplation unexpectedly catapulted her comedic career, forcing DeGeneres to come to grips with the dichotomy of tremendous public success and intense personal secrecy.

She had a beard for a while

Few casual fans of DeGeneres or regular Ellen viewers had any inkling that the comedian and actress was gay, in part because she was often seen in public with a big ol' hunk of '90s arm candy: That Thing You Do! star Johnathon Schaech. Why? Well, the '90s were not terribly woke, or at least not as woke as they are today, which is thanks, in part, to social pioneers like DeGeneres. 

In a 2016 Reddit "Ask Me Anything," a fan asked Schaech if the rumors that he dated DeGeneres back in the day were true. They were … sort of. "My manager asked me to accompany her to events," he said, recalling that DeGeneres "was scared people would not watch the show, her sitcom Ellen, because she was gay." So, using Schaech as a beard, she hid that part of her identity. Schaech said supporting his friend "was an honor." He told Access Hollywood that old photos of the pair canoodling were only for show. "We just played a little," said the Legends of Tomorrow star. "It was all about the pictures."

Her romance with Anne Heche became a 'soap opera'

DeGeneres' romantic relationship with actress Anne Heche may have been the catalyst for her coming-out announcement in 1997. Just months after meeting Heche at a Vanity Fair party, DeGeneres graced the cover of Time magazine with the headline, "Yep, I'm Gay." Though she'd come to terms with sharing her sexual orientation with the public, DeGeneres later said she did not feel comfortable publicizing her relationship with Heche or serving as the face of gay Hollywood. 

Theirs was one of the first prominent and public same-sex relationships in Hollywood history, and after their very public and embarrassing breakup in 2000, DeGeneres told the Los Angeles Times, "I don't want to be a part of a soap opera anymore. That's the key word — a soap opera is not real. I was in something that I thought was real." She added, "it was the first time I ever had my heart broken." In subsequent years, she has made her own decisions about sharing her love life and how best to engage with LGBT advocacy.

When Ellen met Portia

DeGeneres and actress Portia de Rossi met at a VHI awards show in 2004. "Ellen took my breath away," de Rossi later told The Advocate. "That had never happened to me in my life, where I saw somebody and experienced all of those things you hear about in songs and read about in poetry. My knees were weak." But the pair had a problem. Though DeGeneres had come out publically in 1997, de Rossi was still in the closet, and so the talk show host found herself in the same secret position she'd experienced decades prior.

DeGeneres stood by de Rossi as she struggled to determine how and when to reveal her sexuality. The Arrested Development star said she stepped forward for the first time at the Golden Globes in 2004. In an interview on Inside the Actor's Studio in 2013 (via TV Guide), de Rossi recalled the moment. "Ellen and I had been together for a month, and I was very, very nervous going to that because I knew that I was going to meet up with her after the show and that there was press," she said. "That was the first time that we actually stepped out together as a couple, but for me, it was the first time that I'd stepped out as a gay woman, really." That bold move finally turned the tide on DeGeneres' secret life. The couple wed in 2008 and have been living honestly and openly ever since.

She had a very religious upbringing

What's the one thing that's arguably as personal and precious as one's sexuality? Religious beliefs. Discussing one's spirituality in public can be a dicey matter and invite a lot of criticism and commentary from people who could mind their own business. Perhaps that's why Ellen DeGeneres has rarely spoken about her strict, non-traditional, Christian Science upbringing. 

"My father was a first reader in the Christian Science Church, which is similar to being a preacher," DeGeneres told Parade in 2016. "I didn't see deep emotion from my parents. It was all very polite and very surface. I never knew how anybody was feeling. Because of that religion everything was fine all the time." DeGeneres said the family's spirituality-directed need to keep everything hidden left her ill-prepared when tragedy struck. "I never saw anyone angry—so when I was 13 and my parents divorced it was a huge surprise to me because I was told everything was fine. It was very confusing."

When she came out, she got kicked out

All things are possible with Oprah Winfrey. On the same day that Winfrey guest-starred on the iconic "coming out" episode of Ellen in 1997 as a therapist who helps Ellen realize she's gay, DeGeneres guested on Winfrey's talk show to speak out about her real-life coming out process. 

DeGeneres said that while she received messages of both support and cruelty, some reactions were neither black nor white — like her father and stepmother's response when she told them years earlier. "It was a little harder because he's very religious, and I thought he would have a hard time with it," DeGeneres told Oprah (via The Huffington Post). "But he's the kind of guy who says, 'I love you for whoever you are, but I don't understand it.'" However, her stepmother had two young daughters and was supposedly worried that DeGeneres' lifestyle "would influence them," so her father and stepmom asked DeGeneres to move out of the house. Things were a little awkward, but they didn't have a falling out. "They cosigned a loan for me to get, you know, an apartment," DeGeneres said. "Everything was fine. It was just, they didn't want me living in the house with the two little girls."

Is she a secret plastic surgery addict?

In 2014, the National Enquirer embarked on a seemingly impossible mission: find dirt on Ellen. This is what it dug up: According to anonymous sources and purported Ellen show insiders (via Radar Online), DeGeneres has undergone numerous cosmetic surgeries. One unnamed associate claimed DeGeneres' fresh-faced glow is the result of "a lift," along with frequent Botox injections. Cosmetic surgeon Dr. Yoel S. Shahar looked at pictures of DeGeneres and concluded for the Enquirer that there was evidence of "multiple procedures. It is quite obvious she underwent a full face light that improved her neck and jawline." Dr. Shahar thinks DeGeneres has also had a forehead lift, an eyebrow raise, and various chemical peels, laser treatments, and fillers.

So why is this scandalous? After all, our bodies are our bodies, and we can do whatever we want with them, right? If someone needs to get a little work done to feel a little bit better about themselves, more power to them. Here's the rub: extensive cosmetic surgery flies in the face of DeGeneres' public image — a regular, relatable person who seems to be comfortable in her own skin. 

Why would she have all those alleged procedures done? Yet another unnamed individual in that Enquirer "exposé" thinks DeGeneres goes under the knife "because she's unhappy about looking older — especially when compared to Portia."