Tragic Details About Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres is arguably one of the most popular and influential celebrities of the 21st century. Having long since transcended her roots as a stand-up comic to become a top TV host, media mogul, and LGBTQ+ trailblazer, DeGeneres has parlayed her talent for making people laugh into a fortune estimated by Forbes at $330 million. 

Fans who watch DeGeneres banter with celebrities on The Ellen DeGeneres Show may assume she's had a charmed life, but that hasn't always been the case. Despite becoming one of the most phenomenally successful entertainers in history, DeGeneres' path hasn't been an easy one. She's experienced heartbreak, controversy, and scandal — with certain events in 2020 leading fans to question whether DeGeneres really is nothing like she seems. Through it all, however, this multi-talented performer has demonstrated the kind of resilience and tenacity that has allowed her to pull through the darkest of times and emerge into the light — if not unscathed from the experiences, then at least wiser. 

These are the tragic details about Ellen DeGeneres' life.

Ellen DeGeneres helped her mother through her breast cancer battle

When Ellen DeGeneres was just 16, her mom, Betty DeGeneres, received a devastating diagnosis from her doctor: she had breast cancer. While Betty underwent treatment while living in a small Texas town, Ellen recalled in an interview with USA Today, her mom insisted that the family keep the whole thing under wraps. 

"Everything was a dirty little secret back then," Ellen explained. Ultimately, a mastectomy was required, and the teenager became her mother's de facto caregiver during a very tentative time. "The fact that she had a mastectomy was not spoken of. She tried to shield me from it a little bit, but she needed my help with recovery and physical rehabilitation," the TV star added. "It bonded us even more."

Recalling how much her famous daughter helped her through those difficult days, Ellen's mother agreed that the experience brought the two closer together. "It's a very special relationship that I do not take for granted," Betty told USA Today. "We've been there for each other."

Ellen DeGeneres suffered sexual abuse as a teenager

Ellen DeGeneres' parents split up in 1970, according to People, with the future comedian's mother eventually remarrying. Years later, DeGeneres revealed in a 2005 interview with Allure (via CBS News) that her stepfather sexually assaulted her when she was a teenager, after she had helped her mother recover from breast cancer. 

While opening up about the experience further on David Letterman's Netflix series, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, in 2019, the TV star explained that it was her mother's diagnosis that created a pathway for her stepfather's abuse. "He told me ... he'd felt a lump in her breast and needed to feel my breasts," DeGeneres said, as reported by BBC News. "Anyway, he convinced me that he needs to feel my breasts and then he tries to do it again another time, and then another time he tries to break my door down and I kicked the window out and ran 'cause I knew it was going to go more to something."

It wasn't until years later that DeGeneres finally told her mother, telling Letterman, "And then she didn't believe me and then she stayed with him for 18 more years." Looking back, she admitted that, all those years later, it still makes her angry when "victims aren't believed, because we just don't make stuff up."

Her father asked her to move out when she revealed she was gay

While Ellen DeGeneres has been openly gay for decades, coming out to her parents wasn't easy — particularly her father. As she told Oprah Winfrey in her now iconic coming out interview in 1997, "He's very religious, and I thought he would have a hard time with it. But he's the kind of guy [who says], 'I love you for whoever you are, but I don't understand it, and let's never talk about it again.'"

Explaining that her dad had remarried after her parents' divorce, DeGeneres revealed that her father and stepmother's ignorance at the time about homosexuality led to an unfortunate decision. "They asked me to move out of the house," she said. "... [My stepmom] had two little girls that they worried that it would influence them." However, her relationship with her father and stepmother didn't change significantly after coming out, with the comedian saying they simply "didn't want me living in the house with the two little girls."

While being asked to leave understandably "really hurt," DeGeneres said, "But I understood it. I understand people not understanding. I'm fine with that. I can't change anyone's mind."

Ellen DeGeneres' girlfriend was killed in a car crash

When Ellen DeGeneres was 20 years old, she and her then-girlfriend were living together, but broke up after an argument. However, the split, DeGeneres revealed on Oprah's Master Class in 2015, wasn't intended to be permanent. When they ran into each other at a club, DeGeneres, who was staying with friends, blew off her girlfriend's attempts "to get [her] to come back home." She explained, "I was planning on moving back in. I was just trying to teach her a lesson." 

Her girlfriend ultimately left the club on her own, and when DeGeneres and her friends were driving home, they passed a horrific car accident. It wasn't until the next morning that DeGeneres learned her girlfriend had been killed in that very wreck. "That, of course, made me feel like I should have gone home with her that night ... I should have stopped ... All kinds of things ... A lot of guilt," DeGeneres admitted, adding, "In an instant, she just was gone ... It was really hard, but it shifted my entire focus and my life."

In an interview on Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast, DeGeneres recalled that experience leading her to think, "It would be amazing if we could pick up the phone and call up God and ask questions and actually get an answer" (via ET). Channeling her grief into that idea, DeGeneres wrote the seminal stand-up routine that brought her to The Tonight Show four years later, launching her comedy career.  

Ellen DeGeneres battled depression after going public with her sexuality

In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry when she came out as lesbian in a Time cover story. At the time, she was starring on the ABC sitcom, Ellen, and her character likewise came out. With The New York Times reporting that some advertisers became squeamish about seemingly endorsing homosexuality, pulling commercial spots from her show, the series was ultimately cancelled in 1998. 

This was a dark time for DeGeneres, who told Out magazine in 2016 that she "wasn't sure if [she] was going to work again," admitting, "I was at rock bottom and out of money, with no work in sight." Of the subsequent coming out backlash and cancellation, the comedian revealed on Dax Shepard's Armchair Expert podcast (via Today), "It hurt my feelings ... I was really depressed ... I was looked at as a failure in this business. No one would touch me. I had no agent, no possibility of a job, I had nothing."

Ultimately, DeGeneres' confidence had been shaken, as she explained to USA Today, "Whenever you carry shame around, you just can't possibly be a confident person." It wasn't until she realized she had nothing to be ashamed about that she regained her confidence, saying, "Depression eats away at your confidence and you get lost in that."

Ellen Degeneres received death threats after coming out

Depression and the fear that her career was over weren't the only thing that Ellen DeGeneres had to worry about after publicly coming out and dealing with the ensuing backlash. As she later told AdWeek in 2018, declaring, "Yep, I'm gay," on the cover of Time magazine also led the comedian to fear for her life. 

"When I came out, I had death threats and there was a bomb threat [targeting her show], but they misjudged the time of the taping," DeGeneres revealed, recalling that filming on the sitcom "had already finished, and thank God."

Sadly, people in DeGeneres' orbit were also hit with backlash. Actress Laura Dern, who played DeGeneres' onscreen love interest during the Ellen episode in which her character comes out, subsequently revealed that she was also targeted. Even though she only worked on the episode for 10 days, she told Vulture that the ramifications would last a lot longer. "We all spent the next couple of years really struggling in work and safety," Dern said. "It was radical to experience that. It was the only time I ever experienced having to have full security detail."

Anne Heche broke Ellen DeGeneres' heart 'into a million pieces'

Ellen DeGeneres took another aspect of her personal life public in 1997 when she revealed that she and actress Anne Heche were a couple. However, by 2000, the pair had uncoupled. "Unfortunately, we have decided to end our relationship," DeGeneres and Heche stated to the New York Daily News (via People), describing their parting as "amicable." 

However, the end of this high-profile relationship proved to be both devastating and humiliating for DeGeneres. Soon after the split, Heche became romantically involved with cameraman Coley Laffoon, whom she'd met while he worked on a documentary about DeGeneres. They would go on to welcome a baby in 2002, but divorced a few years later. 

In a 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times, DeGeneres revealed it was Heche who ended things. "She walked out the door and I haven't spoken to her since," she said, adding, "I feel betrayed." Opening up even more to Allure (via People) in 2005, DeGeneres admitted, "Anne broke my heart into a million pieces. When Anne left, I'd wake up in the morning, and my eyes would just immediately fill up with tears, and I would start convulsively crying."

Ellen DeGeneres broke down on the air after the death of friend Kobe Bryant

The helicopter crash that took the life of NBA icon Kobe Bryant and 13-year-old daughter Gianna in January 2020 devastated basketball fans. The news also proved to be tough on Ellen DeGeneres, who was a close friend of the former Los Angeles Lakers star. 

In her show-opening monologue taped the day after their deaths, DeGeneres expressed her gratitude to viewers for tuning in, because "life is short." The day of the accident, she recalled, was her birthday, as well as the date of the Grammy Awards. "Yesterday was supposed to be a celebratory day, and then we got tragic news about Kobe Bryant, and everything changed in a second," she said, tears filling her eyes. "And that's what I want to talk about."

Reiterating her message that "life is short, and it's fragile," DeGeneres told her audience to "just celebrate life." She added, "If you haven't told someone you love them, do it now. Do it. Tell people you love them. Call your friends. Text your friends. Hug them. Kiss them."

Whispers that Ellen DeGeneres isn't who she appears to be began to crop up

Ellen DeGeneres proved her resiliency when she bounced back professionally thanks to the massive success of her daytime talk show. Meanwhile, she also finally found the love that had eluded her when she married actress Portia de Rossi in 2008. But while DeGeneres became one of television's highest-paid, most popular personalities, rumors later began to swirl that the sweet-natured host viewers had welcomed into their homes was merely a carefully-constructed persona. 

In March 2020, YouTube personality Nikkie de Jager (known as NikkieTutorials) appeared on a talk show in her native Netherlands (via BuzzFeed News). During the interview, she alleged that when she was a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the titular host displayed a distinct lack of friendliness. Pointing out that the host of the Dutch show greeted her warmly, de Jager claimed that DeGeneres "didn't."

More stories then started emerging, including that of Tom Majercak, who worked as DeGeneres' bodyguard when she hosted the 2014 Oscars. In May 2020, he claimed to Fox News that she was "cold," didn't say hello, and treated him in a manner he found "demeaning." Piling on? A "former staffer" on DeGeneres' talk show claimed to the New York Post that Degeneres wasn't "always nice," adding, "It irritates me that people think she's all sweetness and light and she gets away with it."

A podcaster's dirt-for-donations effort uncovered disturbing anecdotes about Ellen DeGeneres

Rumors continued to swirl that Ellen DeGeneres may be, as a New York Post article declared in 2020, "not as nice as she wants you to believe." Those sparks caught fire in March 2020, when comedian Kevin T. Porter took to Twitter and offered a deal: in exchange for anecdotes confirming his belief that DeGeneres is "notoriously one of the meanest people alive," he'd match each one with a $2 donation to the Los Angeles food bank.

The floodgates opened. According to Insider, Porter received close to 2,000 responses, although he acknowledged it was impossible to verify them. Still, the sheer volume of allegations indicated there may have been something to the hearsay, which seemed to gain credibility when a July 2020 report from BuzzFeed News quoted former employees of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, who shared claims of a "toxic work culture." As one ex-staffer alleged, "That 'be kind' bulls**t only happens when the cameras are on. It's all for show."

These allegations, per Variety, ultimately led WarnerMedia — the corporate entity behind DeGeneres' show — to undertake an investigation. Meanwhile, DeGeneres was compelled to write a memo to her staff addressing the ongoing controversy. Writing in part (via The Hollywood Reporter) that she had "relied on others to do their jobs as they knew I'd want them done" as the show grew over the years, DeGeneres admitted that "clearly some didn't," but vowed to "correct the issues" and "[ensure] this does not happen again."

Were these rumors of workplace mistreatment confirmed?

If the hope was that Ellen DeGeneres' memo and the investigation into her show would quell the controversy, it didn't quite work out that way. In fact, while some celebs expressed support for the talk show host, further problems stemmed from a July 2020 tweet from comedian Brad Garrett of Everybody Loves Raymond fame. Responding to a report about her staff memo, Garrett wrote, "Sorry but it comes from the top... Know more than one who were treated horribly by her.⁩ Common knowledge." 

Meanwhile, Back to the Future star Lea Thompson concurred with Garrett's allegation, simply tweeting out, "True story. It is." However, even more dirt was dished by Tony Okungbowa, The Ellen DeGeneres Show's original DJ. In an Instagram post, Okungbowa declared that he "did experience and feel the toxicity of the environment" while working on the show. 

Around this time, yet another potentially damaging anecdote emerged. Australian TV producer Neil Breen revealed that when he was coordinating an interview with DeGeneres on Australia's Today show, he was told by her producers, "No one is to talk to Ellen. So, you don't talk to her, you don't approach her, you don't look at her." Breen didn't blame DeGeneres for what took place, saying, "I didn't get to talk to her because I wasn't allowed to, so I don't know if she's a nice person or not, I wouldn't have a clue." He did, however, concede that "the whole thing was totally bizarre."

Ellen DeGeneres turned her home into a 'fortress' after a brazen burglary

In early July 2020, the posh Montecito, Calif. mansion in which Ellen DeGeneres lived with wife Portia de Rossi was burglarized. As KEYT reported, the home was robbed on the Fourth of July. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office told the news outlet that "the home appears to have been targeted because of the owners' celebrity status," with items stolen in the heist described as "high-value jewelry and watches."

According to a subsequent report from TMZ, both DeGeneres and de Rossi were actually home at the time of the robbery. While it was "unclear if they had any contact with the suspect or suspects," neither were harmed, thankfully. However, the "point of entry" appeared to be a back door, with the thief/thieves managing to evade being caught on surveillance video.

Because the burglar (or burglars) managed to sneak in and reportedly escape undetected, the couple allegedly decided to invest in some heavy-duty security upgrades. As a result, noted TMZ, DeGeneres and de Rossi "turned the place into a fortress." According to sources, those upgrades included getting a new security company on the job, having armed guards to patrol the grounds, and installing additional security cameras, as well as laser sensors.