Millions of people tune in to The Ellen DeGeneres Show every day to watch Ellen DeGeneres deliver hilarious monologues about current events, interview celebrities from all walks of life and play games with her studio audience. But the stand-up comedian is no stranger to controversy.
Two decades after launching her career, DeGeneres broke through in the 1990s with her ABC sitcom, Ellen. The show was a success — some critics even called it the “female Seinfeld” — but everything came crashing down at the height of its popularity. In 1997, the star came out as a lesbian, both in real life and as her character on TV. At the time, same-sex marriage was not yet legal in the U.S., so the news caused quite a stir. Ellen’s ratings plummeted soon after, and the network ultimately canceled the show in 1998.
DeGeneres climbed her way back to the top in 2003 with the launch of her daytime talk show, which went on to win numerous Emmys and other awards. However, in 2020, the host was under fire once again. After years of rumors in Hollywood, several people came forward to accuse DeGeneres of being mean to her staff and others around her. BuzzFeed News subsequently published back-to-back reports detailing former and current Ellen DeGeneres Show employees’ allegations of a toxic work environment.
“I learned that things happened that never should have happened. I take that very seriously,” she said on the air at the time. “I want to say I am so sorry to the people who are affected. I know that I am in a position of privilege and power, and I realize that with that comes responsibility. And I take responsibility for what happens at my show. This is The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
“They know that Ellen can be tough but accept that about her and know that it takes a lot of work to run a tight ship like her show,” a source exclusively told Us Weekly in 2020. “They get it.”
In May 2021, DeGeneres confirmed that her talk show would be coming to an end the following year.
“Today I’m announcing that next season, season 19 is going to be my last,” she said during an emotional monologue after breaking the news to The Hollywood Reporter. “The past 18 years have changed my life. You’ve changed my life. I am forever grateful to all of you for watching, for laughing, for dancing — sometimes crying. This show has been the greatest experience of my life and I owe it all to you.”
Scroll down to revisit some of DeGeneres’ most controversial moments over the years.