On her daytime talk show, Ellen, Ellen DeGeneres is rarely afraid to be honest and open with her loyal viewers. Her self-deprecating sense of humor, matched with her wit and laidback honesty, has won the comedian and television personality a wealth of viewers over the years, and she continued to be honest with her life and struggles during a recent profile piece. As Ellen admitted in the conversation, it wasn’t easy for her when she decided to come out as a gay woman publicly, and the public response wasn’t friendly, to say the least. Specifically, DeGeneres claims she got death threats.
During a recent in-depth conversation with Adweek, Ellen DeGeneres discussed her life, career and long-standing impact on pop culture. As a comedian, writer, television personality, animal rights advocate and LGBT activist, Ellen has often spoken out about a number of challenges topics in the past, both on the show and off the air. Ellen DeGeneres used this piece to reflect on one of the biggest moments of her career: when she said three little words on the cover of Time that had a monumental impact: “Yep, I’m gay.” It resulted in DeGeneres later being the first character in prime time TV to be openly gay, and it wasn’t without its difficulties for DeGeneres. As the popular entertainer admits, she received death threats and more:
I knew there would be people that didn’t like it, but I didn’t realize my show would be canceled. I just thought, ‘It’s going to be interesting…’ When I came out, I had death threats and there was a bomb threat, but they misjudged the time of the taping. We had already finished, and thank God.
As Ellen DeGeneres admitted, she knew it wasn’t going to be warmly received by some people, but she did not expect the intensity of the reaction. Specifically, she didn’t think her sitcom would be canceled due to the response surrounding the show. And not only that, but people were threatening the lives of DeGeneres and her co-workers by claiming they were going to put a bomb in the studio. As Ellen admits in this frank conversation, however, the comedy series was finishing taping by then, and she’s grateful that she didn’t have to stress about going to the studio with these threats.
Continuing to reflect on how she made a huge impact on pop culture by coming out publicly when she did, Ellen DeGeneres admits she often hears people saying she “started a conversation.” But DeGeneres finds herself believing that the response would be more immediate in its public healing, and she found herself “heartbroken” when other people in the LGBT community lost their lives and/or continued to be threatened and endangered. In Degeneres’ words:
I hear that a lot — that it started a conversation. It’s definitely something I know helped a lot of people, and I was hoping it would help more people. Right after I came out, Matthew Shepard was killed, and it just devastated me. I just thought, ‘This is going to make a difference.’ The ignorance of me to think that I would make that much of a difference… It just broke my heart.
Thankfully, Ellen DeGeneres is in a better place than she was during that scary moment in her career, but it is good to look back and realize how far we’ve come when it comes to LGBT representation and how people can feel more comfortable coming out about their sexual identity in today’s culture. Even though it was only a few years earlier, it has been a long time, in many respects, since the time that Ellen DeGeneres got death threats.