Ellen DeGeneres has opened up about how she had a breakdown on set whilst filming an iconic episode of her sitcom in which she came out.
Her character came out on the episode, as well as Ellen herself.
Titled ‘The Puppy Episode’, Ellen finally uttered the words “I’m gay”. It aired on 30 April 1997.
But she said in an interview with the Associate Press: “It became more important to me than my career… I suddenly said, ‘Why am I being, you know, ashamed of who I am just to be successful and famous in society’s eyes?’ ”
“I thought, the character on the show is clearly struggling. There’s no relationship,” she added.
“It was pretty clear it would be an easy transition for her to realise she was gay, which was why her relationships with men weren’t working out.”
“They really didn’t give us the OK [at first]. We were trying to convince them to do it, and there were closed-door meetings,” DeGeneres continued.
“And the scripts were written on red paper so you couldn’t see the black ink. They were shredded at the end of every single day and locked in a safe. It was crazy. It was like we were spies or something.”
“Nobody really understood how dark it got for me. I was really, really in a deep depression,” she recalled. “I had never been so down in my life. I was depressed. I was broke. I felt attacked. It was everything that you just fear in life, like nobody loving you.”
“For me to crawl out of that and to accomplish what I’ve accomplished with the show and with my brand and with my production company, and to succeed after all that … [It] makes me realise that no matter how dark something gets, and no matter how bad something gets, that there’s always a possibility of good coming from it,” she said.
“You have to just hold on and know that something good will come from it and there’s always a lesson in everything.”
Ellen this week opened up to Oprah about the historic moment.
An incredible 44 million people tuned into to watch Ellen come out, one of the most watched TV moments of that year.
For the first time since the sitcom series ended in 1998 – amid anti-gay protests and outrage – the cast was reunited on last Friday’s show.
Celebrity fans and followers are due to pay tribute to the out star, too.
Ellen has been a champion for the LGBT community for two decades now, something she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for by former president Barack Obama.
On her coming out, she said: “I knew that it would be big, but I never knew it was going to be this big.
“I didn’t think it would drag out for so long either,” Ellen told Oprah at the time.
The media circus and interest in the American tabloids surrounding DeGeneres’ sexuality was intense, as she was the first leading character in a television program to be openly gay.
In the summer of 1996, the star called a meeting for the writers of her hit show Ellen, who were about to write Season Four, and told them she wanted her character to come out on the show. “There was concern over not only how the audience would react, but how the advertisers would react,” biographer Lisa Iannucci told Biography.com.
“We had no idea if ABC were even going to allow that to happen,” Ellen’s brother, Vance DeGeneres a screenwriter on the show told biography.com “So it was an incredibly stressful season.”
Watch the moment DeGeneres comes out on her sitcom below.
Ellen decided to come out in real life before her character did on the show, with interviews on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Diane Sawyer and the cover of TIME Magazine.
“It’s something I decided I wanted to do and thought it would be wonderful for me as a result,” Ellen told Oprah at the time.
“I never thought it was anybody’s business, who I am and who I am with. And then I realised since I had this secret that worried me all the time that it made it feel like something was wrong.”
At one point Oprah asks what made Ellen ‘finally comfortable to say it’ to which Ellen responds, “I’ve become more comfortable with myself just in general and I went to therapy and you know, not for that issue but just finding out more about myself.”
Sawyer even went as far as to ask Ellen whether she’d slept with men.
DeGeneres noted she’d slept with two men in her life and likened the occasions to Peggy Lee’s hit ‘Is That All There Is?’
In the weeks following her character coming out to over 42 million viewers, many religious groups began to protest outside their local ABC stations to take Ellen off air.