Ellen Degeneres returns to host the 2014 Oscars on March 2. It’s her second time as Oscar Host — she jokes, “You know what they say, the third time’s the charm” — but first, the current queen of daytime TV talk has another party to attend. Today, January 26, is her birthday. Ellen Degeneres is 56 today.
To help honor the host of daytime TV’s highest rated talk show — and the first ever to be aired in China — here are 10 facts about Metarie, Lousiana, born Ellen Degeneres that you may not have known.
10. When she did a monologue on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1986, Johnny invited her to sit on the couch and chat after her performance — making Ellen the first female comedian to ever receive that honor from the legendary host, despite that Carson had hosted the show since 1962.
9. By Forbes Magazine‘s most recent estimate Ellen Degeneres earns $56 million annually, making her the 28th-ranked celebrity on Forbes‘ celebrity money list.
8. Though she’s not hurting for cash these days, in the early stages of her career, Ellen worked numerous low-paying jobs. She was even a waitress at a T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant, the chain best-known for creating the “Loaded Potato Skins” appetizer, of which Ellen is sure to have served many.
7. Ellen has hosted her syndicated daytime talk show, The Ellen Degeneres Show, since 2003 but it pulled in its best ratings ever in the week of December 9, 2013 when a lineup of guests including Jake Gyllenhaal, Lea Michele, and Tom Hanks, as well as the recent announcement of Ellen’s return to Oscar hosting for the first time since 2007, helped boost the show to an average 4.4 million viewers for the week.
6. While Ellen was way ahead of her time, coming out as gay in 1997, making her the first major “out” gay celebrity. She did not grant an interview to a gay-oriented publication for another four years, when she was interviewed by The Advocate magazine in March of 2000.
5. Ellen Degeneres is a vegan, meaning she eats only foods derived from plants — no meat, fish, eggs or dairy — and on her show, she frequently features cooking segments in which celebrity chefs, and other celebrities, show her audience how to prepare various vegan dishes. Ellen and her wife, actress Portia De Rossi, adopted a vegan lifestyle, which also means no clothing made from animal products such as leather, in 2008.
4. Ellen Degeneres is also an active member of the animal-rights organization PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and was named the group’s “Woman of the Year” in 2009.
3. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Emmy Awards ceremony was canceled twice due to concerns that a self-congratulatory celebration of TV entertainment would appear inappropriate following the tragedy. When the awards show finally aired on November 4, Ellen Degeneres was the host and received several standing ovations for a performance that maintained its humor while also reflecting the country’s somber mood.
2. Ellen Degeneres is a college dropout. But in 2009 she received an honorary doctoral degree from Tulane University in New Orleans and delivered the keynote speech at Tulane’s commencement that year, in recognition of her efforts that raised about $10 million for the city’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
1. The April 30, 1997, “coming out” episode of the Ellen Degeneres sitcom, Ellen, was watched by 45 million viewers, making it the highest-rated episode of the series. While a star coming out as gay in 2014 barely merits headlines, in 1997 Ellen Degeneres’s decision was particularly courageous given the intense controversy around gay rights at the time. The episode, actually titled “The Puppy Episode,” aired almost exactly seven months after the Defense of Marriage Act barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages.