They are both mega-successful daytime talk-show hosts, but when Oprah Winfrey became involved in Ellen DeGeneres revealing her sexuality, neither was prepared for the backlash they received.
Oprah has given a new interview about the experience, saying that had Ellen not come out of the closet, she wouldn’t have the same impact on her audience.
Back in 1997, Oprah agreed to guest star on Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom Ellen, playing a therapist to DeGeneres’ character Ellen Morgan. In the episode, Ellen reveals her sexual orientation. At the same time, Ellen came out in real-life, in a Time magazine article titled “Yep, I’m Gay”.
“I did it because she asked me to do it and I wanted to support her,” Oprah tells The Hollywood Reporter.
“It didn’t occur to me that there would be a backlash.”
Following the episode, which was viewed by 42 million people, Oprah received hate-fuelled letters and phone calls.
“It always turns to race. I got all of the, ‘N-----, go back to Africa. Who do you think you are?’” she says.
Show producers were also targeted and advertising for the show was pulled.
As part of her announcement, Ellen also appeared on Oprah’s talk show to speak of her decision to come out.
“She was pretty emotional that day — kind of tense and not fully herself,” Oprah says.
“It’s one thing to be ready to step out, it’s another thing to be ready for the thunderous explosion that occurred after she did.”
But more than a decade later, as Ellen is about to launch into her 10th season of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, her possibly career destroying decision has helped her create a $50 million empire.
“Being able to be free — literally — and to express herself in a way that she can be 100 per cent truthful with the audience has allowed them to fall in love with her,” Oprah says.
“Honest-to-God truth: I don’t believe she would have been as successful as she has become had she not come out.
“The reason why people love Ellen so much is because they see themselves in her. It’s not about gender or sexual preference.”
And it seems she has also paved the way for other gay celebrities — such as Ricky Martin, Glee star Chris Colfer and Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon — who today don’t need a tell-all interview to reveal their sexual preference.
Rosie O’Donnell simply announced her sexuality during a speech at an ovarian cancer benefit saying: “I'm a dyke!"
“I don't know why people make such a big deal about the gay thing," Rosie said.
“People are confused, they're shocked, like this is a big revelation to somebody.”
Related video: Elton John reveals why he took so long to come out.