Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey
Photo: George Burns
She's known for her sharp wit and easygoing attitude (and, of course, the sneakers and funky dance moves). But behind the comedy is a woman who's had to muster her courage to get where she is today. Ellen DeGeneres tells Oprah about her balanced life, her loving wife, and how she intends to take her new job as an American Idol judge very seriously.
Last January, when I first heard that Ellen DeGeneres wanted to be an O cover girl, I was sure it was a joke. She started with an announcement to the four million viewers of The Ellen DeGeneres Show: "Goodbye to the resolution to read," she quipped, "and hello to the resolution to be on the front cover of O in '09!" Then the crusade intensified. In March she launched an "O, Yes I Can!" campaign, and, in between unsuccessful attempts to reach me at the Harpo studios, she unveiled a series of mock O covers, including one on which she and I are riding a tandem bicycle through the countryside. The campaign was so funny, I actually hesitated to make the call that finally ended it. But last May, during Ellen's 1,000th show, I surprised her by Skyping into the broadcast and inviting her to share this month's cover with me.

Of course, as far as covers go, this one is nothing compared with the one she did in April 1997, when she appeared on the front of Time magazine next to the headline "Yep, I'm Gay." In those days, Ellen—a Louisiana native who broke into stand-up comedy in the early '80s by performing at small clubs in New Orleans—was the star of her own sitcom, ABC's Ellen. As the show gained popularity and critical acclaim, Ellen, now 51, chose to reveal the secret she'd been carrying for years. What followed was a media circus leading up to the most-watched episode of her series: an estimated 42 million people tuned in to see Ellen's character also come out of the closet. But just as quickly, the crowds went away. The show's ratings started to crash, and a year later it was canceled.

In September 2003, Ellen came back to television as host of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, now in its seventh season. When she's not delighting viewers with her quick wit and spontaneous dance moves, she's squeezing in one of her side gigs—like, say, hosting the Academy Awards (which she did in 2007) or taking a spot on the judges' panel on American Idol (which she'll do in 2010). Away from the limelight, Ellen shares her life with the actress Portia de Rossi. The two began dating in 2004, and four years later, in a private ceremony at their home, they married. Despite the passage of California's Proposition 8 (which made same-sex marriage illegal in the state), the couple's union is still valid because it occurred before the November 4, 2008, vote.

When Ellen arrived at the photo shoot for our cover , I didn't have to ask her how she was doing: it showed on her face. She radiated the kind of peace and satisfaction that comes only when you're living at your highest potential.

That's why, a few days after our photo session, I give Ellen a call—to talk about the balance she's obviously achieved in her life, and to get the story behind the glimmer in her eye. — Oprah

Start reading Oprah's interview with Ellen


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