From her hit TV show to her thriving lifestyle brand, Ellen DeGeneres has built quite a lucrative empire over the years. In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the premiere of her sitcom, "Ellen" — which debuted back on March 29, 1994 — Wonderwall.com is taking a look at the business of being Ellen. Keep reading for insight into the comedy star's business deals, partnerships and other money matters!
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Ellen DeGeneres was born to a middle-class family in Metairie, Louisiana, on Jan. 26, 1958. After graduating from Atlanta High School, Ellen went on to attend the University of New Orleans, where she majored in communication studies. She dropped out after only one semester and worked a series of odd jobs including selling women's apparel at JCPenney, waitressing at TGI Friday's, doing clerical work at a law firm, painting houses, hostessing and bartending.
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Ellen DeGeneres eventually found her footing performing stand-up at small clubs and coffee houses in Louisiana. By 1981, she was the emcee at Clyde's Comedy Club in New Orleans and soon began touring nationally. In 1984, she was named Showtime's funniest person in America, and she went on to perform on "The Tonight Show."
In 1989, Ellen Degeneres landed her first on-air television role on the short-lived FOX sitcom "Open House." She then starred on ABC's "Laurie Hill," which only aired four episodes before it was canceled.
Undeterred by her television difficulties, Ellen DeGeneres tried her hand at film. She appeared in the hit 1993 movie "Coneheads," which grossed more than $21 million at the box office, and starred in a series of films at Walt Disney World. The Disney movies, entitled "Ellen's Energy Adventure," were part of the Universe of Energy attraction and gained a large fan following.
Ellen DeGeneres's big break came in 1994. "Laurie Hill" producers Neal Marlens and Carol Black remembered the comedian's great performance on their ABC sitcom and cast her in a pilot for a show called "These Friends of Mine." The series was soon renamed "Ellen." It was a big hit that brought in more than 21 million viewers during its second season.
Ellen DeGeneres's rising star — and her growing net worth — temporarily came to a halt in 1997 when she publicly came out as a lesbian on the cover of Time magazine and during a sit-down on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Her character on "Ellen" soon followed suit, coming out on the show to her therapist. Sadly, ABC execs became uncomfortable with the show's subject matter and began cutting promotion for "Ellen." The sitcom's rating began to fall and by 1998, the show was canceled. Ellen tried to return to television in 2001 on CBS's "The Ellen Show," but that series was canceled after only 13 episodes.
Refusing to let homophobia stop her, Ellen DeGeneres agreed to host the Emmy Awards in November 2001 — just a few months after 9/11. She did a phenomenal job hosting during a difficult time and received standing ovations from the crowd that night. She went on to host the Emmys again in 2005 and the Oscars in 2007.
Her Emmys hosting gig helped to propel Ellen DeGeneres into her next project: "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." The daytime talk show premiered in 2003 to critical acclaim. It was nominated for 11 Daytime Emmy Awards in its first season and won four including best talk show. "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" has consistently risen in the Nielsen ratings every year, leading to a lucrative contract for Ellen. She also founded her own production company, A Very Good Production, which produces the show.
Ellen DeGeneres also began expanding her resume on the big screen in 2003. That year, she voiced Dory in Disney's No. 1 animated movie "Finding Nemo." It became the highest grossing animated film at the time and was the second-highest grossing film of 2003, earning a total of $871 million worldwide.
In 2004, Ellen DeGeneres signed her first multi-million-dollar spokesperson deal — with American Express. She appeared, performing her signature dance moves, in an ad campaign for the credit card company.
Ellen DeGeneres's eponymous talk show continued to grow in popularity, winning more than 25 Daytime Emmys over the years. By 2005, Ellen was bringing in the big bucks with millions of "Ellen" viewers.
In 2008, Ellen DeGeneres combined her growing assets with those of her longtime girlfriend, Portia de Rossi: The couple, who began dating in 2004, tied the knot in August 2008 after the same-sex marriage ban in California was overturned.
That same year, Ellen DeGeneres signed another lucrative endorsement deal worth millions. She became a spokesperson for CoverGirl Cosmetics — her first ever beauty campaign. Ellen's first advertisements debuted in January 2009.
A few months later, Ellen DeGeneres tried her hand at a completely different form of entertainment… reality television. The beloved talk-show host signed on to replace Paula Abdul as a judge on "American Idol." Ellen initially signed a five-year contract worth tens of millions of dollars but left the show after one season, explaining that it "didn't feel like the right fit for me."
Ellen DeGeneres probably felt comfortable walking away from her lucrative "American Idol" contract because of her even more impressive deal with "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." Ellen reportedly makes $50 million per season to host her talk show, according to Business Insider. Cha-ching!
In 2010, Ellen DeGeneres decided to add music to her growing empire. She founded her own record label, eleveneleven, that May and soon began signing lesser-known artists and up-and-coming YouTube stars. Some of her biggest signees included Charlie Puth, Greyson Chance and even Jessica Simpson, who put out a Christmas record on the label.
In 2012, Ellen DeGeneres added another endorsement deal to her resume. She became a spokesperson for JCPenney, a deal that was worth millions. By the end of the year, Ellen had taken home a reported $53 million, according to Forbes.
Ellen DeGeneres added viral sensation to her resume in March 2014 when she hosted the Academy Awards for a second time. She orchestrated a selfie with several A-listers including Bradley Cooper, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong'o and Angelina Jolie during the broadcast and posted it to Twitter. Less than 24 hours later, it had been retweeted more 2.8 million times, becoming the second-most retweeted post ever.
In the summer of 2015, Ellen DeGeneres launched her own lifestyle brand, ED Ellen DeGeneres. The collection has grown to include apparel, shoes, accessories, baby and home items and has become a major success, adding to Ellen's estimated $285 million net worth in 2015.
Ellen DeGeneres also produced her first cable TV series in 2015 — "Ellen's Design Challenge" — which ran for two seasons on HGTV. It featured six furniture designers competing as they sketched, designed and built furniture pieces in just one day.
In 2015, Ellen DeGeneres turned her passion for design into a book on the subject. That October, Grand Central Publishing released "Home," which sold for $35 and featured photos of seven past and present properties that Ellen and wife Portia de Rossi had renovated and designed.
Ellen DeGeneres solidified her reign as a box-office queen when she voiced the titular fish in 2016's "Finding Dory." The "Finding Nemo" sequel grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, becoming the second Pixar film to cross the $1 billion mark (after 2010's "Toy Story 3") and the third-highest grossing film of 2016.
That same year, Ellen DeGeneres launched her very own digital company, Ellen Digital Ventures (is there anything this woman can't do?!). The company took over her super-successful streaming website, ellentube, and expanded Ellen's income even more — adding to her estimated net worth of $360 million.
Ellen DeGeneres added to her hosting responsibilities in 2017 when she created and began hosting "Ellen's Game of Games." The NBC game show premiered in December and was renewed for a third season in January 2019.
Ellen DeGeneres also expanded her lifestyle brand, ED Ellen DeGeneres, in 2017. She launched a dog collection, in partnership with PetSmart, that February and introduced a cat line later the same year.
Ellen DeGeneres has also made tens of millions of dollars by flipping more than a dozen multi-million-dollar homes over the years. "We buy a house and we love it, and we stay in it. Then we get a little bored because we like a different style or different aesthetic — and I love furniture and decorating — so if I find something else, and we make money, why not move to another house?" she told "Today." It's been incredibly lucrative: In 2018, she and wife Portia de Rossi reportedly made a $19 million profit on a Beverly Hills home they'd owned for less than three years when they sold it for $35 million.
Ellen Degeneres continued to grow her business partnerships in 2018. The talk-show host extended her contract with TCL, a Chinese multinational electronics company, to make its television sets the official TV of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" for a fifth consecutive season. That August, she announced a partnership with Walmart to launch a fashion collection under the brand name EV1, a low-cost alternative to her ED Ellen DeGeneres line. The collection officially launched that September.
Ellen DeGeneres added another $20 million to her bank account in December 2018 when she returned to stand-up comedy for the first time in 15 years. The "Finding Nemo" actress appeared in her first Netflix stand-up special, "Ellen DeGeneres: Relatable," bringing her net worth to a cool $450 million!