Ellen DeGeneres, the greater New Orleans native who evolved from a stand-up comic to TV sitcom star but also a pioneer for LGBTQ rights, was among the many honorees for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it was announced Wednesday (Nov. 16).
“In her work and in her life, she has been a passionate advocate for equality and fairness,” the White House said.
Other honorees include Academy Award winners Tom Hanks, Robert Redford and Robert De Niro, musician Bruce Springsteen, NBA Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and “Saturday Night Life” creator Lorne Michaels.
DeGeneres was one of the most popular stand-up comics of the 1990s when she landed her own sitcom, “Ellen,” in 1994. She caused a major stir when in 1997 she came out as a lesbian, and as she incorporated this into her storyline, ratings for the show dwindled and “Ellen” was canceled in 1998. A subsequent sitcom also failed, but DeGeneres regained her footing with her wildly popular daytime talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which has been on air since 2003. She has been a vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights throughout the course of her career, and in 2008 married her partner, actress Portia de Rossi, in 2008. DeGeneres also has hosted the Emmy and Academy Awards ceremonies. Her brother, Vance, also is active in the entertainment business.
People have been very passionate about this race. And I think it’s because we all love our country, we just have different ideas about what’s best for it, which is part of what makes America great. And I believe we can all come together because if you take away the labels, you realize we’re far more alike than we are different.”
Though she is often referred to a New Orleans native, she technically was born in Metairie. She initially attended Grace King High School before moving away to Texas, where she graduated from high school, and returned to New Orleans and spent a semester at the University of New Orleans before working a range of jobs in the area and getting into the local comedy club scene in the early 1980s. While her show has limited her film work, she is perhaps best known for her voice work in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.”
The rest of the Presidential Medal of Freedom honorees: actresses Cicely Tyson and Diana Ross, retired Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Vin Scully, polymath physicist Richard Garwin, Bill Gates and wife Melinda Gates, architect Frank Gehry, mathematician and computer scientist Margaret H. Hamilton, artist Maya Lin, attorney Newt Minow and President of Miami Dade College Eduardo Padrón. There will be two posthumous honorees: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as “Amazing Grace” and “the first lady of software,” and Blackfeet Tribal community leader Elouise Cobell.