“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” ended its 19-year run Thursday with an emotional finale for its pioneering host.
DeGeneres welcomed final guests singers Billie Eilish and P!nk, and Jennifer Aniston, the “Friends” actress who appeared on the talk show’s Sept. 8, 2003 debut. (The final week also featured Oprah Winfrey, Bruno Mars, Mila Kunis and J Balvin.)
On Thursday’s finale, DeGeneres, 64, walked out to a standing ovation from an audience that included her wife of nearly 14 years, Portia de Rossi, and her nieces, who missed school for the occasion. Tears glimmered as she took in the moment before launching into her monologue.
“Welcome to our very last show,” she said. “I walked out here 19 years ago, and I said that this is the start of a relationship. And today is not the end of a relationship. It’s more of a little break. It’s a, ‘You can see other talk shows now. And I may see another audience once in a while.'”
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DeGeneres reminded viewers that her talk show wasn’t an easy sell. ABC axed its “Ellen” sitcom in 1998 after DeGeneres came out via a memorable Time cover. According to a New York Times report about the comedy’s cancellation, “ABC executives had asked that not every episode be on a gay theme and at one point ordered that a special viewer’s advisory about content be included.”
“Twenty years ago when we were trying to sell the show, no one thought that this would work,” DeGeneres said on her final program. “Not because it was a different kind of show, but because I was different. Very few stations wanted to buy the show, and here we are, 20 years later, celebrating this amazing journey together.
“When we started this show I couldn’t say, ‘gay’ on the show … I said it at home, a lot. ‘What are we having for our gay breakfast?’ Or, ‘Pass the gay salt.’ ‘Has anyone seen the gay remote?’ Things like that, but we couldn’t say, ‘gay.’ I couldn’t say, ‘we’ because that implied that I was with someone. Sure couldn’t say, ‘wife,’ and that’s because it wasn’t legal for gay people to get married, and now I say ‘wife’ all the time.” (The camera showed a beaming de Rossi watching her wife.)
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“Twenty-five years ago, they canceled my sitcom because they didn’t want a lesbian to be in prime time once a week,” DeGeneres went on. “And I said, ‘OK, then I’ll be on daytime every day . How about that?’ What a beautiful, beautiful journey that we have been on together. And if this show has made you smile, if it has lifted you up, when you’re in a period of some type of pain, some type of sadness, anything that you’re going through, then I have done my job.
“Because of this platform, we have been able to change people’s lives, and this show has forever changed my life. It is the greatest experience I have ever had, beyond my wildest imagination So tWitch, one last time, dance with me.”
DeGeneres and Stephen “tWitch” Boss, her sidekick and (since 2020) co-executive producer, wiped tears from their eyes and danced to The Emotions’ “Best of My Love.” Seated with DeGeneres, tWitch expressed gratitude for being a part of the show and its family.
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“This atmosphere is a family,” DeGeneres agreed, contradicting the 2020 allegations slamming the show as a toxic workplace. DeGeneres complimented its levity.
“Who’s dancing during the day, not being drunk?” she joked. “There’s a joy that has happened, and it’s created from this family atmosphere. So I am proud of this, but I’m proud of the family and the team that we have put together here.”
Aniston appeared first, and danced to her seat in a cutout signature-black jumpsuit.
“Ugh,” the actress said in English. “It’s like I’m squeezing everything to just keep it all in.”
But Aniston’s sadness didn’t dull her quick wit. When DeGeneres asked how she handled the ending of the beloved NBC sitcom “Friends” in 2004, Aniston quipped: “Well, I got a divorce and went into therapy.” (She and Brad Pitt announced their separation in January 2005 after five years of marriage.)
“And then I did a movie called, ‘The Break-Up,'” Aniston continued, referencing the 2006 feature she starred in with ex Vince Vaughn. “I just kind of leaned into the end.” DeGeneres said she’s unsure of her next chapter; a return to stand-up comedy is a possibility. “I know that I want to just to lay low for a little while,” she told her friend. “I want to rest, and then I’ll do something again, but I don’t know what it is.”
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Before departing the stage, Aniston queued up a video the show’s assembled crew, documenting DeGeneres’ hardships, victories – Daytime Emmy Awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom – and the show’s impact: “$460 million to charities and deserving viewers.” (And more than that to DeGeneres, who makes an estimated $50 million a year).
Eilish was followed by P!nk, who won a Daytime Emmy for singing the talk show’s theme song.
“I wanted to be a singer because I wanted to grow up and change the world and make it a better place,” P!nk told DeGeneres. “You’ve done that in so many ways. Because maybe I help people find their pain, you help people find their joy, and we need that so badly in the world. You are as kind as you seem, and you support people, and when you shine your light on them, it’s like staring into the sun.”
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Finally, DeGeneres thanked her loyal viewers.
“To all of you who have watched this show and supported me, thank you so much for this platform,” she said. “I hope that what I’ve been able to do in the last 19 years has made you happy, and that I was able to take a little bit of pain away from a bad day or anything you’re going through. And I hope I’ve been able to inspire you to make other people happy and to do good in the world, to feel like you have a purpose.
“And I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again,” she continued. “If I’ve done anything in the past 19 years, I hope I’ve inspired you to be yourself; your true, authentic self. And if someone is brave enough to tell you who they are, be brave enough to support them, even if you don’t understand. They’re showing you who they are, and that is the biggest gift anybody can ever give you. By opening your heart and your mind, you’re going to be that much more compassionate, and compassion is what makes the world a better place. Thank you so much for being on this journey with me. I feel the love, and I send it back to you. Bye.”
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DeGeneres ended her final show with an homage to the series’ debut, which opened with the comic seated on a sofa watching herself on TV. This time, DeGeneres made her way to a sofa with her back to the audience, watching herself on TV. She turned to look at the audience, and then turned off the TV. The stage doors closed, featuring one last message from the host: “Thank you! – Ellen”
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