b. January 26, 1958
"For me, it's that I contributed . . . that I'm on this planet doing some good and making people happy. That's to me the most important thing, that my hour of television is positive and upbeat and an antidote for all the negative stuff going on in life."
Popular comedian Ellen DeGeneres was the first openly gay actor to portray a gay character on a leading primetime television program.
In April 1997, Ellen DeGeneres, the star of her own popular sitcom, "Ellen," took a step that was a turning point in her personal life and her career: she outed herself and her character on primetime television. Her coming out led to a storm of media attention, including her photo on the cover of Time Magazine with the tag, "Yep, I'm gay." There was also criticism that the show was now "too gay." For a time after her public declaration, her career suffered from backlash.
DeGeneres returned to the national spotlight when she was chosen to host the Emmy Awards only a few weeks after the September 11 attacks in 2001. At the ceremony she quipped, "We're told to go on living our lives as usual, because to do otherwise is to let the terrorists win, and really, what would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?" She was praised for her poise and decorum in emceeing the awards show.
Ellen DeGeneres attended the University of New Orleans and worked at a variety of jobs before she entered stand-up comedy. Her selection by cable channel Showtime as The Funniest Person in America led to opportunities to appear on television. During her first appearance on "The Tonight Show", DeGeneres was the first female commedian ever invited to sit on the sofa and visit with Johnny Carson. She has been labeled a "female Seinfeld" for her quirky observational humor.
In 2003, she launched her daytime television talk show, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." It won 15 Emmy Awards and is the first talk show to win the Emmy for Outstanding Talk Show for its first three seasons.
In 2005, DeGeneres was again selected to host the Emmy Awards, this time just three weeks after Hurricane Katrina. She joked, "You know me, any excuse to put on a dress."
b. November 19, 1962
“It was the job I was born into. I didn't have an actor's personality, it's just what I did.”
Jodie Foster is a celebrated actor, director and producer. She has received two Academy Awards, two Golden Globes and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Foster was born in Los Angeles, the youngest child of a film producer and an Air Force officer. Her parents divorced before she was born. Foster’s career began at age 3 in a Coppertone commercial. As a child, she appeared in dozens of commercials and television series, including as a co-star in “Paper Moon.”
Her breakout role was as a teenage prostitute in “Taxi Driver” (1976), for which she received an Academy Award nomination. In 1980, Foster enrolled at Yale University. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in literature. While at Yale, she was stalked by John Hinckley, an obsessed fan who shot President Reagan and said he did so to impress her.
Foster won her first Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for her role in “The Accused” (1988). She earned her second Oscar and another Golden Globe Award for “Silence of the Lambs” (1991), her first blockbuster film. That same year, she made her directorial debut with “Little Man Tate,” in which she co-starred. In 1995, she directed “Home for the Holidays.”
Foster has appeared in more than 40 films, including “Maverick” (1994), “Nell” (1994), “Contact” (1997), “The Panic Room” (2002), “Inside Man” (2006) and “The Brave One” (2007).
In 2007, while accepting an award at a Hollywood Reporter “Women in Entertainment” event, she acknowledged her then long-term partner, producer Cydney Bernard, with the words, “to my beautiful Cydney, who sticks with me through the rotten and the bliss.”
That same year, Foster gave The Trevor Project its largest donation. Foster lives in Beverly Hills with her two sons.
Singer and songwriter
b. May 29, 1961
“What do they know about this love anyway?”
Melissa Etheridge is a Grammy and Academy Award-winning singer and songwriter. She came out at the 1993 Triangle Ball, the Clinton administration’s inaugural gala for gays and lesbians, when she exclaimed, “Gee, I’m really excited to be here, and I’m really proud to have been a lesbian all my life!”
She was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, and studied at The Berklee School of Music in Boston. Etheridge moved to Los Angeles and evolved from a bluesy sound to her renowned rock/alternative style.
Etheridge shot to stardom with her trademark blues-rock hit “Come to My Window,” for which she received a Grammy Award in 1994 for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. With its powerful lyrics, the song became an anthem for gay rights.
In 2004, Etheridge was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the 2005 Grammy Awards, she gave one of her most memorable performances with Janis Joplin’s hit, “Piece of My Heart.” She exposed her head, left bald from chemotherapy.
Etheridge’s songs have not only entertained, but have helped heal in times of tragedy. Her songbook includes “Scarecrow,” a tribute to Matthew Shepard; “Tuesday Morning,” dedicated to the memory of Mark Bingham, a hero of 9/11; “Four Days,” about those devastated by Hurricane Katrina; and “I Run for Life,” an anthem for breast cancer survivors.
Julie Cypher, Etheridge’s long-term ex-partner, gave birth to their two children. After their breakup, Etheridge exchanged vows with actress Tammy Lynn Michaels. In 2006, Michaels had twins.
In 2006, Etheridge received the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Stephen F. Kolzak Award, which honors openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender media professionals who have made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for the community. “I Need to Wake Up,” featured in the film “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Academy Award for Best Original Song (2007).