Ellen, Through the Years

She's been in, she's been out -- the ups and downs of DeGeneres' career.

1986: DeGeneres makes her debut on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Following her performance, he invites the 28-year-old comedian to sit down on his couch for a chat. "That literally changed everything," she says of a show she had watched religiously.

1989: Fox's Open House premieres, with DeGeneres playing a receptionist at a Los Angeles real estate firm. Three years later, she's back on TV as a nurse on the ABC sitcom Laurie Hill. But DeGeneres' star turn didn't come until ABC's These Friends of Mine, later renamed Ellen.

1997: Four seasons into her eponymous comedy's run, DeGeneres' Ellen Morgan comes out to her therapist, played by Winfrey, to an audience of 42 million. Offscreen, DeGeneres reveals she's gay in a Time cover story. The backlash, which includes boycotts and death threats, is severe. Ratings quickly plummet, and the show is yanked the next season.

1998: A distraught and unhirable DeGeneres retreats to Ojai with then-girlfriend Anne Heche. After three years as an industry pariah, she's in trouble. "Literally, I was out of money," she says of the era. "I would pick up the phone every once in a while to make sure it was still working."

2000: Left with little choice, DeGeneres returns to stand-up comedy with the aptly titled The Beginning tour. "The audience was probably 97 percent gay and 3 percent straight people who got that I wasn't just going to do a big gay parade, wearing rainbow colors," she says of the turnout.

2001: DeGeneres comes back to TV with CBS sitcom The Ellen Show, on which she plays another lesbian. The series, relegated to Friday nights, is pulled. In November, she hosts the Emmys, twice-delayed after 9/11. "Welcome seat-fillers, security guards, Secret Service personnel and all of the wonderful TV stars watching from home," she says to kick off the show.

2003: Finding Nemo, for which she voices the character of Dory, opens to $70 million domestically (It goes on to gross $340 million). The Ellen DeGeneres Show launches in September, with DeGeneres' friend Jennifer Aniston as her first guest. "What's better than getting you every day?" Aniston said at the time. The same year, DeGeneres publishes best-seller The Funny Thing Is …

2004: Corporate America embraces DeGeneres, with American Express signing her as a spokesperson for its "My Life. My Card." campaign. Years later, VitaminWater, JCPenney and CoverGirl will hire her, too. "She makes people feel good," says CoverGirl GM Esi Eggleston Bracey. "And she's beautiful."

2007: Having hosted the Grammys and Emmys, DeGeneres takes on the Oscars. "This really has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl," she says.

2008: DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi tie the knot at their L.A. home.

2010: DeGeneres replaces Paula Abdul on American Idol but lasts only one year. "It was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings," she says at the time. In May, she launches her record label eleveneleven.

2012: For Ellen's 10th season, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Justin Bieber and President Clinton shoot promos for the show. "It's all of our jobs to spread joy; Ellen just happens to be better at it than nearly anyone else on earth," says Clinton.

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