The comedian, who turned 62 on Sunday, was only the second recipient ever to receive the Carol Burnett Award at the 2020 Golden Globes aside from Burnett herself. The honor is given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for "outstanding contributions to television on or off the screen." The award added to DeGeneres' already impressive list of achievements, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a whopping 63 Daytime Emmy Awards for her incredibly successful talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Here's a look back at DeGeneres' seven greatest television moments, which range from touching to hilarious, to downright groundbreaking.
When she came out on national television:
DeGeneres changed television forever when she came out on her ABC sitcom, Ellen. The incredible two-part episode aired on April 30, 1997, and featured her character realizing she was gay when she developed feelings for a producer named Susan (Laura Dern).
"Susan, I'm … I can't. I can't even say the word," her character, also named Ellen, emotionally tells Susan when she follows her to an airport. "What's wrong with me? There's nothing to be ashamed of. Why am I so afraid to tell people … I'm 35 years old. Why can't I just come out and say … I'm gay. You hear that? I'm gay. And it sounds pretty darn good."
Ahead of the episode, which was watched by an estimated 42 million viewers, she appeared on a Time cover with the bold headline, "Yep, I'm Gay."
Few people can truly claim they helped change the way the world thinks. But on April 14, 1997 Ellen DeGeneres changed the LGBT+ conversation forever when she proudly posed for the cover of Time & proclaimed, "Yep, I'm gay.” pic.twitter.com/zbBm2yrNk0
DeGeneres played the first gay lead character on American network television and faced serious backlash as she paved the way for others. Multiple advertisers pulled out of the show and ratings dipped soon after. During Ellen's fifth and final season, ABC placed viewer discretion warnings before each episode, cautioning "adult content" despite Ellen's relative tameness compared to other sitcoms at the time like Seinfeld.
"It just felt so degrading," DeGeneres said of the warnings in a 1998 interview with Diane Sawyer. "It's my life. It's how I live my life. I love someone, and because of who I choose to love, I get a warning label."
"I was the punch line of lots of jokes," DeGeneres also told Out magazine in 2016 about the low point in her life. "I laughed at some, but I realized there's somebody on the other side of them. It's cruel. I've never liked mean comedy, but that became even more important to me after I was the brunt of it."
Of course, DeGeneres went on to host her successful daytime talk show and her coming out episode is seen as groundbreaking today -- the episode won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
"If this isn’t an example of ‘It gets better,’ I don’t know what is," she also told Out. "I wasn't sure if I was going to work again. Time is a strange thing. I was at rock bottom and out of money, with no work in sight. But one step at a time, it gets better."
In April 2017, DeGeneres triumphantly celebrated the episode's 20-year anniversary on her daytime talk show with her wife, Portia de Rossi, by her side. She also invited Dern to the show as well as Oprah Winfrey, who made a cameo as her therapist in the episode.
"My character, Ellen Morgan, came out as a lesbian, and I, Ellen DeGeneres, came out at the same time," she told the audience, reflecting on the groundbreaking moment. "It was the first time a lead character had come out."
"I can't tell you how challenging it was to get this episode made, and at the time, it was so controversial," she tearfully continued. "It was the hardest thing that I ever had to do in my life, and I would not change one moment of it because it led me to be exactly where I am today, standing in front of you, which is a joy."
When she got President Barack Obama to dance:
Obama made his first appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Oct. 29, 2007, before he was elected president. His appearance was a definite success, specifically, when he showed off his dance moves with DeGeneres. The clip went viral, and some credit the moment with helping Obama win the hearts of American voters ahead of the election.
The photo -- which crashed Twitter shortly after it was posted -- has now been retweeted over three million times and has over two million likes.
When she gave away $1 million to her audience:
DeGeneres has been known for being extremely generous to deserving people on her show -- like when she gave an entire senior class from Brooklyn, New York, scholarships to cover their college tuition -- but no moment was more spectacular than when she gave away a whopping $1 million to her studio audience in 2018. The episode featured audience members who had all done acts of selfless charity.
"All season long, I partnered with Cheerios to encourage people to do one million acts of good, and if you're here in my audience, you helped us reach that goal," DeGeneres said before the surprise giveaway. "I want to celebrate this amazing accomplishment and the incredible people in my audience today. You have something in common: this audience is filled with people who are making a difference in the world by sharing good."
While the audience members were tricked into thinking they just got boxes of Cheerios under their seat, she then revealed they were all splitting $1 million. Needless to say, the audience was completely shocked and overwhelmed with emotions, making for one of the greatest television moments ever.
Putting Sophia Grace and Rosie on the map:
DeGeneres has brought a number of viral internet stars on her show, but no one's appearance has been as great as the moment when she invited adorable cousins Sophia Grace Brownlee and Rosie McClelland to perform Nicki Minaj's hit song, "Super Bass," in 2011. Sophia Grace, who was only eight years old at the time, completely stole the show with her incredible rapping and singing as 5-year-old Rosie made for the perfect hype woman.
To make the moment even more over-the-top, Minaj herself later came out to surprise the British cousins. The rapper was clearly stunned at the amazing rendition and said she had received countless emails and phone calls about the young duo.
"Ellen, seriously, this is a superstar," Minaj said while holding Sophia Grace's hand. "We feel like we are watching a journey that's going to be amazing, right?"
"Michelle is going to be out of the White House soon and I wanted to show her how to shop like a normal person," DeGeneres explained. "It's been, like, eight years since she has been to CVS. Like I said, it's been longer for me. Last time I was there, I was shopping for birth control."
Obama pushed her own cart and picked up a pair of earbuds for her daughter Sasha, while hilariously keeping DeGeneres in check.
"You are really not a good person to shop with," Obama joked as DeGeneres pulled antics like opening up products and attempting to put them back. "It's like taking a 3-year-old to the store ... I’m not taking you anywhere."
When she outed Kristen Bell's sloth obsession:
Who knew Bell was such a huge fan of sloths?!
In another unforgettable moment from The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Bell's husband, Dax Shepard, shared a video of the actress completely losing her cool when he surprised her with a sloth visit to their home on her 31st birthday in 2012. Bell shockingly full-on sobbed at the surprise and said that even before she knew what Shepard's gift was, she could "sense" that there was a sloth there. When Bell appeared on the show, DeGeneres told her there was a sloth in the studio -- though there wasn't -- and Bell immediately almost again burst into tears.
Shepard later talked about the iconic moment and explained just how hard it was to procure a sloth at the time.
"It's actually better than I expected," Bell said when asked about her experience as a mom. "I'm sure it's better than a sloth."
"[But] there's nothing cuter than a baby sloth," she later cracked.
One of DeGeneres' latest touching moments on her show was when her good friend, Jennifer Aniston, was moved to tears at one family's tragic story during her Christmas giveaway special. Watch the video below for more: