“I walked out here 19 years ago and I said, ‘This is the start of a relationship.’ And today is not the end of a relationship, it’s more of a little break. You can see other talk shows now. I may see another audience once in a while,” the comedian, 64, said during her final monologue on the Thursday, May 26 episode of her eponymous talk show. “Twenty years ago when we tried to sell this show, no one thought this would work. Not because it was a different kind of show — it was because I was different. Very few stations wanted to buy the show and here we are 20 years later, celebrating this amazing journey together.”
DeGeneres then reflected on all of the ways the pop culture landscape has changed since she first began her talk show in September 2003. “When we started this show I couldn’t say ‘gay’ on the show. … I couldn’t say ‘we,’ because that implied that I was with someone. Sure couldn’t say ‘wife,’ that’s because it wasn’t legal for gay people to get married. And now I say ‘wife’ all the time,” she said, as wife Portia de Rossi tearfully cheered her on from the front row. “What a beautiful, beautiful journey that we have been [on] together.”
She continued: “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 you are going through, then I have done my job. … This show has forever changed my life. It is the greatest experience I have ever had, beyond my wildest imagination.”
After dancing with her DJ and cohost Stephen “tWitch” Boss “one last time,” DeGeneres brought things full circle once again by welcoming Jennifer Aniston — who appeared on the very first episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show — onto the stage. The Finding Dory star’s final guests also included Billie Eilish, Pink and more.
The Louisiana native concluded her series by addressing her audience directly. “Thank you so much for this platform,” DeGeneres said while holding back tears. “I hope that what I’ve been able to do in the last 19 years has made you happy. … And I hope I’ve been able to inspire you to make other people happy and do good in the world. To feel like you’ve had a purpose.”
She added: “If I’ve done anything in the past 19 years, I hope I’ve inspired you to be yourself — your true, authentic self. … By opening your heart and your mind, you’re going to be that much more compassionate. And compassion is what makes this world a better place. … I feel the love and I send it back to you.”
DeGeneres announced plans to end her show in May 2021, telling The Hollywood Reporter that she felt “it [was] time” to move on. “I’m a creative person, and when you’re a creative person you constantly need to be challenged, which is why I decided to host the Oscars or why I decided to go back to stand-up when I didn’t think I would,” she said at the time. “And as great as this show is, and as fun as it is, it’s just not a challenge anymore. I need something new to challenge me.”
The declaration came one year after The Ellen DeGeneres Show and its host came under scrutiny following multiple allegations of toxic behavior on set. Following an internal investigation, DeGeneres promised to make sure things changed. While the reports “almost impacted the show,” she asserted they were not the reason the talk show was coming to an end.
“It’s a culture now where there are just mean people, and it’s so foreign to me that people get joy out of that,” she told THR at the time. “Then, on the heels of it, there are allegations of a toxic workplace and, unfortunately, I learned that through the press. And at first, I didn’t believe it. … I can see people looking at that going, ‘You don’t care about what people [went through]. I care tremendously. It broke my heart when I learned that people here had anything other than a fantastic experience — that people were hurt in any way.”
Keep scrolling to see photos from the final episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show: