We all know that sacrificing privacy is the price that comes with stardom, but these days even the most mundane moments of celebrities’ lives are being broadcast. Of course, there are exceptions here and there, as it turns out, some stories are too heartbreaking even for reporters to cover.
For decades, rumors bounced around about a tragedy in Ellen DeGeneres’ early life. Nobody knew which whispers were true until the talk show host sat down and cleared the air on the one night that changed her life forever.
Whether dancing or dunking, Ellen DeGeneres seems like the type of person who’s never had a bad day. But the famous talk show host recently gave an interview that revealed a darker side of her history.
Like anybody, Ellen struggled with personal challenges that she didn’t bring up with most people. These were issues that only her wife Portia de Rossi and a few others knew about — until she shared them with an audience of thousands.
In 2018, she appeared on actor Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert podcast. The show typically brought on famous guests to open up about their deepest vulnerabilities, but Ellen’s story blew Dax away.
She recalled her life in the early 1980s, when she was just a struggling stand-up comic in New Orleans. Though her professional hopes were a grind, things were really heating up on the romantic front.
Throughout high school, Ellen dated guys before realizing that she was really attracted to women. That seemed like a difficult transition to pull off, but then she met somebody who made everything alright.
Kat Perkoff wasn’t like anyone Ellen had ever met before. When not bartending in the picturesque French Quarter, Kat spent her time jotting down poetry. It wasn’t long before the two of them fell in love.
When Ellen and Kat were together, they felt like they didn’t need anything else in the world. In fact, they decided to spend nearly all their time together. The young comic moved into her girlfriend’s apartment.
What Ellen soon realized, however, is that two creative personalities crammed into the same space tended to fight quite a bit. After a particularly vicious argument, she decided to teach Kat a lesson.
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Ellen moved out. It was only temporary, she told herself, until Kat realized that she made a mistake. Meanwhile, Ellen could couch surf with various friends and her brother Vance, who was a talented musician.
Her gambit came to a head during one of Vance’s concerts. Sitting back and enjoying the music, Ellen panicked when she saw Kat approaching her. Distressed, she begged Ellen to come back to the apartment with her.
The comedian, not willing to let Kat off the hook just yet, refused. Kat left the concert venue in tears, while Ellen later drove to a friend’s house. She couldn’t help but notice one unusual sight on the side of the road.
Remnants of a pretty bad accident were scattered near the highway. One car looked like it was nearly split in half! All Ellen could think was that she was sure glad she wasn’t in that vehicle.
Ellen enjoyed the rest of the night at her friend’s place and told herself that she’d probably make up with Kat in the next couple days. When she woke up the next morning, however, she heard some news that changed everything.
That horrific crash she passed the night before? That was Kat’s car. Tragically, the talented poet didn’t survive. This turn of events sent Ellen reeling. She’d purposefully given her girlfriend the cold shoulder, though now they’d never get to make up.
Ellen didn’t even have the luxury of grieving in comfort. Unable to afford the apartment she shared with Kat, the comic moved into a new place. Every night she laid down on a flea-infested mattress on the floor and stared up at a dingy ceiling.
Miserable as that period was, Ellen told Dax that it brought a curious idea into her head. “I just thought it would be amazing,” said Ellen, “if we could pick up the phone and call up God and ask questions and actually get an answer.”
That was a serious thought, but Ellen soon realized it would also make for a great joke. She jotted down some punchlines about a phone call to God and brought it to the stage days later.
Amazingly, that single joke helped launch Ellen’s career. It was the highlight of her first national TV appearance on The Tonight Show. Once it sent Johnny Carson into a fit of laughter, it was clear that she was meant for big things.
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Since then, Ellen has risen to become one of the most celebrated entertainers and activists of our time. Although she’s proud of these accomplishments, she has more important priorities than fame and fortune.
Though she can’t make things right with Kat, Ellen made a promise to herself never to take anyone for granted ever again. She’s related to a few of her talk show compatriots who similarly regret spiteful conversations.
Even Howard Stern admitted one big mistake. The master provocateur made a living out of going where no other radio host dared to venture. His popularity unwavering, Howard felt he could do no wrong.
After all, his rabid fan base cheered on all of his probing interviews and edgy stunts. Thousands of supporters even joined him in New York to protest the fines the FCC laid on his show.
As far as Howard was concerned, there were no limits as to what he could pull off. However, that blind confidence would morph into a heavy dose of regret years down the road, when one interview in 1994 changed it all.
On the fateful day, Robin Williams was set to make an appearance on Stern, which had radio fans’ mouths watering. Surely, these two heavyweights would dive into a conversation that was both deeply honest and hilarious.
After all, Robin had undergone a fascinating evolution in recent years. Showing off impressive comedic and dramatic acting chops, the stand-up was promoting the outrageous Mrs. Doubtfire. Unfortunately, Howard brought up a wholly different topic.
From the moment the two men went on-air, a thick tension hung in the air — so much for natural chemistry. The interview got off to an ugly start when, never having met his guest before, Howard took shots at Robin’s personal life.
With a brash attitude and barrage of expletives, Howard demanded to know why the actor was suddenly messing around with his nanny. The host, of course, was referring to Marsha Garces, Robin’s former au pair whom he started dating after divorcing his wife.
Listeners ate up the confrontation, but Robin took it differently. He angrily backpedaled throughout the rest of the interview before leaving the studio in a huff. It wasn’t until that night when Howard thought he may have blown a big opportunity.
The interview would surely make headlines, but the host failed to actually connect with Robin. “If I saw him in a movie or even Mork & Mindy, he just brought some goddamn pleasure into my life, which is the whole reason I got into radio,” he realized.
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As years passed by, Howard came to rue that interview more and more. He wanted a second chance to give his listeners a chance to enjoy and celebrate Robin Williams, but the host feared the comic would never speak to him again.
He imagined just having Robin back in the studio and giving him free rein to riff. People would love it! Howard also admitted it was just “arrogance thinking that Robin Williams can’t entertain my audience. How stupid am I?”
As his typical neurotic self, Howard put off this grand plan for years. But in 2014, he finally got a hold of Robin’s agent and got his personal information. It seemed like everything would come together…until Howard flipped on the news the next day.
All kinds of rumors about Robin’s demise were swirling around. Some reporters claimed he took his own life. But they just couldn’t be true, Howard thought. How could this larger-than-life comedy giant somehow be a mortal?
However, Robin’s family soon confirmed the heart-wrenching truth. After discovering he was suffering from a form of dementia, Robin decided he couldn’t go on. One of the world’s brightest lights was suddenly snuffed out.
Howard didn’t want to address his feelings over the air, but this news devastated him. Not only was his hero gone for good, but in their last meeting, Howard had treated him with nothing but disrespect. This time around, the shock jock knew he couldn’t brush off his sadness.
Howard had to face the truth, not just make a joke out of it. As a matter of fact, he channeled a bit of Sean Maguire — Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting — and saw a psychotherapist.
The experience forced Stern to reckon with aspects of his life he’d neglected for years: his relationship with his parents, his need for attention, his anxiety. While therapy wouldn’t bring back Robin, it did change Howard for good.
With a new lease on life, Howard pledged to be more open and thoughtful. Especially around his other showbiz idols, he wanted to do more than just go for the cheap laughs. He sought to connect, while adding in an outrageous Stern moment here or there.
Howard’s fresh outlook also brought him to new career opportunities, like his stint as a judge on America’s Got Talent. He’d spent so many years as radio’s bad boy that he wanted to show audiences the good guy side of him.
But, in typical Stern fashion, he hated the cheesiness of the show. Still, he was glad he went out on that limb. It proved he was a more mature man, who would hopefully avoid mistakes like his disastrous 1994 interview with Robin.
After all, Howard can be a surprisingly sensitive guy away from the microphone. Look no further than his love life for proof. See, the year 1999 was a tough one for him. His 21-year marriage to psychoanalyst Alison Berns had ended, and he was in the middle of a personal low point.
“My marriage ending blew my mind,” Stern shared in an interview with Rolling Stone. “I was upset that I failed and let down my family, my kids, and my ex-wife. It was all very painful.”
The radio personality famously uses his show as an open journal, so it was no shocker when, in his post-divorce slump, Howard took to the airwaves to discuss his newfound bachelor freedom.
Freshly single, Howard dove head first into the dating scene. Quickly, he found that hooking up with a revolving door of women was not solving his self described “neuroses.”
Really, Howard was looking for a constant companion. “I just wanted somebody with me every minute,” he admitted. Within a few months, he’d met someone who perfectly fit the bill.
When Beth met Howard, he was just a nice distraction at a dull dinner. It was the year 2000, and the model-author sat at her friend’s Manhattan party, plotting an escape.
Howard grabbed the only empty chair available, which happened to be directly across from Beth. Her intro line, sarcastically complimenting his eyes, was actually an attempt to mock a girl who’d tailed him all evening.
Weirdly, they discovered their Upper West Side apartments were only half a block apart. Playing it cool, Howard waited until 4 am that same night to call and ask Beth out on the spot.
From that night on, they were an item. But any inkling of wedding bells was far off in the future. Howard famously disavowed marriage after his divorce.
The reluctance to tie the knot came from the radio personality’s fear of ruining a good thing. In the eyes of the public, however, remaining unmarried contributed to the perception that their relationship wasn’t serious.
Beth Stern / Twitter
Some of the speculations about their relationship concerned their 18-year age gap. The difference mattered little to Howard and Beth, a fact proven by their unwavering 7-year partnership.
In 2007, Howard decided it was time to ask Beth to marry him. On air, Howard shared the explicit details of his cheeky proposal to Beth in bed. She delightedly accepted.
His means of asking rung true to his radio bravado, but his reasoning was touching. “Part of the reason I got married was that I wanted Beth to understand how important she is and also how equal I feel she is to me,” he said.
The formative years of their relationship lasted a long stretch, so their engagement was decidedly shorter. Family and a slew of celebrity friends gathered in Le Cirque restaurant in NYC for the nuptials.
Hand in hand, the couple swapped vows led by their officiate, Mark Consuelos. Other notable rice throwers at the ceremony included Sarah Silverman, John Stamos, Joan Rivers, and Barbara Walters.
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The wedding of the world’s most famous radio personality had to be sprinkled with some major pizazz. Howard’s old pal Billy Joel serenaded the guests with an impromptu love tune, and Chevy Chase gave a raucous speech.
Still, Howard’s eldest daughter Emily had misgivings about her father’s second marriage. According to her, the divorce of her parents came as a complete shock.
In a comment to the New York Post in 2015, Emily said, “I felt like the divorce came out of nowhere. He used to be one way, and then he marries a model.”
Those negative comments reportedly resulted in family tension, but Howard maintained he had a close bond with his children. Plus, he and Beth were still very much in love.
Part of their connection stemmed from their love of animals. Beth, a vocal animal rights activist, authored the bestseller, Oh My Dog: How to Choose, Train, Groom, Nurture, Feed, and Care for Your New Best Friend.
Working with the North Shore Animal League, the Sterns fostered over 500 cats and dogs. Rescuing and advocating for furry critters was their shared passion and strengthened their bond.
In fact, Beth and Howard shared several matching tattoos in memoriam of their late pets. One, the name of their cherished dog daughter Bianca, an English bulldog, the other, an apple, the namesake of their first cat.
Beth contributed much of their marital bliss to Howard’s romantic side. “We appreciate each other, and he really listens to everything I say. I think he is quite a catch — the perfect husband.”
Howard Stern Show
When he was not whipping up watercolor paintings of roses for his wife, Howard always looked for opportunities to make his wife feel special. For example, the time he attempted to sketch Beth while on a date but hysterically missed the mark.
Howard Stern / Twitter
Their lives were less X rated than Howard’s notoriously raunchy radio persona. Though, he still cracked Beth up in unexpected ways, like when she had to walk her 63-year-old husband through brewing a pot of coffee.
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After 11 years of marriage, Beth and Howard had adopted a regular life, with a regular routine. It was dinner by 4 pm and lights out by 8 in the Stern household, since the radio business has an early call time.