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Oprah Winfrey: After Ellen DeGeneres' Coming Out Episode, I Was Called The N Word

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Oprah Winfrey talks backlash from Ellen's coming out episode.
Oprah Winfrey talks backlash from Ellen's coming out episode.

Ellen DeGeneres made the bold choice to come out on national television in the legendary 1997 "puppy episode" of ABC's "Ellen," which featured appearances from major stars like Oprah Winfrey, Laura Dern, Billy Bob Thornton, Demi Moore, Melissa Etheridge and many more.

The episode and decision to come out blacklisted DeGeneres in Hollywood and negatively affected some of the guest stars as well. Winfrey, who played the therapist that helped Ellen realize she was gay in the episode, told The Hollywood Reporter, "I did it because she asked me to do it and I wanted to support her ... It didn't occur to me that there would be a backlash."

Winfrey recalled receiving hateful phone calls and letters after the episode, which brought in 42 million viewers, hit airwaves. "I got all of the, 'N-----, go back to Africa. Who do you think you are?'" Winfrey said, noting to THR that she'd never experienced such things before.

And Winfrey is not alone. Dern, who played the object of Ellen's affection in the "puppy episode," appeared on an episode of "The Ellen Degeneres Show" a decade later in 2007 and opened up about the aftermath. "There was certainly backlash," said Dern, who couldn't get work for a year-and-half in the wake of the episode, despite her Oscar nomination. She said she got some "not-so-nice letters" and described the experience as "awfully terrifying," but said it was an "honor" and an "extraordinary opportunity" nonetheless. Now, she stars on "Enlightened," which has earned her a Golden Globe Award.

Things have improved for DeGeneres as well: Fifteen years after the "puppy episode" -- and after Winfrey's retirement -- DeGeneres is now the top-earner in daytime TV.

For more on DeGeneres, Winfrey and more, head over to THR.

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