While Hollywood is known for its on-screen love stories, real-life celebrity romances in show business rarely include a happily ever after. Long-lasting love is hard to come by for those in the public eye, but when it happens, it's something to celebrate.
One such love story is the genuine, adoring bond between Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi, who are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary on Thursday following an amazing year that saw the lovebirds fly off to Africa to spend time with endangered animals for the TV show host’s 60th birthday.
However, the romance between the celebrated actresses goes back much further than the decade they’ve spent as a married couple. Their romance first took shape at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on Dec. 1, 2004.
During a chance encounter backstage at VH1s Big in ‘04 Awards, the pair set into motion their romantic destinies -- however, there had been an unspoken spark between them even before that. According to de Rossi -- during the couple’s first joint interview, with Oprah Winfrey, after getting married in 2008 -- she knew she was in love with DeGeneres “when I first laid eyes on her” at a party in 2000.
“It took me three years to actually tell her how I felt about her,” de Rossi recalled. “Because I was on Ally McBeal at the time and I was not living as an openly gay person.”
“I was closeted and very, very afraid that if I talked about being gay, it would be the end of my career,” she added. “So I wasn't about to date the most famous lesbian in the world.”
A few years after their first encounter, de Rossi ran into DeGeneres again at a photoshoot, and when she walked over to talk to her it felt “like an arrow was shot through my heart.”
“I felt weak at the knees and I was overwhelmed with how I felt, but then it took me about 10 months to get the courage up to actually do anything about it,” de Rossi added.
While Ellen had rocked the world with her decision to publically come out in April 1997 -- first on the cover of Time magazine and then on a groundbreaking episode of her ABC sitcom Ellen -- de Rossi had largely kept her sexual orientation private.
In 2001, two years after her divorce from documentary filmmaker Mel Metcalf, de Rossi struck up a relationship with filmmaker Francesca Gregorini, in what would be her first public lesbian relationship. Despite photographs of the couple hitting the front pages of tabloids, de Rossi refused to address her relationship in interviews.
However, that all changed when, after years of shying away from her attraction to DeGeneres, the pair first forged the start of their lasting romance backstage at the Shrine Auditorium in 2004, and went public with their relationship soon after.
Speaking with The Advocate in August 2005, de Rossi opened up about her burgeoning relationship with DeGeneres and how her love made her overcome her fears about coming out.
“My feelings for her overrode all of my fear about being out as a lesbian. I had to be with her, and I just figured I’d deal with the other stuff later,” she shared. “I respect her so much. She was so courageous and so loud in ’97, and now she is doing something that is more subliminal. She’s changing the world, she really is, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
The couple took their first bold step into the spotlight a month after they started dating when they walked the red carpet together at a Golden Globes after party on Jan. 16, 2005.
"I think when I really, truly came out was the Golden Globes when Arrested Development was nominated,” de Rossi told James Lipton during an interview on Inside the Actors Studio years later.
“Ellen and I had been together for a month and I was very, very nervous going to that because I knew that I was going to meet up with her after the show. We actually stepped out together as a couple but, for me, it was the first time that I stepped out as a gay woman," she said.
The couple’s relationship flourished amid a great deal of public support. The pair moved in together in a home in Los Angeles, and soon bought a 120-acre ranch, where de Rossi could enjoy her passion for horse riding.
In May 2008, the California Supreme Court struck down two state laws that had effectively banned same-sex marriages, thus paving the way for couples across the state to legally tie the knot. DeGeneres wasted no time in announcing her and de Rossi’s plans to wed during an episode of her talk show the day after the court’s decision.
“Yesterday, if you haven’t heard, the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on gay marriage. So I would like to say right now for the first time, I am announcing I am getting married,” DeGeneres said to a standing ovation from her studio audience, which included a beaming, tearful de Rossi. “I’m so excited, and if I’m this emotional now I can’t imagine how that’s going to be. But it’s something that we’ve wanted to do, and we wanted it to be legal, and we’re very, very excited.”
DeGeneres popped the question with a stunning 3-carat Neil Lane diamond ring -- featuring a marquis cut stone and set with pink diamonds -- and by August the pair were exchanging vows in front of an intimate gathering of 19 close friends and family, wearing white Zac Posen designs, at their home in Los Angeles.
A post shared by Portia de Rossi (@portiaderossi) on Jun 26, 2015 at 7:16pm PDT
Speaking with Oprah, DeGeneres explained how important it was for the couple to have a legally recognized marriage when it comes to emotional stability and legal sanctity.
"Anybody who's married knows that there is a difference. There's an anchor, there's a safety,” DeGeneres explained. “I'm going to be with her till the day I die and I know that."
After a tumultuous legal rollercoaster -- with the subsequent passage of Prop. 8, which effectively reinstituted the state’s gay marriage ban, and then the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismissal of the laws implemented by that proposition -- de Rossi announced in September 2010 that she’d legally taken DeGeneres’ last name.
"I am thrilled to legally adopt my wife's name," she said in a statement at the time, when gay marriage was still not federally recognized. "I will continue to use Portia de Rossi for professional purposes.”
A post shared by Portia de Rossi (@portiaderossi) on Jun 26, 2015 at 7:16pm PDT
Joking about the name change, DeGeneres tweeted at the time, "I just got some amazing news. The court has granted Portia's name change. She's now officially Portia Winfrey."
Speaking with People in 2016, the talk show host reflected on her marriage and her life and how appreciative she is for every blessing she’s enjoyed in recent years. “I’m grateful for my health, and I’m so grateful for the love in my life,” DeGeneres shared. “Because not everybody finds that. Not everybody finds that best friend.”
“Portia and I constantly say to each other, ‘We are so lucky.’ Sometimes it’s lying in bed at night before I go to sleep, and I just say thank you to whatever, whoever is out there,” she added. “I’ve gotten to a place where I really am just settled. Really. I know that I’m not going anywhere. She’s not going anywhere.”
The sentiment DeGeneres and de Rossi have shared about the tranquility of their emotionally rewarding relationship is one they've expressed frequently during interviews through the years, including de Rossi's sit-down with Out magazine in 2013.
"We've settled into happily married life. We really support each other in whatever we're doing and we're incredibly happy, which is why you don't see us in the press so much,” she explained. “We're the best of friends and married life is blissful, it really is.”
Despite their deep connection and long-time bond, the pair have frequently been the target of tabloid speculation suggesting the pair are on the verge of collapse or rumors that they were planning on calling it quits.
However, both stars have completely dismissed the sensationalized reports and, in their rejections, have often expressed their love for one another in emotional and heartwarmingly poetic words of adoration.
Speaking with Howard Stern in September 2015, DeGeneres said she and de Rossi don’t really pay attention to a majority of the rumors about them.
"We don't know anything about it until somebody tells us," she said. "I don't read the tabloids, and I don't have a publicist."
She said that, while she doesn’t understand why they are so frequently the subject of tabloid gossip, they are “kind of flattered” by the attention.
"We really don't almost break up, we don't fight, we're madly in love, and I guess it's boring," she continued.
The effusive love the couple share is apparent whenever they talk about one another, no matter the circumstance. Speaking with ET at the Television Critics Association winter party in January 2016, de Rossi -- who was starring on Scandal at the time -- opened up about the secret to their successful marriage.
“We're just really good friends and we talk about everything, and we never ever, ever lie to each other, like, not even the tiniest lies," the actress explained. "And she's the only person I want to hang out with. Like, she is my best friend and I just want to be with her all the time."
"She's just so awesome!" she added. "Who wouldn't want to be with Ellen all the time?"
Over the last ten years, the pair haven’t let rumors keep them from living their best lives, enjoying time together on a daily basis -- along with their beloved dogs and score of pets -- and celebrating their love.
Last year, in commemoration of their ninth anniversary, DeGeneres took to Instagram to share a sweet message, writing, “@PortiadeRossi and I got married 9 years ago today. Being her wife is the greatest thing I am.”
A post shared by Ellen (@theellenshow) on Aug 16, 2017 at 12:46pm PDT
This past February, just days after DeGeneres celebrated her 60th birthday, de Rossi joined her on a special episode of Ellen, and the 45-year-old actress brought the host to tears with a super sweet, once-in-a-lifetime surprise gift.
"It's your 60th birthday and this gift had to be really special and it had to represent who you are and what you really care about," de Rossi explained. "Not just now, but what you've always cared about. What you were influenced by and what has made you the amazing person that you are today. So, I combined that and questions when we first met like, 'Who's your idol? And what would you do if you weren't a talk show host?'"
“I combined that with the fact that, literally guys, for, like, the last two years, Ellen has said to me, 'I feel like I'm not doing enough.' Every day, almost. So, I put all that together and I got you this gift,” de Rossi continued. “I am bringing you and your hero, Dian [Fossey], together by building the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund."
“You will carry on Dian's legacy by giving them a permanent home in Rwanda. Now, you will join Dian as a protector and champion of these amazing animals, the mountain gorillas,” she continued. “I have also set up a foundation in your name called The Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund.”
DeGeneres was deeply moved by the impactful present, and began to cry as she thanked her.
"It’s the best gift. I’ve always said -- and when we got married, Portia’s line was, 'It’s good to be loved; it’s profound to be understood' -- and, she understands me because that is the best gift that anybody could have given me. So, I love you."
In June, the pair embarked on a breathtaking adventure through several countries in Africa -- including Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, sharing amazing snapshots all along the way.
As the couple now celebrate their tenth anniversary, they stand as an enduring and inspirational testament to the power of love in the face of adversity -- be it from discriminatory laws that eventually get overturned, or from gossip columns trying in vain to stir up acrimony, or from the seemingly invisible machinations pervasive throughout show business that conspire to tear couple apart.
They’ve weathered all storms and came out stronger on the other side, together.