Actress Anne Heche, 27, and DeGeneres, 39, who met at the Vanity Fair post-Oscars party in March, announce their relationship to PEOPLE. "When I saw Ellen across the room, I just, like, swung across on the chandelier, and dropped down beside her. Our souls connected," Heche tells Oprah. "I don't feel like I'm gay," adds Heche, who has been with men in the past. "I just feel like I'm in love."
DeGeneres appears in two movies – Ron Howard's Edtv, and The Love Letter. Edtv, starring Matthew McConaughey, is a critical success, but The Love Letter is forgettable.
After 3½ years together, Heche and DeGeneres announce that they've broken up. Heche is found behaving strangely on the outskirts of Fresno, Calif., and is briefly hospitalized. The following year, she marries cameraman Coleman Laffoon.
DeGeneres quickly finds new love. Her mother Betty tells the New York Post that DeGeneres has a new girlfriend: 31-year-old actress/photographer Alexandra Hedison. "As a mother, I'm just happy to see my child happy," Betty says, "so much has happened to Ellen, she's been so devastated."
DeGeneres plays another lesbian named Ellen in CBS' The Ellen Show. "A lot of the humor on sitcoms comes from being sarcastic and mean-spirited," she tells The New York Times. "I just have never liked that. I like things that are funny because they're silly or because they're smart." Her show is scheduled Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and is canceled three months later.
The Emmys are delayed twice after 9/11, but CBS and the Academy promise a show that will "reaffirm the spirit of the American people." In her second turn hosting, DeGeneres is lauded for her deft, sensitive performance. "I felt it was important for me to be here tonight," she says during the telecast, "because what would bug the Taliban more than seeing a gay woman in a suit surrounded by Jews?" DeGeneres gets a standing ovation at the close of the ceremony.
DeGeneres voices Dory, a neurotic fish with a memory problem, in Disney's Finding Nemo. The movie grosses more than $860 million worldwide and wins Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. "I wrote it completely with [Ellen] in mind," Nemo director Andrew Stanton tells the Chicago Sun-Times.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show launches DeGeneres back into the national spotlight. Her dance moves, A-list guests and deadpan comebacks earn her multiple Daytime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Talk Show and Outstanding Host. "I want the show to reach people and to be something positive," she tells W. "[in 1998], I lost my show, I lost my entire career, and I lost everything for three years. I got to learn that I was strong enough to start over again."
American Express signs DeGeneres as one of its spokespeople for a global ad campaign. Photographer Annie Leibovitz shoots the print ads, and humorous TV commercials feature DeGeneres dancing and working with animal colleagues.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): REX USA; Michael Caulfield/WireImage; KEVIN WINTER/IMAGE DIRECT; Warner Bros/Everett; American Express/WENN; JEFF KRAVITZ/FILM MAGIC