Ellen's 2007 on camera breakdown.
Ellen's 2007 on camera breakdown.

Ellen’s brutal mid-show breakdown

Ellen DeGeneres has been besieged by negative press in recent months, with insiders and former staffers alleging the comedian-turned-talk show queen is "mean," "cold" and "demeaning" to those around her.

But Ellen once showed a very human side on her talk show, suffering an emotional on-air breakdown that made world headlines. It was an uncharacteristically vulnerable moment for DeGeneres, who sobbed openly as she shared some upsetting personal news with her studio audience and millions of viewers.

But it also came with a brutal fallout, with the source of Ellen's upset labelling her a "bully" who was trying to use her power to get what she wanted.

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It was a surprisingly sombre DeGeneres who greeted viewers at the start of an October 2007 episode of The Ellen Show. There was none of her trademark dancing - instead, a fragile-sounding Ellen quickly took her seat. "I needed that today," she told the applauding studio audience, immediately reaching for a tissue as she choked up.

Ellen breaks down.
Ellen breaks down.

"We're going to edit some of this out … People say to me, 'How do you do this show when you're in a bad mood or you're sad; don't you have bad days?' I have bad days, but when I walk out here, when y'all cheer, it changes my mood. I come out here and I can do anything because of the energy I get," she began.

"But today is a hard day for me. Today is bad. And I am not capable of coming out and pretending to be funny and 'on' when things are going so terribly wrong right now. I'm so sorry, I'm just not able to pretend."

Ellen then explained the reason she was so upset: The previous month, she'd adopted a dog from a rescue organisation, paying to have it neutered and house-trained. She and then-partner Portia de Rossi (the pair wed the following year) soon discovered the dog was not a good fit with their existing pets.

"I spent $3000 on this puppy to acclimate it and train it to be with our cats, but it was just too much energy and too rambunctious," she said.

At the same time, Ellen's hairdresser, a mother to two young girls, was looking for a puppy to keep the family's existing dog company. Ellen said it had seemed like a perfect solution: Pass the puppy, Iggy, on to her hairdresser to care for.

"Iggy has been with them for two weeks. I get updates from them every day about how much their daughters love Iggy," she said.

The outburst stunned viewers and made headlines around the world.
The outburst stunned viewers and made headlines around the world.

Ellen then explained the organisation who facilitated the puppy's adoption had contacted her the day before to check up on how Iggy was settling in to his new home - unaware that Ellen had actually given the animal to someone else.

"I told them the truth; I didn't lie. I said 'Iggy has a great home' … Well, I guess I signed a piece of paper that said if I can't keep Iggy it goes back to the rescue organisation. These two little girls had bonded to the dog.

"I thought I did a good thing. I was trying to do a good thing. And because I did it wrong, those people went and took that dog out of the home, and took it away from those kids," she continued, once more beginning to sob.

"I feel totally responsible for it and I'm so sorry. I'm begging them to give that dog back to that family. I just want that family to have that dog! It's not their fault, it's my fault. Just please give the dog back to those little girls," she begged.

"I'm sorry I didn't call you. I'm sorry I did the wrong thing. Just please give it back to the family - please, please, please.

"That's the story. I'm responsible for trying to do something without reading … all the things I should've read."

Viewers were divided over Ellen's breakdown - some applauded her for wearing her heart on her sleeve, but others thought it unfair she used her talk show to pressure an animal welfare organisation into breaking their own rules.

Ellen DeGeneres and partner Portia de Rossi in 2007, a year before their wedding. Picture: AP
Ellen DeGeneres and partner Portia de Rossi in 2007, a year before their wedding. Picture: AP

And DeGeneres' very public breakdown had a devastating fallout for the adoption group, Mutts and Moms. As the story exploded, the organisation's lawyer shared phone messages "in which a DeGeneres spokeswoman threatened legal action and bad publicity if Iggy were not returned to Ms. DeGeneres' hairdresser," NBC reported.

"We're filing a legal case against you. We're going to be contacting the media. This is not going to be good for your store or your organisation," DeGeneres' publicist Kelly Bush said on the tape, which aired on Good Morning America. Bush denied making any threats.

Mutts and Moms founder Maria Batkis had copped numerous threatening phone calls and emails, even receiving death threats.

"If Ellen's object was to destroy my client to get her way she has done that," her lawyer Keith A. Fink said at the time. "My client is destroyed."

But she also held firm, refusing to give the dog to the family and instead rehoming Iggy with another family she felt was more suitable.

"If you adopt a dog and you no longer want the dog, you can't unilaterally decide who you want to give the dog to," said Fink. "She's trying to tell a story to make herself look good.

"She (Marina) is not going to give them the dog," he continued.

"She doesn't think this is the type of family that should have the dog. She is adamant that she is not going to be bullied around by the Ellen DeGenereses of the world … They are using their power, position and wealth to try to get what it is they want."


Originally published as Ellen's brutal mid-show breakdown