Ellen DeGeneres was hailed as a trailblazer last night as she received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour.
The openly gay comedienne and TV chat show host arrived at a star-studded event in Washington with her wife, the actress Portia de Rossi.
"Thanks to everyone at PBS. I am so happy to be part of your farewell season," DeGeneres joked in accepting the prize and taking a jab at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's plans to stop funding public broadcasting.
DeGeneres, 54, began her career as a comedy club MC in her native New Orleans.
After a performance on Johnny Carson's show in 1986, he invited her over to his desk to chat. She was the first female comedian to receive that invitation from Carson.
Turning to acting, DeGeneres landed comedy series on Fox and ABC, eventually starring in Ellen from 1994 to 1998.
She broke new ground and a taboo in 1997 when she came out as a lesbian; her TV persona became the first lead character on prime-time TV to reveal she was gay.
"I did it because it was the right thing for me to do," DeGeneres said.
"It was the right thing for me to do to not live with shame. I happened to help a lot of people, and it happened to create a ruckus."
After she came out, her comedy show began to lose ratings and was cancelled a year later.
Still, it paved the way for shows such as Will And Grace to Modern Family.
Forbes has ranked her as the 47th most-powerful woman in the world and estimated her earnings at $53m last year.
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