In the aftermath of Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing, many celebrities, fans and organizations have paid touching tributes to him and his family. Among these was a statement from Ellen DeGeneres – who had been marking her birthday as news of the NBA legend’s demise broke. But when the TV host began her speech, she simply couldn’t hold back her tears.
At the time of his death, Bryant had been traveling via helicopter to a basketball game, where he would have coached his daughter Gianna’s team. But the S-76B aircraft crashed into a hill, and all on board were killed. These were Bryant, 13-year-old Gianna, pilot Ara Zobayan, Alyssa Altobelli (aged 14), Alyssa’s parents, John and Keri Altobelli, Payton Chester (aged 13), her mother, Sarah, and assistant coach Christina Mauser.
To many, the tragedy was simply unthinkable. Not only were several of the victims teenagers, but one of the biggest names in basketball was also gone in an instant. So memorials and tributes quickly sprung up as fans worked to process their grief. Hundreds of people even visited the scene of the crash to leave flowers and basketballs.
Another quickly arranged tribute took place on the same day that Bryant and his daughter died. That’s because the Grammy Awards happened to be holding its ceremony merely hours after the devastating news had hit the headlines. During the show, then, Boyz II Men and Alicia Keys performed the song “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” and Bryant’s jerseys at the Staples Center were illuminated as well.
Keys also announced, “To be honest with you, we’re all feeling crazy sadness right now. Because… Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero. We’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built. We’re gonna love together, and we’re gonna make sure we celebrate the most powerful energy… the one thing that has the power to bring us all together. And that’s music.”
Celebrities walking the red carpet had also taken the opportunity to pay tribute to Bryant. Presenter Ryan Seacrest said, “He was on the phone with me a few months ago, talking about the love of being a father, talking about his daughters so pridefully, and I think so many artists here tonight will be thinking about this and wanting to share their stories.”
And on the same day, NBA commissioner Adam Silver released a statement on behalf of the whole organization. It read, “The NBA family is devastated by the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. For 20 seasons, Kobe showed us what is possible when remarkable talent blends with an absolute devotion to winning.”
It continued, “He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary: five NBA championships, an NBA MVP award, 18 NBA All-Star selections and two Olympic gold medals. But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”
The statement also mentioned that Bryant “[took] special delight in passing down his love of the game to Gianna.” Finally, Silver’s message ended with a note of condolence to the rest of the Bryant family. This included the basketball star’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, and their three other children: Bianka, Natalia and baby Capri.
Stars who had known and loved Bryant also released statements. David Beckham wrote on Instagram the day after the crash, “His legacy will live on. My family’s love and prayers go out to Vanessa and the girls, to Kobe’s basketball family, and of course to the families of those who were tragically lost with him yesterday.”
Actress Jessica Simpson lives close to where the helicopter crashed, and she shared a photograph and statement on Instagram. She wrote, “Eric [Johnson, her husband] took this photo from our backyard right after the accident happened where Kobe, his daughter, and other beautiful souls were lifted up to be with God for eternity.”
Such was the impact of Bryant’s life and death that even some former presidents tweeted about him. Barack Obama wrote on Twitter, “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
While Bill Clinton tweeted out the message, “I’m deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, & all who died in today’s accident. Kobe lived a very large life in a very short time. My prayers are with Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri, and all those who lost loved ones today.”
So it’s obvious that many people were understandably devastated. Yet, as previously mentioned, there was an extra blow for Ellen DeGeneres – because her friend had died on her birthday. The day Bryant, his daughter and their companions were killed, you see, DeGeneres should have been celebrating turning 62 years old. Instead, the star put a statement of her sadness on Twitter.
DeGeneres tweeted out on January 26, “Like everyone, I’m stunned and saddened by the news about Kobe Bryant. My heart is broken for his wife and family.” It’s worth noting, too, that the talk show host released this statement before the media confirmed that Gianna had been in the helicopter with her father and had also passed away.
DeGeneres and Bryant had actually been friends for a few years. The NBA legend first appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show back in September 2012, when he was introduced to a ten-year-old superfan named Jarred Jones. The two of them even had a basketball shooting contest, watched over by DeGeneres, and Bryant praised the little boy’s skills.
Then, in November 2013, Bryant teamed up with DeGeneres to surprise a family who had lost everything in a house fire. In fact, the family sat down on the show and received a video message from the basketball star – plus a signed ball. And in the end, they walked away with $20,000 from DeGeneres.
So when Bryant retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016, he gave his first post-retirement interview to DeGeneres on her show. The two friends played a hidden-camera prank on that episode, but they also sat down together for a cozy chat. Topics discussed included Bryant’s illustrious career and his family life with his daughters.
Bryant and DeGeneres also talked and joked about celebrities always going to see Bryant’s basketball games. Bryant told the host, “It just adds to the excitement and adds to the focus. I was on the bench, and I heard your voice come up on the Jumbotron. ‘Hey, they got Ellen up there too!’”
They then talked about Bryant’s daughters, who had been at his last game. Bryant said, “I was like, ya know, ‘Honey, I used to be pretty good back in the day…’ They thought it was pretty awesome. I think the coolest thing for them is me walking out just now and not embarrassing them completely by not dancing pathetically.”
Regarding his retirement, Bryant told DeGeneres, “I just don’t wanna play anymore. It’s not like my body forced me out. I don’t wanna do it anymore. I’m ready to move on.” But he would still play in his leisure time, he said. The Bryant family have their own basketball court, after all, and the children shoot hoops too.
DeGeneres then asked Bryant if he would be happy to see his children go into basketball and competitive sports. He replied, “If they wanted to.” And of course, tragically it was while en route to a basketball game of Gianna’s that the helicopter in which the Bryants had been traveling crashed. You see, she had been a young rising star in the sport.
Before Bryant’s passing, though, he made a couple more appearances on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. In 2018, for instance, the on-court legend came on the show to surprise another young basketball star, Notre Dame junior guard Arike Ogunbowale. He even gave her two signed shirts – one for her and one for her dog – and then they played ball with DeGeneres and Ice Cube.
The sports star popped up on the show again later that year to plug his new book, Mamba Mentality. He and the host also played a basketball Connect 4 game, and at first it looked like DeGeneres was actually going to win. Bryant joked, “See, this is why I’m not coming out of retirement.”
So DeGeneres evidently had some great times with Bryant, and his death appeared to absolutely shatter her. In fact, on January 27 – just one day after Bryant and Gianna had passed away – DeGeneres was filming her TV show for the following day. And as part of the taping, the host made a speech about her deceased friend, specifically touching upon the lessons his life and death had taught her.
DeGeneres told the audience, “Thank you for being here. I appreciate it today more than ever, more than I did yesterday, and tomorrow I will appreciate it more… because life is short.” She went on, “Today is Monday, and yesterday was Sunday. It happened to be my birthday and the Grammy Awards. I was nominated, I didn’t win, not the point.”
Visibly emotional, DeGeneres continued, “Yesterday was supposed to be a celebratory day, and then we got tragic news about Kobe Bryant and everything changed in a second. And that’s what I want to talk about. Life is short, and it’s fragile, and we don’t know how many birthdays we have.”
DeGeneres explained, “We don’t need a birthday to celebrate. Just celebrate life. And if you haven’t told someone you love them, do it now. Do it, tell people you love them. Call your friends, text your friends. Hug ’em, kiss ’em. Be nice to the people at the D.M.V. [Department of Motor Vehicles]. They’re people, be nice to them.”
Following her own advice, DeGeneres told the audience, “And I love each and every one of you. I know that you wait for tickets and you get here and you pick out your TV outfits and you do your TV hair, and I appreciate it very much.” She added, “And I know that I am lucky to have a wife who loves me so much even though I don’t have a Grammy.”
DeGeneres then introduced her co-star tWitch with the emotional words, “I get to come to work every single day with people who make me laugh. I love everybody I work with. And I can’t believe I get to introduce this amazing guy every single day. I love him so much.” And tWitch had plenty to say to DeGeneres as well.
tWitch told DeGeneres, “First off, happy birthday, and I love you.” He went on, to the audience and then to DeGeneres, “I’m sure you can all agree that, like, this is the perfect place to be right now. When you need this kind of inspiration and a little boost of love like this, there’s no better place to be than with you to kind of get this right now.”
Reaching for a tissue, DeGeneres said, “I was backstage before the show started, that’s why it took me a minute to get out here because I was seeing to tWitch, because we’ve both been sad today. And I said, ‘We’re going to go out there and we’re just gonna fill the room with love.’ Because that’s what everyone needs, and then I come out here and fall apart.”
DeGeneres also used another segment of her show to pay tribute to Bryant, his career and his appearances alongside her. She said, “As you all know, it was a very tough weekend here in Los Angeles. There was a helicopter accident that took the lives of nine people aboard, including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.”
The host went on, “Kobe was a legend who will always be remembered for what he accomplished on the basketball court, but also remembered for his kindness and the times that he helped us give back to deserving people on our show.” DeGeneres then showed a video montage of all those moments.
And after the montage of Bryant clips, DeGeneres said, “Our hearts go out to Kobe’s family and all the families who lost loved ones on Sunday.” Then she signed off the episode with her catchphrase, which had a bit of extra resonance after her emotional opening speech: “Be kind to one another.”
When the clip was posted online, too, many people immediately offered their condolences. One person wrote, “Kobe’s death probably brought more people together than ever. His death reminding everyone to love and enjoy life at the fullest. Who knows if we get to see tomorrow but do live your life today and we will see what tomorrow has in stock for us.”
The shockwaves from Bryant’s death continued for a long time after that, too. On January 30, for instance, Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, gave her first public statement about the deaths of her husband and daughter. Writing on Instagram, she began by saying, “Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them.”
The grieving mother went on, “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
A later Instagram post revealed the depths of the pain Vanessa was going through. She wrote in February, “My brain refuses to accept that both Kobe and Gigi are gone. I can’t process both at the same time. It’s like I’m trying to process Kobe being gone, but my body refuses to accept my Gigi will never come back to me… Praying for all of the victims of this horrible tragedy. Please continue to pray for all.”
So Kobe Bryant and his daughter meant a lot to a great many people. That includes not just their families, but the wider world as well. The other victims likewise left grieving loved ones behind. And DeGeneres’ emotional statement about her friend is a timely reminder that all of us should use our time on Earth wisely.
This isn’t the first time DeGeneres has put out an emotional tribute to a lost loved one, either. The death of a parent is one of the hardest things that someone will ever go through in their life, after all. And the chat show host has certainly experienced such a loss – as her 92-year-old father Elliott passed away in January 2018. However, after the star had recalled her final moments with her dad, she made a touching revelation.
Born in June 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana, Elliott grew up with his parents Ruth Elodie Martin and Elliott Everett DeGeneres. He took on the job of an insurance salesman in later life; while still in his 20s, he also wed his girlfriend Elizabeth Jane Pfeffer.
Then, some two years into their marriage, Elliott and Elizabeth had their first child together. He was named Vance, with the DeGeneres family then becoming a little bigger in January 1958 with the birth of their daughter Ellen. From there, the couple raised their two children together for a number of years – but that all changed in 1974.
You see, following 22 years of marriage, Elliott and Elizabeth got divorced. Daughter Ellen was still just a teenager at the time and harbored hopes of training as a vet in the future. After coming to the realization that she might not be suited for the job, however, the future TV star then explored various other avenues.
Ellen went out and took on a number of different jobs during her younger years, in fact. Among other things, she worked as a vacuum salesperson, a house painter, a waitress and a legal secretary. But while she now had a host of skills at her disposal, perhaps nothing could prepare the Louisiana native for what came next.
Ellen was thrust into the spotlight at a public speaking event, although she was terrified by the prospect. In an attempt to work past her nerves and deal with the crowd, then, she tapped into her humorous side. And despite Ellen’s initial fears, her talk proved hugely successful; it even opened some unexpected doors.
In particular, Ellen was asked to perform some stand-up gigs, after which she first took to the stage as an entertainer in 1981. And, from there, she slowly built up her reputation as a comic. Then a life-changing opportunity would arise in 1986, when she earned a spot on The Tonight Show – joining Johnny Carson on his famous couch.
After that, Ellen started to become a fixture on American television, turning up on Larry King Live, Good Morning America and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She also continued to perform on late-night staples such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman.
Alongside her stand-up appearances, Ellen tried her hand at acting as well. Following her debut in the TV show Duet in 1989, the versatile entertainer then featured in programs such as Open House and Laurie Hill. However, her big break in television didn’t come until 1994.
That year, Ellen first appeared in her own eponymous sitcom, which ran for five seasons. She starred in over 100 episodes of the show, in fact, before the series came to an end in 1998. One year prior to Ellen’s cancelation, though, the lead actress herself made an incredibly bold move.
Specifically, in 1997 Ellen revealed that she was gay, with her character in the show following suit. As a result of that, the star’s on-screen alter ego, Ellen Morgan, became the first ever lead in a sitcom to come out of the closet. And despite the controversy that followed, the episode of Ellen in which its protagonist explained that she was a lesbian won an Emmy Award.
Following Ellen’s end, the star went on to appear in further TV shows, such as Will & Grace and The Simpsons. And 2003 proved to be a pivotal year for the star; not only was Ellen cast in the Pixar classic Finding Nemo, but she also scored her own daytime talk show.
Simply titled Ellen, the show has been a massive success, running for over 15 years. In that time, the host has appeared in more than 2,500 episodes while also earning a number of awards. Off that back of those achievements, Ellen has also helmed several award ceremonies, including the Oscars in 2014.
And as Ellen continued to find success on television, there appeared to be few people prouder of her accomplishments than her father, Elliott. Indeed, it turned out that Elliott was a big fan of the entertainment industry as a whole. “[My dad] loved this business,” Ellen wrote on Twitter in January 2018. “He loved that I was in it.”
On that note, Ellen made a heartbreaking announcement during her show on January 11, 2018. At that time, the residents of Montecito, California, had been dealing with some devastating mudslides that had killed over 20 people. The host was also a member of that community, but as she dedicated some time to talking about those incidents, she also touched upon something else.
“Before we go to break, there’s something else I want to talk about,” Ellen told her studio audience. “I mentioned yesterday when I was talking about all the mudslides that are going on in my community of Montecito, which is heartbreaking, I said that I had a lot going on in my life.”
“In addition to what’s going on in Montecito, I lost my dad this week,” Ellen continued. At that point, a photograph of her and Elliott appeared on the screen. “That is my dad, Elliott,” she added. “That’s me when I was… I don’t know how old I was, but I do remember that picture.”
From there, Ellen shared some touching words about her father, revealing a bit more about him to the audience and her viewers. “[Elliott] was 92 years old, he had a good long life, and he lived his life exactly how he wanted,” the host said. “He [followed the] Christian Science [movement] his entire life.”
“[Elliott] never had medicine his whole life,” Ellen continued. “[He] never went to a doctor. I never had a vaccination. We never had medicine growing up. And he lived to be 92.” After that, the host went on to speak about her father’s personality and his attitude towards other people.
“[Elliott] was very proud of me,” Ellen recalled. “He loved this show. He was a kind man, very accepting man. There was not one bone of judgment in his body.” And as her tribute continued, the former stand-up comic made a heartwarming confession.
“[Elliott] was very funny,” Ellen said. “I think my brother, Vance, and I got our sense of humor from him.” Indeed, while Ellen’s career was kick-started by her stand-up routines, Vance was initially seen as the family comic. Much like his sister, though, he has an incredibly versatile skill set.
Vance made his writing debut back in 1991, penning two episodes of the TV show Eerie, Indiana. After that, he went on to write an episode of Diagnosis Murder before joining his sister’s show in 1995. There, he made his television acting debut alongside Ellen, playing a character named Erik Matthew Marshall.
Vance went on to appear in one more episode of Ellen as a guitarist in 1997. He also lent his writing skills to the show, penning two episodes of the sitcom before moving on to other projects. Then, just before the turn of the millennium, he finally had his big break.
In 1999 Vance joined the cast of The Daily Show and went on to feature in over 100 episodes of the series. His last appearance on the program came back in 2015, as he returned for Jon Stewart’s final episode. In between all that, Ellen’s brother had also tried his hand at producing, working on the likes of Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
Despite all of the success that Ellen and Vance have enjoyed, though, few could’ve predicted their rise as youngsters. Elliott, in particular, couldn’t have foreseen his children’s futures when he took his family out for a trip to Los Angeles, California, several decades ago. With that in mind, his daughter looked back on that vacation during her tribute.
“We only took one family vacation,” Ellen revealed on her show in January 2018. “When I was a little girl, we came to this lot – to the Warner Bros lot – and took the tour. And now I work on the Warner Bros lot, and I have my own stage with my name on it. So, [Elliott] was really proud of that.”
At that point, Ellen then spoke about her final meeting with Elliott before touching upon a quite incredible moment. “Before he passed away, I got to talk to him, so I got to say goodbye to him,” she said. “I left, I was leaving the building, and I looked back, and there was a rainbow over the Warner Bros studio.”
From there, a photo of the rainbow appeared behind Ellen, as she concluded her heartfelt tribute. “This is what I saw after I talked to my dad,” she told the studio audience. “And he died ten minutes later. I got a rainbow before he died.”
That incredibly emotional tribute was uploaded onto Ellen’s official Twitter page later in the day and drew a huge response. The clip has since been viewed over two million times on the social media website, having earned more than 150,000 likes and 15,000 retweets.
Additionally, Ellen’s tweet garnered over 9,000 comments from Twitter users, as people paid their own respects to Elliott. “I just recently lost my father as well,” one individual wrote. “A couple [of] days before he died, I saw a rainbow outside the hospital at a point when I felt lost and alone.”
“I truly believe it was him letting us know he’d be okay,” the writer added. “Sorry for your loss. It’s not easy losing a parent.” A few other people in the comments section recounted similar incidents following the death of loved ones too.
“It really touched my heart to hear you talk about seeing the rainbow,” another Twitter user wrote to Ellen. “After my dad died, I was really stressed and overwhelmed with handling his estate. The week I sold his house, I was really worried about it, and I saw two rainbows. May your dad rest in peace.”
And the emotional tales didn’t end there. “Ellen, I wanted to share an amazing story with you,” a further commenter said. “My mother [passed] away with stage four lung cancer. She took her last breath in my arms. 20 minutes after I left the hospital, this rainbow appeared. Under the rainbow is the hospital [where] my mother took her last breath.”
And as the tributes continued to flood in for Elliott on social media, Ellen felt the need to respond. “I’m so grateful for every comment, every message, every heart,” she wrote on Twitter in January 2018. “Thank you.” And people continued to share their kind words about Elliott over the next few months.
Indeed, several people left messages on Elliott’s obituary page on the website Legacy in order to pay their respects to Ellen’s father. One user in particular touched upon the potential meaning of the rainbow that Ellen had seen outside the Warner Bros lot. According to them, it was a “sign.”
“Dear Ellen, I am so sorry for the recent passing of your dear dad,” wrote Christine Duminiak in March 2018. “But I am thrilled for you that he immediately sent you a ‘sign’ from heaven in the form of a rainbow.” On that note, Duminiak explained what the “sign” meant to her.
“Rainbows are one of the 20 common signs we receive from our loved ones to let us know they are in heaven, yet still a huge part of our lives,” Duminiak continued. “May you feel God’s loving and comforting arms wrapped around you during this sorrowful time.”
And as the tributes continued to pour in for Elliott, there was one more comment on Legacy that really seemed to strike a chord. “I’m very sorry for the GREAT LOSS of [Ellen’s] dad,” wrote Christine Oakhem. “If that rainbow wasn’t a sign from him, I don’t know what is. R.I.P Elliott.”
“Thank you for the gift of your loving daughter Ellen,” Oakhem added, “who spreads her gift of laughter [and] brightens up my spirit with her wit and comedy. God bless you.” And given the outpouring of support since Elliott’s passing, Oakhem appears to not be the only one to feel that way about the daytime host.
Following her tribute to Elliott, Ellen continued as normal with her show, which remains a fixture in the daytime television schedule. Since then, she’s been nominated for a number of awards in 2018, including both a Primetime and a Daytime Emmy. And after all these years, the host continues to thrive in the business that her dad adored.