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Ellen DeGeneres talks about coming out at 39: 'I wish I would've done it sooner'

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Ellen DeGeneres has one regret about coming out on national television over 20 years ago.

In an interview with "Today" show co-anchor Matt Lauer, the daytime talk show host looked back at what it was like to announce that she was gay on her sitcom when she was 39. "I was anticipating it being a charged episode, which it was, because it was making a big decision to come out, and to be honest and to stop hiding something that I had kept secret for so long," she recalled. "I wish I would have done it sooner. I wish I hadn't waited so long."

DeGeneres added, "But it was what it was."

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The 59-year-old TV star revealed that she received death threats after the "Puppy" episode aired, but says that wasn't the worst thing to happen after she came out. "The biggest thing was that I lost my career," she shared. "For three years, I couldn't work, and was not offered one thing. I was running out of money and didn't know if I was going to work again. I was 45 years old, and I was like, 'This doesn't look good.'"

DeGeneres -- who's now been married to Portia de Rossi for eight years -- admitted that she was "angry at first," but learned a lot in that troubling time. "It taught me compassion. It taught me that I was strong enough to start all over again," she continued. "It was the greatest thing to ever happen to me."

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After the "Puppy" episode aired in 1997, DeGeneres spoke exclusively with ET about what it was like to come out on her sitcom. "You keep hearing the question. You know, 'Is America ready?' 'Was America ready?'" she said. "You know, I don't think anybody's ever ready for whenever anybody's first to do something."