Early last year, actress Lily Tomlin married her partner Jane Wagner after being together for 42 years. Tomlin’s sexuality was something of an open secret that the comedian neither denied nor outwardly confirmed.
She described the pressure she felt to come out to The Advocate in 2009: “There were some fans who really wanted me to come out. And some media. Time magazine offered me the cover if I would come out. That was in 1975. I don’t think anybody was coming out yet then, and I frankly was not interested in being typed as the gay celebrity. I think what Ellen did was incredibly brave, and she paid a price for it—and she did it about 20 years after I got that offer.”
Although she declined the now infamous offer from Time, she would go on to eventually grace the cover a few years later. Tomlin has said that her decision not to come out publicly had less to do with her wanting to keep a secret (she frequently acknowledged Wagner in interviews) and more with the media’s lack of interest in her love life.
Even though she may not have officially come out to the media, Tomlin remained an outspoken feminist and supporter of the LGBT community, as well as a source of subversive comedy in her stage shows and TV appearances. Her work as Tommy Velour, for example, was the kind of gender-defying performance that challenged audiences to reconsider their definitions of normal. Her work spanned genres and fit just as comfortably on mainstream television as it did in her hilarious one-woman shows.
As the host of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Gala in 2010, she spoke more directly of queer history: “Years ago when Judy Garland died and the Stonewall Riots happened – in June of 1969 for the upstarts in the room – I was working in New York at Howard Johnsons. Honestly it’s hard to believe that even then, at that late a time, at a gathering like this, we could be surrounded by paddy wagons and we could all be arrested just for being here as gay folk. How far we have come. God love those pissed off queens from back in the day! You have to love them, you have to remember them, you cannot forget. I certainly will not.”
Check out just a few of our favorite Lily Tomlin clips, AFTER THE JUMP …