JIM RUYMEN/AFP via Getty Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche
In 1997, Heche — who died on Friday after sustaining fatal injuries from a fiery car crash — made headlines for her relationship with DeGeneres, 64. At the time, the two stars were one of the first openly gay female couples in Hollywood.
There was an instant connection when Heche and DeGeneres first met in the late '90s.
"I met her at the Vanity Fair party. And it was a chemistry thing that you can't really describe," DeGeneres told the Tampa Bay Times in May 1998. "It just happened. Obviously, I was attracted to her, but that wasn't enough. There are a lot of attractive people. She is so unique."
The pair would go on to face an uphill battle as their love became the subject of much public scrutiny. Criticism aside, Heche and DeGeneres strived to be good representatives of the LGBTQ community.
"Once a week [we] work with homeless teens at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center," DeGeneres told Teen People in 1998. "The kids there don't see any hope. We try to explain to them that every person who's ever gone on to do great things has had to overcome something huge."
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RELATED GALLERY: Remembering Anne Heche's Life in Photos
The pair also paved the way for other LGBTQ+ couples to come thereafter. In 1997, Heche chose to attend the red carpet premiere of her film Volcano with DeGeneres — a move she was advised against.
"I took Ellen, we were told that my contract for Fox would be [ended] and I would be fired. And that the movie that I had just met Harrison Ford on wouldn't hire me," she said during a 2018 appearance on the Irish Goodbye podcast. "And we went to the premiere — these are the stories that I know people don't know — we went to the premiere, we were tapped on the shoulder, put into her limo in the third act and told that we couldn't have pictures of us taken at the press junket."
"Both she and I were fired that week," added Heche, referencing her alleged blacklisting and DeGeneres' firing from her short-lived Ellen sitcom.
Heche and DeGeneres called it quits in 2000 after three and a half years of dating. One day after the split was announced, Heche wound up in a stranger's home in Fresno, California. She was referring to herself as "Celestia" as she looked for a spaceship.
Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images; Steve Granitz/WireImage
Addressing that moment years later, Heche admitted to PEOPLE she'd been struggling with mental illness stemming from the trauma of childhood abuse, and had taken Ecstasy. But she also felt it brought her healing.
"Every relationship in my life was leading to the moment where I went to Fresno," she previously said. "I made some really outrageous choices to find love, and I'm so grateful for it. Without Ellen, I never would have been as clear as I am now."
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DeGeneres has often refrained from speaking about the pair's former relationship. When asked whether she'd discuss the broken romance in an April 2003 issue of PEOPLE, DeGeneres said, "No."
"I never have and I won't," she continued. "At some point, people will stop bringing it up."
DeGeneres did, however, speak out ahead of Heche's untimely death. Reacting to the devastating news that her ex was "not expected to survive," the former daytime TV host wrote in a tweet: "This is a sad day. I'm sending Anne's children, family and friends all of my love."