February 17, 2004 09:08 PM

With the recent taping of her 100th episode of the “Ellen DeGeneres Show,” it’s safe to say that Ellen is back — and probably more popular than ever. That she has regained most of her original fan base, and then some, is a concept that still amazes the comic after her very public crash in the late 1990s, she tells ABC News.

Back then DeGeneres was the star of her own sitcom, “Ellen,” when she decided to reveal to audiences of the television comedy that she was gay. Although some applauded the move, her public revelation drove other viewers and sponsors away. Within a year, the show was cancelled. A public relationship — and breakup — with actress Anne Heche followed.

“I know what it feels like to lose somebody that you love,” DeGeneres said. “And I know what it feels like to get fired. And I know what it feels like for people not to pay attention to you.”

The silence was deafening as the actress and comedian’s once-promising career seemed to evaporate. “It destroyed me,” DeGeneres said. “To all of a sudden feel like you’re not only not loved — you’re hated.”

But she hung on, developing her new show and trying to create interest in it. “That was a hard sell,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t want to buy the show.”

Interest in Ellen was rekindled through a couple avenues, including her voiceover for the character of Dory in last year’s runaway Disney hit “Finding Nemo.” An HBO special and a best-selling book, “The Funny Thing Is …,” helped the former TV star convince prospective buyers that she had the right stuff to host her own show.

A hundred episodes in, she appears to have been right. “It’s the best job in the world,” she says.

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