On Sunday, Lily Tomlin will be celebrated as one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors — and she’ll be, as The Advocate reports, the first out lesbian to be given the prize.
Tomlin wed her long-time partner Jane Wagner last year, but she wasn’t always public about her sexuality. As Tomlin put it, while speaking to the Washington Post for an in-depth profile, she resisted going public about her sexual orientation for a long time though she “never did not come out.” And, she added, TIME offered to put her on the cover in 1975 if she would come out — an offer she rejected. “I wanted to be acknowledged for my work,” she told the Post, “I didn’t want to be that gay person who does comedy.”
As Fishbowl NY has noted, Tomlin did appear on the cover of TIME two years after that — and as it that happened, she got her wish. The cover proclaimed her the New Queen of Comedy, and the story inside focused on her career and its development, not her personal life. There’s a brief aside about her decision to study medicine after high school, when other girls where getting married, but no space is devoted to her romantic life. She is, as she had hoped to be, a comedian — with no qualifiers.
That’s true even though the story does read quite differently in retrospect, in at least one respect. Jane Wagner, now Tomlin’s wife, is quoted as a “friend and collaborator” (Wagner has written and/or produced some of Tomlin’s best-known work); it’s also noted that they live together in Los Angeles.
Though perhaps it would not have been the case in 1975, Tomlin now manages to be both out and a no-qualifiers-needed comedian, one who’ll appear next year in Netflix’s new series Grace and Frankie. And, on the other side of the story, TIME got its wish too: two decades after the Tomlin story ran, Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out made the cover of the magazine.
Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Lily Tomlin, New Queen of Comedy