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Lily Tomlin Proves Out Actors Can Have a Lifetime of Achievement

Lily Tomlin
Lily Tomlin

The Grace & Frankie star continues to break barriers by becoming the first out actor to receive SAG's Lifetime Achievement Award.


Lily Tomlin is showing the world that an actor doesn't need to be closeted to be successful.

The Screen Actors Guild will present the Grace and Frankie star with its Lifetime Achievement Award early next year. The lesbian actress will be the first out performer to receive the honor.

The 76-year-old comedian rose to fame on the variety show Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and in films like 9 to 5 and All of Me. She also voiced the character of Ms. Frizzle on the popular animated television series The Magic School Bus. In 2014 she was among the honorees of the Kennedy Center Honors.

Recently, Tomlin has starred in the film Grandma as well as the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, for which she recently received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

"Lily Tomlin is an extraordinary actress as equally adept at narrative drama as in comedy roles," said Gabrielle Carteris, the president of SAG-AFTRA. "But it is through her many original characters that Lily's creative genius fully shines. She has an ability to create diverse and distinct characters that are at once familiar, eccentric and oh so honest -- in a way that illuminates life's hidden corners."

"From Edith Ann to Frankie, her characters are wholly unique, and by exposing every nuance of human behaviour they widen our scope of understanding," she concluded.

Tomlin has never had a formal coming-out. Both publicly and privately, she has always been open about her decades-long relationship with her partner Jane Wagner, whom she wed in 2013. However, as Tomlin noted in 2008 to Just Outmagazine, members of the press chose to keep her in a glass closet.

"Everybody in the industry was certainly aware of my sexuality and of Jane," she said, adding "in interviews I always reference Jane and talk about Jane, but they don't always write about it."

The news of the out actress' honor comes at a time when many actors still struggle with the closet -- and few out actors receive leading roles in films. In a recent interview with GQ, Jared Leto called out the disparity in Hollywood, which he described as a "very conservative business."

"I definitely don't think a gay leading man would have the same opportunities as a straight leading man," Leto said. "I don't know if that's offensive or not, but that's my thought right now. It shouldn't be that way."

Out actor Noah Galvin, who portrays a character based on a young Dan Savage in ABC's The Real O'Neals, spoke out against the glass closet earlier this year in a controversial interview, which used coarse language to describe closeted performers. He apologized for his remarks the same day the piece was published in Vulture.

Afterward, rumors circulated that ABC would penalize the show for Galvin's remarks by giving the season a reduced order of episodes. These rumors were put to rest this week by executive producer Casey Johnson, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"That part of that story is not true. There wasn't any threat to cut our order," she said. "ABC has been incredibly supportive. There wasn't much going on behind the scenes. The article came out and Noah regretted what he said and apologized really quickly. I think we've all said things we wish we hadn't. It's all good, and we all got back to work. There wasn't that much buzzing behind the scenes."

Tomlin will receive her honor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in January 2017.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.