“Why is this beautiful, 21-year-old girl gone?”

American comedian Ellen DeGeneres has recounted the heartbreaking experience she faced 40 years ago, when her 21-year-old girlfriend was tragically killed in a car accident.

The Emmy Award winning host opened up about the loss during an appearance on podcast Armchair Expert.

“My girlfriend was killed in a car accident when I was 20 years old. I wasn’t doing comedy, I think I was probably waitressing some place at the time I was living with her,” she told host Dax Shepard.

“When she was killed, I couldn’t afford to live where we were living together. I moved into this tiny little basement apartment,” revealed Ellen. “I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor that was infested with fleas [and] thought: “Why is this beautiful, 21-year-old girl gone and fleas are here?”

She added: “I just thought it would be amazing if we could pick up the phone and call up God and ask questions and actually get an answer. So I started writing. It just unfolded. I wrote the entire thing. When I finished I read it and thought “Oh my god, that’s hilarious.”

Ellen’s form of therapy turned into her first stand up routine, Phone Call to God, which she infamously performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1986. The routine launched Ellen’s career, one that’s garnered the actress and producer 20 People’s Choice Awards and 30 Emmy’s.

Watch the routine below.

Related: Ellen Degeneres has cancelled her Bermuda holiday in protest of the repeal of same-sex marriages.