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HER PUBLIC HEALTH BATTLE
Angelina Jolie Pitt, who turns 40 today, went public with her double mastectomy surgery in 2013 after discovering she carried the "faulty" breast cancer gene, BRCA1, in the hopes "that other women can benefit from my experience," the actress wrote in the New York Times when she shared her news. "Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness." In 2015, she revealed she'd had her ovaries removed for the same reasons. "I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family," she wrote. "I know my children will never have to say, 'Mom died of ovarian cancer.'"
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SPOTLIGHTING HEROISM IN OTHERS
In April 2013, Jolie Pitt honored teen Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai – who was shot in the head by Taliban members in late 2012 – at an event in New York City. "There's a lot we can learn from this little girl," the actress told the crowd at the Women in the World Summit, where she pledged $200,000 to the teen's new fund to educate Pakistani girls. Yousafzai's reply? "[This] is the happiest moment in my life."
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BEING A GOODWILL AMBASSADOR
After spending nearly a decade working as a goodwill ambassador for the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jolie Pitt was appointed as a Special Envoy of UNHCR Anténio Guterres in 2012. The actress's travels have taken her everywhere from Iraq and Jordan to Syria, Afghanistan and beyond, where she's met with those displaced by conflict and advocated on their behalf. "I believe in what the UN has always stood for," she told National Geographic, "equality and the protection of human rights for all people." In 2013, her volunteer work earned her an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
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MAKING MOVIES WITH A MESSAGE
Jolie Pitt made her directorial debut in 2011 with the film In the Land of Blood and Honey, a romantic drama about the Bosnian war of the 1990s. Writing the movie started "as an excuse to get out some of my frustrations [with] the international community and justice issues," she told Marie Claire. "Then somehow it slowly ended up being read by Brad [Pitt], and then friends." With her second directorial effort, Jolie brought the story of Louis Zamperini, the late Olympic runner and World War II prisoner of war, to the big screen in Unbroken. "Angelina is a human dynamo, and I know she will tell this story in the right way," he said before his passing.
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HELPING THOSE AT HOME
In 2006, the Jolie-Pitts established a namesake charitable foundation designed to aid humanitarian causes around the globe. Donating millions off the bat to Doctors Without Borders and the Global Action for Children, their generous spirit came Stateside in 2011, when they gave $500,000 to victims of the devastating tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, Pitt's home state. "So often these disasters seem far away, but now the need is for thousands of people displaced right here at home," she said at the time. "Our hearts go out to the families in Joplin who have lost so much."
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The star made headlines in 2002 for adopting a 7-month-old son, Maddox, from a Cambodian orphanage. And right away, she made public her plans to adopt other children from additional countries – a promise she made good on when she adopted daughter Zahara from Ethiopia in 2005 and son Pax from Vietnam in 2007. "I just love the idea of mixing different cultures and religions in the same house," she explained on Ellen shortly after welcoming Maddox. "I think that's what the world should be."