Politics Babe Ruth, Walt Disney, MLK & More Cultural Figures Who Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom The nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to those who have made exceptional contributions to the United States — here are some of the most notable recipients By Diane J. Cho Diane J. Cho Diane J. Cho was the Features Editor of PEOPLE Digital from 2019 to 2022. She worked at the brand for nearly four years covering news, features, human interest, evergreen, holiday gift guides and more. She launched the How I Parent and What It's Really Like to Be …. digital series and has interviewed several celebrities and influential leaders within the entertainment industry. Prior to joining PEOPLE, Diane worked at Bustle, VH1 and Complex. She received her bachelor's degree in Journalism from Rutgers University and her master's degree from Columbia Journalism School. People Editorial Guidelines Published on February 10, 2020 05:07 PM Share Tweet Pin Email Trending Videos 01 of 18 Rush Limbaugh From left: Rush Limbaugh and First Lady Melania Trump at the State of the Union. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images Year: 2020 Awarded by: President Donald Trump, during the 2020 State of the Union, for Limbaugh's "decades of tireless devotion to our country" through his long-running radio program, The Rush Limbaugh Show, and his conservative (and often controversial) cultural and political commentary. 02 of 18 Elvis Presley SNAP/REX/Shutterstock Year: 2018 Posthumously awarded by: President Donald Trump for helping define "American culture to billions of adoring fans around the world." A statement from the White House highlighted that the late music icon created "a sound all his own" by fusing gospel, country and rhythm and blues, and also served nearly six years in the U.S. army, despite his fame at the time. Jack Soden, CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland, accepted the award. 03 of 18 George Herman 'Babe' Ruth MPI/Getty Images Year: 2018 Posthumously awarded by: President Donald Trump for his outstanding baseball career, which included holding the title of most home runs (714) until Hank Aaron passed him in 2007 with 755, and his charity work with the Babe Ruth Foundation. 04 of 18 Michael Jordan Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images Year: 2016 Awarded by: President Barack Obama for his legendary 15-season basketball career with the Chicago Bulls (where he won six NBA championships) and the Washington Wizards. "There is a reason you call somebody the 'Michael Jordan of ...,' " the former commander-in-chief quipped during the ceremony, as he explained how the retired superstar athlete's name became synonymous with excellence. "He is the definition of somebody so good at what they do that everybody recognizes him," Obama added. "That's pretty rare." 05 of 18 Ellen DeGeneres Olivier Douliery/ABACA/AP Year: 2016 Awarded by: President Barack Obama for her three-decade-long career as a comic, actress, TV host and LGBTQ activist. Tears came as she stood side-by-side with the then-president as her achievements were described by a White House aide: “At a pivotal moment, her courage and candor helped changed the minds of millions of Americans, accelerating our nations constant drive toward equality and acceptance for all.” “Again and again, Ellen DeGeneres has shown us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place — so long as we just keep swimming,” the aide concluded. 06 of 18 Steven Spielberg Alex Wong/Getty Images Year: 2015 Awarded by: President Barack Obama for being one of the most influential filmmakers in history. His classic films include E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, The Color Purple and more. He also co-founded DreamWorks Studios and founded the USC Shoah Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving and archiving important video testimonies from survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust. 07 of 18 Oprah Winfrey Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images Year: 2013 Awarded by: President Barack Obama for pioneering the 25-year-long The Oprah Winfrey Show and her many philanthropic causes. Winfrey called recieving the award "the greatest honor of my life" in a clip posted by the White House. She closed out the video by sending a message to young people, saying, "The real work is to discover who you are and to use who you are, in service to the world." 08 of 18 Gloria Steinem ImageCatcher News Service/Corbis via Getty Images Year: 2013 Awarded by: President Barack Obama for being a leader of the women's liberation movement in the '60s and '70s and launching a variety of campaigns, including Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, and publications dedicated to advancing civil rights for all. 09 of 18 Maya Angelou Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Year: 2010 Awarded by: President Barack Obama for her unrivaled contribution to literature and dedication to being a civil rights activist through her writing and speaking engagements. The late celebrated author, poet and educator also received the Presidential Medal for the Arts in 2000 and the Lincoln Medal in 2008. 10 of 18 Sandra Day O'Connor Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images Year: 2009 Awarded by: President Barack Obama for being the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court (from 1981 to 2006) and becoming the first woman in the U.S. to lead a state senate as Senate Majority Leader when she served as an Arizona state senator. 11 of 18 Aretha Franklin Douglas A. Sonders/Getty Images Year: 2005 Awarded by: President George W. Bush for revolutionizing American music with more than 20 No. 1 hit singles and capturing the hearts of many as the "Queen of Soul" through her prized collection of songs, including "Respect," "Think" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman." 12 of 18 Muhammad Ali Chuck Kennedy/MCT/Tribune News Service via Getty Images Year: 2005 Awarded by: President George W. Bush for being one of the greatest athletes and activists of all time. Ali was the first three-time heavyweight boxing champion and won a gold at the 1960 Summer Olympics. 13 of 18 Lucille Ball Lucille Ball on I Love Lucy. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Year: 1989 Posthumously Awarded by: President George H. W. Bush for her lasting impact on pop culture and television with her show I Love Lucy. ″Lucille Ball was a national treasure who brought laughter to us all,″ Bush said at the time (the Associated Press reported). ″She was like everyone’s next-door neighbor, only funnier.″ Gary Morton, Ball’s husband, accepted the award on her behalf. 14 of 18 Frank Sinatra Bettmann Archive Year: 1985 Awarded by: President Ronald Reagan for his remarkable career as a singer, actor and humanitarian "who truly did it his way," the Reagan said at the time. "Francis Albert Sinatra and his impact on America's popular culture are without peer," he added. 15 of 18 Mother Teresa Year: 1985 Awarded by: President Ronald Reagan for her humanitarian work in India and across the world. "Mother Teresa is a heroine of our times," Reagan said. "And to the many honors she's recieved, including the Nobel Peace Prize, we add — with deep affection and endless respect — the Presidential Medal of Freedom." 16 of 18 Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Jr. Year: 1977 Posthumously awarded by: President Jimmy Carter for being the "conscience of a generation” who “made our nation stronger because he made it better,” TIME reported. King led the civil rights movement through nonviolent protests and delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial five years before being assassinated in 1968. 17 of 18 Apollo 11 Astronauts Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Year: 1969 Awarded by: President Richard Nixon for their historic lunar landing mission, during which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon. 18 of 18 Walt Disney Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images Year: 1964 Awarded by: President Lyndon B. Johnson for his lasting contribution to pop culture and American animation through the creation of Disney, Disney theme parks and an iconic cartoon mouse named Mickey.