Babe Ruth, Walt Disney, MLK & More Cultural Figures Who Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom
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.
George Herman 'Babe' Ruth
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
Sandra Day O'Connor
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
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.
Apollo 11 Astronauts
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.
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.