On Thursday, President Barack Obama awarded his last Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Vice President Joe Biden. Last November, he awarded 21 people with this medal, the highest honor a president can bestow on a civilian, in an action widely reported as his “last” Presidential Medals of Freedom.
Obama has given more people this award than any other president, and a great many of recipients were his campaign donors. Obama has also become notorious for awarding celebrities: and many of those celebrities contributed generously to his campaign coffers.
Here are 17 celebrities who also gave thousands to Obama, and who — SURPRISE! — were awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
1. Billie Jean King.
In 2009, Obama delivered the medal to Billie Jean King, a women’s tennis star famous for winning the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in 1973. King has also become a gay rights advocate. She also just happened to give $5,000 to Obama’s campaign in 2012 and $5,200 to Hillary Clinton last year, according to OpenSecrets.
2. Toni Morrison.
Obama gave the award to famous author Toni Morrison in May 2012. Morrison is most known for her controversial book The Bluest Eye, which came under fire when the Common Core reading materials listed this book for teens in school. The story features descriptions of child rape, incest, and molestation. Morrison endorsed Obama in January of 2008, and gave him $3,300 that year. She gave Obama $5,000 in 2012 and Clinton $2,700 last year.
3. Bill Clinton.
Okay, I know. President William Jefferson Clinton isn’t quite a celebrity. But it is rather fitting that the first black president awarded this medal to the first man described as the “first black president,” in November 2013. Clinton hosted at least three fundraisers for Obama in 2012, and one of these events racked up about $2 million. While the former president may not have personally contributed to Obama’s re-election, he did his part.
Perhaps it was a wise decision for Clinton to avoid criticizing the disaster that is Obamacare until last year…
4. Oprah Winfrey.
President Clinton (thankfully he’s still the only one!) had to share the stage with Oprah Winfrey. Here, Obama could thank one of his earliest celebrity endorsers, in May 2007. She also gave Obama $2,300 in 2008 and $5,000 in 2012. Recently, however, Winfrey has notably bucked the more recent Hollywood trend, expressing hope for President-elect Donald Trump.
5. Meryl Streep.
In November 2014, Obama honored actress Meryl Streep, most famous for her role in The Devil Wears Prada (2006). Streep endorsed Obama in 2008 and 2012, and backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. She gave Obama $5,000 in the 2012 election and $2,700 to Clinton last year.
6. Stevie Wonder.
Along with Streep, Obama awarded musician Stevie Wonder, best known for his 1968 hit “Superstition.” Stevie Wonder also endorsed Obama in 2008, and played at Obama campaign events, helping to raise support and funds for the president. It is hard to quantify just how much money Wonder helped bring in, but his presence helped sell $35,000 a seat fundraisers.
7. Barbara Streisand.
In November 2015, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to actress Barbara Streisand, best known for her role in Funny Girl (1968). She gave $4,600 to Obama’s campaign in 2008, and $2,500 in 2012.
A longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton, Streisand tried to bring up the “War on Women” in March of last year, arguing that Hillary Clinton faced “outright sexism” in her run for president.
8. Steven Spielberg.
Along with Streisand, Obama awarded the medal to Steven Spielberg, possibly Hollywood’s best known director. Spielberg directed the Jurassic Park movies, Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), and many more. In 2012, Spielberg gave a whopping $1 million to a Super PAC supporting President Obama. His campaign donations of $4,600 in 2008 and $5,000 in 2012 are peanuts in comparison. I suppose the president had to return the favor…
9. James Taylor.
Along with Streisand and Spielberg, Obama gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom to singer/songwriter James Taylor, best known for his 1970 hit “Fire and Rain.” In May 2015, seven months before receiving the award, Taylor called Obama the greatest president ever. Oh, and he also gave $5,000 to Obama’s campaign in 2012. You scratch my back?
10. Tom Hanks.
After Donald Trump won the election last November, President Obama gave the Medal of Freedom to 21 people in a large ceremony — perhaps for the last time thanking his donors, many of whom were recipients.
Among those donors was actor Tom Hanks, best known for his roles in The Da Vinci Code (2006), Forrest Gump (1994), and Saving Private Ryan (1998). But in addition to being one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Hanks donated to Democrat presidential campaigns. He gave $2,300 to Obama’s campaign in 2008, $2,500 in 2012, and $2,700 to Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign in 2016.
Nevertheless, Hanks does deserve credit for breaking with the Hollywood pack and saying he hopes Trump will do well.
11. Michael Jordan.
Basketball legend Michael Jordan also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year from Obama. In 2012, Jordan threw a $3 million fundraiser for the president’s campaign, charging $20,000 per person. Fundraising emails were also sent in his name from the Obama campaign.
12. Robert DeNiro.
Obama also gave the medal to actor Robert DeNiro, best known for his role in Goodfellas (1990). He gave $2,300 to Obama in 2008, and in 2012, he sent $10,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, as well as $2,500 to Obama’s general election campaign.
In early November, DeNiro used his speech at the Hollywood Film Awards to plug his support for Hillary Clinton.
13. Bruce Springsteen.
Obama also honored singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen, best known for his 1984 song “Born in the U.S.A.” Springsteen did not give money to Obama directly, but he performed at fundraisers, where tickets sold for between $500 and $10,000 for the candidate in 2008.
14. Bill and Melinda Gates.
Obama also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bill and Melinda Gates. Gates and his wife supported Obama in three separate ways. In 2009, they gave $50,000 to Obama’s inauguration. In 2012, they donated $17,900 to the Obama Victory Fund. Also in 2012, their foundation gave $5,000 to the Obama campaign.
Interestingly, this last December, Bill Gates compared President-elect Trump to President John F. Kennedy, a president he considered inspiring.
15. Ellen DeGeneres.
Obama also presented the medal to actress Ellen DeGeneres, known for her role as producer of Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show (2003-2017). In 2012, she gave Obama’s campaign $5,000, and the Obama Victory Fund $35,800. He gave a whopping $100,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund in 2016.
16. Lorne Michaels (SNL Creator).
Lorne Michaels, producer and writer of Late Night with Conan O’Brien and hailed as the creator of the hit show Saturday Night Live, also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Michaels donated $4,600 to Obama’s 2008 campaign.
17. Frank Gehry.
Frank Gehry, a famous architect and actor in the upcoming film Face of a Nation (2017), also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama last year. In 2008, Gehry donated $4,600 to Obama’s campaign, but he bumped it up to $80,000 to the Obama Victory Fund in 2012. Last cycle, he gave $60,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund.
Bonus: the non-donor John Glenn.
Perhaps few recipients of the award have been as deserving as John Glenn, who also received it at the same May 2012 ceremony as Toni Morrison. Glenn endorsed Obama in 2008, but he never contributed to Obama’s campaigns.
Glenn famously fought as an aviator in World War II, was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, and served in the United States Senate. He will be sorely missed.