Ellen DeGeneres was praised by President Barack Obama for her influence on the gay rights movement as she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Other celebrities including Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Michael Jordan were also among the 21 recipients of the country’s highest civilian honor.
President Obama said it was easy to forget the risk Ellen DeGeneres took to come out as gay in 1997.
During the award ceremony at the White House, he said Ellen DeGeneres’ bravery helped “push our country in the direction of justice”.
“It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far… just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,” President Obama said.
“What an incredible burden that was to bear – to risk your career like that – people don’t do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom, which recognizes contributions to United States culture, security and international interests, is the highest honor a civilian can receive, alongside the Congressional Gold Medal, a similar accolade awarded by the US Congress.
“These are folks who have helped make me who I am,” Barack Obama said.
“Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way, in ways that they probably couldn’t imagine.”
Honorees from the entertainment world included Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford and Cicely Tyson, as well as musicians Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross.
From the sporting world, former basketball superstars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan were awarded the medal, alongside sports broadcaster Vin Scully.
Bill and Melinda Gates were awarded for their philanthropic work through their charitable foundation.
Despite Barack Obama’s words on the contribution Ellen DeGeneres made to the country, she almost missed the ceremony after security refused to let her in to the White House.
Ellen DeGeneres tweeted alongside a photo of herself sitting on a nearby park bench: “They haven’t let me in to the White House yet because I forgot my ID.”
Ellen DeGeneres and other stars are set to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honor.
The medal recognizes people who have made “especially meritorious contributions” to the United States, the White House said.
President Barack Obama will honor the 21 people at a ceremony on November 22.
The president said the medal was a “tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better”.
“From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way.”
Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Diana Ross and Robert Redford are among the other honorees from the entertainment world.
Bill and Melinda Gates and SNL producer Lorne Michaels will also be recognized.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to people who have contributed to the security or national interests of the US, the White House said.
It also rewards people who have contributed to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Honorees from the sports world include basketball players Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, along with veteran sports broadcaster Vin Scully.
Architect Frank Gehry, attorney Newt Minow, designer Maya Lin, polymath physicist Richard Garwin, mathematician and computer scientist Margaret H. Hamilton and Eduardo Padron, and president of Miami Dade College in Florida will also receive the medal.
Posthumous honors will go to Native American advocate Elouise Cobell and Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.
Rita Wilson has had a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tom Hanks’ wife, 58, told People magazine that she had undergone the procedure – the same one that Angelina Jolie underwent in 2013 – and was “expected to make a full recovery”.
Rita Wilson, who took a break from her Broadway play Fish in the Dark last week to have surgery, said she had been diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma after seeking a second opinion from pathologists.
“I share this to educate others that a second opinion is critical to your health,” the actress wrote.
“You have nothing to lose if both opinions match up for the good, and everything to gain if something that was missed is found.”
Rita Wilson, who appeared with Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle and has a recurring role in TV series The Good Wife, is expected to return to Fish in the Dark on May 5th.
Saving Mr. Banks – a film about the long and difficult process of making the Disney musical Mary Poppins – had its world premiere in London on Sunday night.
The film, which stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, officially brought this year’s BFI London Film Festival to a close.
Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks walked the red carpet in Leicester Square to the delight of hundreds of fans who had braved heavy rain earlier in the day.
The film focuses on the real-life battle of wills between prickly author PL Travers, played by Emma Thompson, and Walt Disney over the movie rights to her famous literary creation.
Directed by John Lee Hancock, the film is already being tipped for Oscar success.
Saving Mr. Banks is a film about the long and difficult process of making the Disney musical Mary Poppins
This year’s BFI London Film Festival kicked off with maritime thriller Captain Phillips, a true story in which Tom Hanks plays a ship’s captain taken hostage by Somali pirates in 2009.
Speaking about his role as Walt Disney, Tom Hanks said: “In a lot of ways Mary Poppins was the crowning achievement of everything he did, it won all the Academy Awards, it was a huge monster hit and it was the last movie that he truly was hands-on.”
In reality, Walt Disney had spent some 20 years in pursuit of the film rights to Mary Poppins. The main focus of the film is the two weeks in 1961 that PL Travers reluctantly spent with Walt Disney in Los Angeles as he tried to win her over.
During the visit she was played songs by the Sherman brothers, which ended up in the 1964 film, such as A Spoonful of Sugar and Let’s Go Fly a Kite.
PL Travers, who died in 1996, so disliked the Oscar-winning Disney production that she never allowed any more Mary Poppins books to be adapted into films.
The cast of Saving Mr. Banks also includes Irish actor Colin Farrell and English actress Ruth Wilson, who play the parents of the young PL Travers in 1906 Australia.
Justin Timberlake put on both his host and musician cap as he took the stage at Saturday Night Live for the fifth time on Saturday night.
Justin Timberlake, 31, is one of the youngest to do so, and played to that honor in his opening monologue.
But as much as he joked, the singer played into those expectations as well – starting the hashtag #JTonSNL on Twitter and Instagram earlier in the week and posting preview snaps from rehearsal days before.
Then he introduced the audience to a little known SNL clique called the Five-Timers Club, which awards its members with a gold card.
“In case you don’t know, this is the most exclusive club in New York,” Justin Timberlake assured, before providing the audience with a peek inside the club.
Justin Timberlake put on both his host and musician cap as he took the stage at Saturday Night Live for the fifth time on Saturday night
Justin Timberlake walks off stage to a secret room, where he is instantly given a smoking jacket with the number 5 emblazoned on the chest – and greeted to the tunes of Paul Simon.
The Simon and Garfunkel frontman then introduces Justin Timberlake to the other members – which included a pipe-smoking Steve Martin, a bartending Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Martin Short, Tom Hanks, Alec Baldwin and Candace Bergen.
“Welcome to the club old boy,” 14-time host Steve Martin jeered.
“I always thought if an ‘Nsync member made the five timers club it would be Joey Fatone.”