For the last time before he leaves office, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Tuesday, bestowing it on 21 stars of Silicon Valley, Hollywood, sports and rock, who created a glittering assembly even for the White House.
Among the honorees were singers Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross, actors Tom Hanksand Robert De Niro, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, and basketball greats Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Rounds of applause and laughter rocked the East Room as Obama bestowed the nation’s highest civilian honor on the luminaries, two posthumously, in an hourlong ceremony.
Others honored included actress Cicely Tyson, comedian Ellen DeGeneres, actor Robert Redford, architect Frank Gehry, Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin, baseball announcer Vin Scully and “Saturday Night Live” producer Lorne Michaels.
It’s unlikely President-elect Donald Trump would give the award to Michaels. On Sunday, Trump complained about his portrayal on “SNL” from the night before, tweeting, “It is a totally one-sided, biased show — nothing funny at all. Equal time for us?”
Springsteen also may find himself on the outs in the Trump administration.
He has lent his star power to several Democratic nominees for the White House, most recently performing at an election eve rally for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia that drew Obama and the first lady.
Obama conceded the obvious about the suit-clad New Jersey rocker. “I am the president, but he is ‘The Boss,’” he said.
Many of the celebrities had publicly backed Obama or his policies over the years — and he acknowledged the debt even as he hailed their contributions to American life, arts and sciences.
“Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way,” Obama said.
Before they retired, Abdul-Jabbar and Jordan wereamong the National Basketball Assn.’s top performers.
Abdul-Jabbar, who remains the league’s all-time leading scorer, led the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships and the Milwaukee Bucks to another.
“MJ” likewise lays claim to six championships, all during the 1990s with the Chicago Bulls. He now is chairman of the Charlotte Hornets.