WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton is headed back to the White House — just for a day — and Oprah is coming, too.
Clinton and Oprah Winfrey will be among 16 people that President Barack Obama will venerate later this year with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House announced Thursday. They’ll join other prominent people to be honored this year, including musicians, scientists, activists — even an astronaut.
Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy created the modern version of the medal — the highest honor the U.S. bestows on civilians — with the stroke of a pen to an executive order. In the five decades since, more than 500 people have been recognized for contributions to society of all stripes.
“This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world,” Obama said in a statement.
Clinton, who served as Arkansas’ governor before being elected the 42nd president, will be recognized also for his humanitarian work through the Clinton Foundation, which promotes global public health, economic development and environmental protection. The White House also noted his work with former President George W. Bush to raise money for Haiti after the Caribbean nation’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Clinton also spoke on Obama’s behalf at the 2012 Democratic convention, and his wife, former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, was Obama’s first-term secretary of state.
Winfrey’s career as an American broadcaster, actress and activist has spanned decades, with The Oprah Winfrey Show becoming the highest rated talk show in America for 25 years. Her philanthropic efforts have been focused largely on education and creating opportunities for women and girls in the U.S. and in Africa. She was also an early and avid supporter of Obama’s first presidential campaign, raising money and campaigning in what was considered a major boost to Obama’s campaign.
The president decides on the list of medal recipients after reviewing an advisory board’s recommendations of individuals who have contributed to America’s cultural, security and other public interests.
Others who will receive the medal:
—Daniel Inouye, former senator from Hawaii, World War II veteran and the first Japanese American in Congress. Inouye will receive the award posthumously.
—Ben Bradlee, former executive editor of the Washington Post who oversaw the newspaper’s coverage of Watergate.
—Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space. Ride will receive the award posthumously.
—Richard Lugar, former senator from Indiana who worked to reduce the global nuclear threat.
—Gloria Steinem, writer and prominent women’s rights activist.
—Ernie Banks, baseball player who hit more than 500 home runs and played 19 seasons with the Chicago Cubs.
—Bayard Rustin, civil and gay rights activist and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. Rustin will receive the award posthumously.
—Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics.
—Loretta Lynn, country music singer.
—Maria Molina, chemist and environmental scientist who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
—Arturo Sandoval, Grammy-winning jazz musician who was born in Cuba and defected to the U.S.
—Dean Smith, head coach of University of North Carolina’s basketball team for 36 years.
—Patricia Wald, first woman appointed to U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and became the court’s chief judge.
—C.T. Vivian, civil rights leader and minister.
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