Saying they had touched him in a powerful and personal way, President Barack Obama awarded the nation's highest civilian honor to 21 groundbreaking actors, musicians, athletes and others during a ceremony Tuesday at the White House.
"These are folks who have helped make me who I am," Obama said as the celebration concluded in the White House East Room.
Among those getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom were actors Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford and Cicely Tyson.
Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two of the best basketball players ever, were also among the honorees.
Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross were recognized for their music.
Other honorees included philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, comedian Ellen DeGeneres and broadcaster Vin Scully.
Obama said the people receiving the medal helped push America forward and inspired millions around the world.
The award recognizes especially meritorious contributions to the national interests of the United States, to its culture, or to other significant endeavors.
Posthumous honors went to Native American advocate Elouise Cobell and Rear Adm. Grace Hopper.
Others receiving the award included: Richard Garwin, an inventor and polymath physicist who made pioneering contributions to the nation's defense; Frank Gehry, one of the world's leading architects; Margaret H. Hamilton, a mathematician and computer scientist; Maya Lin, the designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; Lorne Michaels, producer of "Saturday Night Live"; Newton Minow, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman devoted to numerous public and charitable causes; and Eduardo Padron, president of Miami Dade College.