Denzel Washington Absent From Medal of Freedom Ceremony Following Positive COVID Test

by Suzanne Halliburton
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Denzel Washington missed Thursday’s Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony after the Academy Award-winning actor tested positive for COVID.

President Joe Biden selected 17 honorees to receive medals. It’s the highest honor a civilian can receive. And although Washington wasn’t there in person, the president mentioned him at the ceremony.

“There’s a man who couldn’t be here today but wanted to be: Denzel Washington, one of our greatest actors in American history,” Biden said, mentioning that Washington had earned Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Tony Awards.

Biden said that Washington received “wide acclaim from audiences and peers around the world. He couldn’t be here with us today, but I’ll be giving him this award at a later date when he’s able to get here.”

Denzel Washington was one of 17 honorees, although he couldn’t be part of the ceremony. (Getty Images)

Denzel Washington Is One of Most Honored Actors in U.S. History

Denzel Washington probably is the most well-known of the 17 honorees. He won two Academy Awards for acting. In 1990, Washington earned Best Supporting Actor for his work in Glory. Then in 2002, he earned Best Actor for Training Day. Plus, he’s been nominated for 10 Oscars. That included Fences, a nominee for Best Picture in 2017. Washington starred in the movie, earning a Best Actor nomination, and produced it.

But the medal ceremonies went on, even with 67-year-old Denzel Washington in quarantine. Biden said the honorees offered the best sort of example for what Americans can achieve.

“On Monday, we celebrated the independence of our nation, a nation always a work in progress in creation of possibilities, the fulfillment of promises,” Biden said. “It’s not a simple one. It’s never been a simple one, but the fourth of July week reminds us what brought us together long ago and still binds us, binds us at our best. We strive for — what we strive for, we, the people, doing what we can to ensure the idea of America, a cause of freedom shines like the sun to light up the future of the world. That’s the soul of our nation.” 

Biden continued, “That’s who we are as Americans. And that’s what we see, an extraordinary, extraordinary group of Americans up here on this stage that I have the honor to recognize today with the presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award.” 

Gymnast Simone Biles received her medal Thursday. Biden says he will honor Denzel Washington at a later date. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Simone Biles Was Youngest Honoree at Ceremony

Simone Biles, the record-setting American gymnast, was the youngest recipient. She’s 25. And besides her Olympic gold medals, she’s also working as an advocate for sexual assault victims. Fred Gray, at 91, was the oldest. He worked as a civil rights attorney. Biden’s honorees were a bi-partisan group. He gave the late John McCain a post-humous honor. Cindy McCain, his wife, accepted the medal for her husband, who was the 2008 Republican nominee for president. Biden and McCain, despite being from different political parties, were close friends. He gave the eulogy at McCain’s funeral.

Biden also presented a medal to former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. She was shot in the head while attending an event for her constituents in 2011. She suffered life-altering injuries but has devoted herself to gun safety issues.

And the honorees didn’t have to be famous like Denzel Washington. Biden honored Sandra Lindsay, who is a critical care nurse in New York. She was the first American to receive the COVID vax outside of the clinical trials. Lindsay also worked on the front lines as the pandemic first started ravaging the country in 2020.

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