Special Report

Famous People Who’ve Turned Down Major Awards or Nominations

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The Oscars, the Grammys, and the Golden Globes are some of the most renowned annual celebrity events, where a select few artists receive awards for their exemplary work. Although the vast majority of recipients gladly accept their trophies, there are rare occasions when an honoree decides to turn down an award, as Marlon Brando famously did in 1973 when he rejected an Oscar for Best Actor, for his role in “The Godfather.”

As Brando did not attend the ceremony, Apache actress Sacheen Littlefeather refused the award in his stead, citing Brando’s desire to draw attention to Hollywood’s negative portrayals of Native Americans. (See this famous moment and more by looking back at some of the most iconic photos from the Oscars.)

To compile a list of 30 famous people who have turned down major awards or nominations, 24/7 Tempo reviewed multiple biographical and internet sources, including History.com and the Los Angeles Times, as well as entertainment industry media, and other general-interest sites.

Click here to see famous people who’ve turned down major awards or nominations

Like Brando, many honorees have rejected their awards or nominations as a form of protest or boycott to highlight an issue they care about. Another reason people may turn down the opportunity for prestige is because they simply harbor disdain for the pageantry or commercialism of award ceremonies. Pacifism or disagreement with a government’s policies or actions are also reasons for rejecting honors. 

Nobel Peace Prizes have been rejected, as have Olympic medals. Many celebrities have said no thanks to British honors including knighthood and various Order of the British Empire (OBE) awards. (Some people, on the other hand, may deserve an award that never materializes. Here are 25 of the Oscars’ most egregious snubs.)

Source: Hulton Archive / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

T.E. Lawrence (army officer; “Lawrence of Arabia”)
> Declined award or nomination: Knighthood
> Year: 1918
> Reason: The British government had betrayed the Arabs by reneging on a promise of independence

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Source: Keystone / Hulton Royals Collection via Getty Images

Muhammad Ali Jinnah (politician; founder of Pakistan)
> Declined award or nomination: Knighthood
> Year: 1925
> Reason: He disliked honors and titles

Source: John Springer Collection / Corbis Historical via Getty Images

Dudley Nichols (screenwriter and director)
> Declined award or nomination: Oscar for Best Screenplay
> Year: 1935
> Reason: To protest the Academy’s opposition to unions including the Screen Writers’ Guild

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Moviepix via Getty Images

George C. Scott (actor)
> Declined award or nomination: Oscars for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor
> Year: 1962 and 1971
> Reason: He disliked competitions that pitted actors against each other

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Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Jean-Paul Sartre (philosopher and author)
> Declined award or nomination: Nobel Prize for Literature
> Year: 1964
> Reason: He didn’t want official recognition for fear that it would limit the impact of his writing if he appeared institutional

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

John Lennon (musician; Beatle)
> Declined award or nomination: Returned his Member of the Order of the British Empire award
> Year: 1969
> Reason: In protest at Britain’s foreign policy

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USA Men’s Olympic Basketball team
> Declined award or nomination: Olympic silver medal
> Year: 1972
> Reason: In protest of how referees called the game

Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Marlon Brando (actor)
> Declined award or nomination: Oscar for Best Actor
> Year: 1973
> Reason: To protest the degrading portrayals of Native Americans in film, and to draw attention to an armed conflict that was taking place at Wounded Knee

Source: Keystone / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Lê Đức Thọ (Vietnamese revolutionary and politician)
> Declined award or nomination: Nobel Peace Prize
> Year: 1973
> Reason: The war in Vietnam was not yet over

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Source: Archive Photos / Archive Photos via Getty Images

Peter O’Toole (actor)
> Declined award or nomination: Knighthood
> Year: 1987
> Reason: Personal and political reasons including his opposition to war

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff (rap artists)
> Declined award or nomination: Grammy for Best Rap Performance
> Year: 1989
> Reason: They felt the rap genre was being disrespected because the rap awards were not being televised

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Source: Mike Hewitt / Getty Images

Celine Dion (singer)
> Declined award or nomination: Felix Award for Best Anglophone Artist
> Year: 1991
> Reason: Although she garnered success singing in English, she is a proud francophone Québécoise

Source: Getty Images / Getty Images

Sinéad O’Connor (singer and songwriter)
> Declined award or nomination Grammy for Best Alternative Music Performance
> Year: 1991
> Reason: She said the awards were based destructive materialistic values and commercialism

Source: Bruno Vincent / Getty Images News via Getty Images

Stephen Hawking (physicist)
> Declined award or nomination Knighthood
> Year: 1990s
> Reason: In protest against a lack of funding for the sciences

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Source: Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

John Cleese (actor and comedian)
> Declined award or nomination Commander of the Order of the British Empire award
> Year: 1996
> Reason: He said the award as silly, and later turned down a life peerage

Source: Cameron Spencer / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Julie Andrews (actress and singer)
> Declined award or nomination Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical
> Year: 1996
> Reason: She felt that the rest of the “Victor/Victoria” cast and production crew were being snubbed, as none of them were nominated in other categories

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Source: Mark Mainz / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Nick Cave (singer and songwriter)
> Declined award or nomination MTV Awards nomination for Best Male Artist
> Year: 1996
> Reason: He did not like the “indignities of judgment and competition”

Source: Fox Photos / Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Albert Finney (actor)
> Declined award or nomination Commander of the Order of the British Empire award and Knighthood
> Year: 1980 and 2000
> Reason: He thought the award was snobbish

Source: Michael Ochs Archives / Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

David Bowie (singer, songwriter, and actor)
> Declined award or nomination Commander of the Order of the British Empire award and Knighthood
> Year: 2000 and 2003
> Reason: He didn’t understand the point of the awards, and they were not what he had worked his whole life for

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Source: Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders (actors and comedians)
> Declined award or nomination Officer of the Order of the British Empire award
> Year: 2001
> Reason: They didn’t feel they deserved it

Source: Rodrigo Varela / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Nigella Lawson (food writer and TV personality)
> Declined award or nomination Officer of the Order of the British Empire award
> Year: 2001
> Reason: She wasn’t saving lives and didn’t deserve it

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Source: Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images News via Getty Images

Banksy (artist)
> Declined award or nomination Oscar nomination for Best Documentary
> Year: 2011
> Reason: He was not allowed to wear a mask to hide his identity

Source: Robert Cianflone / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Axl Rose (rock musician)
> Declined award or nomination Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
> Year: 2012
> Reason: Bad blood between he and the other former band members

Source: DenisTangneyJr / iStock via Getty Images

Al Levie (teacher; labor organizer)
> Declined award or nomination Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award
> Year: 2012
> Reason: The award was being given by Republican congressman Paul Ryan

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Danny Boyle (filmmaker)
> Declined award or nomination Knighthood
> Year: 2013
> Reason: He wanted his colleagues to be recognized

Source: Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images

Thom Yorke (rock musician)
> Declined award or nomination Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
> Year: 2019
> Reason: The concept of the institution is foreign to Radiohead

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Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Greta Thunberg (climate activist)
> Declined award or nomination Nordic Council’s environmental award
> Year: 2019
> Reason: Not enough was being done to address climate change

Source: Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Tom Cruise (actor)
> Declined award or nomination Returned his three Golden Globe awards
> Year: 2021
> Reason: In protest against the lack of diversity in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association

Source: Kevin Winter / Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images

Drake (singer and rap artist)
> Declined award or nomination Grammy nominations for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Album
> Year: 2022
> Reason: Frustration with the disconnect between impactful music and those artists garnering nominations

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Source: David Redfern / Redferns via Getty Images

Dolly Parton (singer and songwriter)
> Declined award or nomination Presidential Medal of Freedom
> Year: during Trump administration
> Reason: Her husband was sick with COVID, and she didn’t want to appear political

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