For most of us, we are happy to reach the pinnacle of a promotion or getting married or being recognised in your local paper for the work you do in your spare time for charity. Some of us aspire to greatness and some of us achieve it so when that success is acknowledged by our peers and contemporaries with something other than a nod of recognition why not accept it gratefully? There are few real prizes that commemorate the fields of human endeavour yet here are 7 people who have refused a major award.
1. Oscar – George C. Scott
Scott’s portrayal of General Patton in the eponymous movie was truly worthy of the Oscar for Best Actor in 1970 but he refused to collect it saying he wasn’t in a competition with other nominees. He described the ceremony as demeaning and like a two hour meat parade.
2. Nobel Prize – Boris Posternak
The author of the epic Doctor Zhivago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. He first agreed to accept the accolade but then the Soviet authorities declined it on his behalf. I’m not sure this totally qualifies as a person who has refused a major award but I don’t have a sub category for people who refused an award because they were told to through political intervention.
3. Pulitzer Prize – Sinclair Lewis
Mr. Lewis was to be awarded the Pulitzer for his novel Arrowsmith in 1926. He was one of the people who have refused a major award that caused a controversial debate. The detractors of his stance believed his arguments for non-acceptance gave him more publicity that cynically calculated to sell more books. At the time, the prize was $1,000.
4. Knighthood – David Bowie
The British honours lists are absolutely crammed with people who have refused an honour on the first occasion but later accepted a different title but there are some pretty famous people who have refused a major award flat out. David Bowie declined to become Sir David in 2003, after having previously declined a CBE in 2000.
5. Nobel Prize – Jean Paul Sartre
Mr. Sartre, the eminent French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic, seems to have made a career of getting his name on the list of people who have refused a major award. Not only did he turn down the Nobel Prize for Literature he has also declined the top French civilian recognition, the Legion d’Honneur.
6. Oscar – Marlon Brando
Brando was nominated and won for The Godfather in 1972 but refused citing Hollywood’s poor portrayal of Native Americans. Instead, an American Indian Rights activist Sacheen Littlefeather delivered a speech on Brando’s behalf.
7. Fiction – James Bond
In the final of Ian Fleming’s novels, The Man with The Golden Gun, secret agent extra-ordinaire James Bond declined to accept the British honour of Knight Commander to the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Bond, James Bond, is not the only fictional person to refuse a major award. Sherlock Holmes declined a Knighthood in The Adventure of the Three Garridebs.
We can only guess if some of the famous people who have refused a major award have regretted it since. I personally would love to win a Nobel Prize for Literature but I’ll think that will always remain a pipe dream. What award would you like to win?
Top Photo Credit: Samer Farha