Actor Tom Hanks at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House in Washington on November 22. Photograph: (Reuters)
The medal is given annually to those who have made outstanding contributions to the national interests of the US
US President Barack Obama awarded the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the highest civilian honour in the United States -- to 21 key figures at a star-studded ceremony at the White House on Tuesday.
Obama presented the prestigious medal to Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda for philanthropic work, former basketball players Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and actors Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Robert Redford.
"It's useful when you think about this incredible collection of people to realize that this is what makes us the greatest nation on earth," Obama said.
The medal is given annually to those who have made outstanding contributions to the national interests of the United States, to security, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours.
Other recipients this year were rock star Bruce Springsteen, soul singer Diana Ross, Native American community leader Elouise Cobell and NASA moon landing computer scientist Margaret H. Hamilton.
TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, who was also awarded the medal, conducted a "mannequin challenge", a video that features people frozen in place, with the recipients.
Obama leaves office in January after eight years, with Republican businessman Donald Trump taking charge.