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Ellen moved to tears as Obama awards her top US honour

Barack Obama has paid tribute to TV star Ellen DeGeneres as he awarded her a top US honour - saying she risked her career when she came out as gay almost two decades ago.

In one of his last acts as president, he honoured 21 people with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the White House.

In a speech that moved DeGeneres to tears, Mr Obama said she has a way of making people laugh at something rather than someone - "except when I danced on her show".

He said it is also easy to forget that she had risked her career nearly 20 years ago when she came out as gay.

"What an incredible burden that was to bear, to risk her career like that. People don't do that very often, and then to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders," he added.

Ellen fights back tears as she receives the Medal from President Obama. Credit: Reuters

Among those also receiving the medal were actors Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates.

In the sporting world, NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and NBA six-time champion Michael Jordan both received the medal.

Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross also received the award for their contribution to culture.

In the scientific community, mathematician and computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, and physicist Richard Garwin were both given the award.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as "Amazing Grace", was given the award posthumously for her programming and computer science work, along with Elouise Cobell, who was awarded posthumously for her work fighting for Native American communities.

Bill and Melinda Gates receive the medal for their philanthropy Credit: Reuters
Robert De Niro and President Obama Credit: Reuters
NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar being given the medal by President Obama Credit: Reuters
Bruce Springsteen thanks President Obama. Credit: Reuters
Diana Ross receives her medal. Credit: Reuters

DeGeneres tweeted before the ceremony that she wasn't allowed into the White House because she forgot her ID, posting a forlorn photo of her sitting on a bench outside.

She later posted a 'Mannequin Challenge' video in which all the recipients of the award stood as if frozen in time.

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DeGeneres was so humbled by the statement read out as she was given the award that she was brought to tears.

The speech cited her involvement in LGBT equality and rights, and her championing of equal marriage.

"Her courage and candour helped changed the minds of millions of Americans, accelerating our nation's constant drive towards equality and acceptance for all.

"Again and again, she has shown us that a single individual can help make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place, so long as we just keep swimming."

Full list of Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Elouise Cobell (posthumous)
  • Ellen DeGeneres
  • Robert De Niro
  • Richard Garwin
  • Bill and Melinda Gates
  • Frank Gehry
  • Margaret H Hamilton
  • Tom Hanks
  • Grace Hopper (posthumous)
  • Michael Jordan
  • Maya Lin
  • Lorne Michaels
  • Newt Minnow
  • Eduardo Padrón
  • Robert Redford
  • Diana Ross
  • Vin Scully
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Cicely Tyson