12 Famous Non-Brits Who Have Been Named Honorary Knights and Dames

Queen Elizabeth II attends The Order of the Garter Service in 2010 at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle in Windsor, England. The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded by Edward III in 1348.
Queen Elizabeth II attends The Order of the Garter Service in 2010 at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle in Windsor, England. The Order of the Garter is the most senior and the oldest British Order of Chivalry and was founded by Edward III in 1348.
Alastair Grant/WPA-Pool/Getty Images

Although chivalric orders for military members date back to the medieval period, King George V ushered in a new era for knights and dames when he established The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1917. Appointees to the OBE don't have to see battle to be on the receiving end of the ceremonial sword tap (or its rather dull modern equivalent, the firm handshake), so long as they make a significant contribution to the arts, sciences, or any charitable organization outside the civil service.

In fact, you don't even have to be a British citizen to receive the honor. A large number of Americans have been awarded knighthood or damehood, and the privilege is potentially open to any non-Brit around the world. Though non-Commonwealth subjects are not extended the privilege of styling themselves Sir or Dame, as far as anything else is concerned, these famous figures are knights and dames just like any other.

1. Steven Spielberg

In 2001, director and producer Steven Spielberg received an honorary knighthood via British ambassador to the U.S., Sir Christopher Meyer. The ambassador noted that while Spielberg's commitment to movie magic had made a global impact, its effects on British cinema in particular were significant enough to double movie ticket sales since the early '80s (likely beginning with 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark and 1982's E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial). Behind the scenes, Spielberg was also known to be a supporter of the local film industry, choosing to shoot massive productions like 2001's multi-part series Band of Brothers on location in England. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's son even got in on the action, spending a week on set for work experience.

"This is the stuff that all of our childhood fantasies come from," Spielberg said after his investiture. "You know, courtliness, civility, and honor."

2. Franco Zeffirelli

Spielberg was later joined in the ranks of honorary knights by fellow filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, the first Italian to be so recognized. Zeffirelli earned his KBE in 2004 for "valuable services to British performing arts," including multiple acclaimed Shakespeare adaptations to film and stage, and 1999's Tea With Mussolini, a film that starred no fewer than three British dames: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Joan Plowright. An Oscar nominee, Zeffirelli joyously proclaimed the knighthood to be "the greatest conquest, recognition, I have received in my life, practically."

3. Bono

Bono poses after receiving a knighthood in recognition of his services to the music industry and his humanitarian work in 2007.ShowBizIreland/Getty Images

Paul Hewson—a.k.a. U2 lead singer Bono—falls into the category of honorary knights because he is an Irish citizen (like fellow honorary knight, Irishman Pierce Brosnan). Though Ireland is part of the British Isles, its citizens are not British and therefore not eligible for "substantive" knighthood (i.e., he can't style his name as Sir Bono, such as Sirs Elton John and Patrick Stewart, both British citizens, can). In the same year he shared the title of TIME Magazine's Person(s) of the Year with fellow philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono was presented with honorary knighthood by the British ambassador to Ireland for his humanitarian work. The 2005 ceremony was made all the sweeter for taking place in Dublin, Bono's hometown.

4. and 5. Bill and Melinda Gates

Queen Elizabeth II presents Bill Gates with an honorary knighthood in 2005. His wife, Melinda Gates, would be named an honorary dame in 2014.Chris Young/ROTA/Getty Images

In addition to managing sums of wealth inconceivable to the average person, Bill Gates is also an honorary knight of the British Empire. In keeping with his multi-hyphenate role as billionaire-businessman-tech mogul-philanthropist, Gates was honored in 2005 for a string of contributions, from the 2000 British jobs created by Microsoft to the $210 million in scholarship grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Cambridge University to subsidize international graduate students. That number is just a fraction of the further $750 million the Foundation gave to help establish Gavi (once called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), a cornerstone of the couple's commitment to leveraging their wealth to improve public health in developing countries.

Melinda Gates attended her husband's ceremony with the Queen, but she had to wait nearly another decade to be honored for her role in the Foundation's charitable work—it wasn't until 2014 that she was named an honorary Dame Commander. In a simple message sent out on Twitter to accompany a photo from her ceremony, Gates said, "Honored to be named a Dame of the British Empire. The UK is a leader in fighting global poverty."

6. Ralph Lauren

In 2018, it was announced that Ralph Lauren would become the first American fashion designer to be honorarily knighted. In accordance with Lauren's penchant for putting his name on things, the Ralph Lauren Corporation established The Ralph Lauren Centre for Breast Cancer Research at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, along with two other cancer centers in the United States. British Consul General Antony Phillipson recognized his commitment to public health research and treatment, along with his "key role in forging transatlantic cultural and economic connections" as "a vanguard for the global fashion industry." Lauren certainly has fans in high places: Duchesses Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle have both been known to wear his clothing, and one of the late Princess Diana's most iconic looks—a beaded, white, halter column gown—was a Lauren design she wore while honoring him at a fundraiser for his first cancer hospital.

7. Angelina Jolie

Queen Elizabeth II presents Angelina Jolie with the Insignia of an Honorary Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George in 2014.Anthony Devlin—WPA Pool/Getty Images

Despite first achieving fame for her Oscar-winning acting career, Angelina Jolie's royal accolade isn't an acknowledgment of her work in Hollywood. The Order of St. Michael and St. George, originally conceived as a means of honoring high-ranking officers of the Napoleonic Wars, has since been expanded to recognize "extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country." Jolie was appointed to the order in 2014 after years of humanitarian work, particularly with the United Nations and the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in the UK.

The announcement of Jolie's honor coincided with her co-chairing of the End Sexual Violence in Conflict global summit in London, when she gratefully received the news and reaffirmed that foreign policy is "what I wish to dedicate my working life to." She later received the title officially during a private audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

8. Pelé

Considering soccer's venerated status as the national pastime (though technically, cricket is the country's national sport), it comes as no surprise that Britain's highest chivalric orders include more than a dozen professional footballers (as well as a large number of OBEs, like David Beckham). Onetime Brazilian Minister of Sport and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Edson Arantes do Nascimento—better known as Pelé—was once voted FIFA's "greatest footballer in the history of the game" and has certainly earned his right to be there. Although the honorary KBE was ostensibly granted in recognition of his humanitarian and environmental activism, in part as a United Nations ambassador for ecology and the environment, his holding the Guinness World Record for most career goals (at 1283) probably didn't hurt.

In 2017, 20 years later after his knighting ceremony, Pelé tweeted a throwback photo of himself proudly lifting his medal, and said the moment would "stay always in [his] memory."

9. and 10. Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani shows of his Knighthood of the British Empire (KBE) medal in 2002.Sion Touhig/Getty Images

In a true show of international diplomacy, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed an honorary knighthood on former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in 2002. Prince Andrew, Duke of York, made the formal announcement on Giuliani's home turf, declaring his nation's thanks for Giuliani's "outstanding help and support to the bereaved British families" in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Giuliani later traveled to Buckingham Palace to join his fellow honorees before the Queen. She personally reiterated her gratitude for his leadership and wished him "less stress in [his] life now."

Michael Bloomberg, another notable NYC mayor, was also welcomed as an honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire for his "prodigious entrepreneurial and philanthropic endeavors." Bloomberg called the honor "especially meaningful" because he had long considered Britain a "second home." His official investiture was in 2015, though The New York Times reported that, in jest, someone once helped Bloomberg celebrate the opening of his company's London office decades before by donning full military regalia and dubbing him with a sword.

11. Plácido Domingo

For famed tenor Plácido Domingo, 2002 was a banner year. Shortly after the Spanish singer (one-third of the acclaimed opera supergroup The Three Tenors, with José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti) was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in July, he was invited to the British embassy in Washington, D.C. to be knighted by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in October. At age 61, Domingo had done performances at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden for three decades, occasions that he considered "among [his] greatest experiences." At the time of his investiture, he'd sung 119 distinct operatic roles throughout his career, a higher number than anyone else in history. It only seems right that Domingo should also have a pile of commendations to match.

12. Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in 1958 wearing the mantle and insignia of a Knight of Justice of the Order of St. John.Associated Press Wire Photo, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When longtime leading man Douglas Fairbanks Jr. died in 2000, British newspaper The Independent lauded him as "Hollywood royalty and knight of the realm." For an American who never relinquished his citizenship, Fairbanks devoted a significant portion of his personal and professional life to England. As a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy during WWII, he served directly under Lord Mountbatten and played a key role in a number of combined British-American operations. His distinguished service earned him a knighthood from King George VI in 1949 for "furthering Anglo-American amity," and after taking a hiatus from acting, he and his family moved to London. Fairbanks kept a home in London for two decades and entertained acquaintances no less eminent than the royal family itself before retiring to the most American of locales: Palm Beach, Florida.

Never one for subtlety, Fairbanks took full advantage of his honorary knighthood. Though he was unable to style himself "Sir," he nonetheless designed a custom coat of arms with the Latin motto Fides, Conatus et Fidelitas, meaning "Faith, Striving, and Loyalty," in written along a scroll. It also features both a bald eagle and the circlet of the Order of the British Empire, perfectly befitting a man who loved countries.

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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10 Surprising Facts About Richard Pryor

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Richard Pryor, who was born on December 1, 1940, is considered by many to be the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. Jerry Seinfeld referred to him as “the Picasso of our profession.” Chris Rock has called him comedy’s Rosa Parks. Yet the indelible mark Pryor made on the world of comedy only tells part of his story.

Like his career in the spotlight, Pryor’s world offstage was also highly compelling and full of shocking turns. He’s one of those people whose real life was so off-the-wall at times that it becomes tough to separate fact from fiction. Here are just a few stories about the brilliant and chaotic life of the great Richard Pryor.

1. Richard Pryor had a tragic childhood.

Richard Pryor had a tragic early life, experiencing things that no child should have to endure: Born to a prostitute named Gertrude on December 1, 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s father was a notoriously violent pimp named LeRoy Pryor. For much of his childhood, Pryor was raised in the actual brothel where his mother worked, which was owned by his own no-nonsense grandmother, Marie Carter. With his mother periodically dropping out of his life for long stretches, it was Marie who served as Pryor’s central guardian and caretaker.

In 2015, The New Yorker published an article to mark the 10th anniversary of Pryor’s passing, which offered further details on his turbulent early life, noting:

Pryor said that one of the reasons he adored movies as a boy was that you were never in doubt as to why the women in them were screaming. As for the sounds that Richard heard in the middle of the night in his room on the top floor of one of Marie’s businesses, he had no idea what was happening to those girls. A number of times, he saw his mother, Gertrude, one of the women in Marie’s employ, nearly beaten to death by his father. Gertrude left when Richard was five. He later registered no resentment over this. “At least Gertrude didn’t flush me down the toilet,” he said. (This was not a joke. As a child, Pryor opened a shoebox and found a dead baby inside.)

2. Richard Pryor walked away from a successful career.

Early in his career Pryor found success by modeling his comedy largely on the work on Bill Cosby, which led to many comparisons being drawn between the two—a fact that Cosby reportedly grew to dislike.

There are conflicting tales of just how Pryor made the 180-degree change in style that led to him becoming a comedic legend. One of the most well traveled tales, and one that Pryor himself confirmed on more than one occasion, states that Pryor was performing his clean-cut act in Las Vegas one night when he looked out into the audience and saw Dean Martin among the crowd. If you believe the story, seeing the legendarily cool Rat Packer’s face made Pryor question what exactly he was doing and caused him to abruptly leave the stage mid-performance. Around this time Pryor moved to the San Francisco Bay area, dropped out of the comedy limelight for several years, and later reemerged with the more pointed, in-your-face style that made him an icon.

3. Richard Pryor won an Emmy for writing.

Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Pryor in Tomlin's 1973 TV special, Lily.CBS Television, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Though Pryor was better known for his work in front of the camera than behind it, the only Emmy he ever won was for writing. In 1974, Pryor won the Emmy for Best Writing in Comedy for Lily, a comedy special starring Lily Tomlin (in which he also appeared). He earned a total of four nominations throughout his career, two of them as an actor and the other two as a writer.

4. Richard Pryor made Lorne Michaels quit Saturday Night Live.

Back in 1975, Saturday Night Live was brand new, so at the time the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, wasn’t yet a powerful TV icon. Therefore, when Michaels stuck his neck out and demanded the right to have Pryor on as a guest host, he was really risking a lot. It took Michaels handing in a fake resignation to convince NBC executives to allow the famously foulmouthed comic to appear. Michaels himself had to implement a secret five-second delay for that night’s episode to be sure that any off-the-cuff, unscripted choice language didn’t make its way out over the airwaves. The delay was kept from Pryor who, upon later finding out, confirmed that he would have refused to do the show had he known about it

The episode, the seventh one of SNL’s premiere season, contained one of the most memorable and edgy sketches ever to appear on the show: (the NSFW) Word Association. Chevy Chase and Pryor’s personal writer, Paul Mooney, have each claimed to have written the sketch.

5. Richard Pryor lost the starring role in Blazing Saddles.

Pryor and Gene Wilder made four films together (Silver Streak; Stir Crazy; See No Evil, Hear No Evil; and Another You), but there could have been at least one more. Pryor was one of the credited writers on Mel Brooks’s classic Blazing Saddles and the plan for a time was that he would also co-star in the film, playing Sheriff Bart alongside Wilder as the Waco Kid. In the clip above, Wilder explained how Pryor’s infamous drug use caused him to end up in a remote city and subsequently lose the starring role to Cleavon Little.

6. It wasn’t a drug mishap that caused Richard Pryor to set himself on fire.

One of the most retold stories about Pryor centers around the incident on June 9, 1980 where he set himself on fire and took off running down a Los Angeles street fully engulfed in flames. Though he wasn’t expected to survive the episode, he eventually pulled through and spent the next six weeks recuperating in the hospital. At the time it was often reported that the cause of the accident was Pryor freebasing cocaine. Pryor later admitted that in a drug-fueled psychosis he had actually attempted to kill himself by dousing his body in 151-proof rum and setting himself ablaze. A friend of Pryor’s at the time has gone on record as saying that the idea for the act likely came about that evening after the two of them watched footage of Thích Quảng Đức, the Vietnamese monk who famously burned himself to death in 1963 as an act of protest.

7. Richard Pryor was married seven times.

Pryor was married seven times—to five different women. In the 2013 documentary Omit the Logic, a friend of Pryor’s—who served as the best man at one of his weddings—recounts how Pryor showed up at his hotel room door just a few hours after marrying Jennifer Lee, insisting that he already wanted a divorce. Pryor would get divorced from Lee the next year, only to remarry her 19 years later; the two were still together when Pryor passed away in 2005.

8. Richard Pryor had a soft spot for animals.

In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that ultimately left him confined to a wheelchair. Pryor was such an avid supporter of animal rights, however, that he actively spoke out against animal testing of any kind—even when that testing meant getting closer to a cure for his own condition. The biography on RichardPryor.com provides more insight into this part of his private life:

He's been honored by PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for saving baby elephants in Botswana targeted for circuses. In 2000, as the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was preparing to open at Madison Square Garden, Pryor gave the Big Top's first African-American ringmaster, Jonathan Lee Iverson, something to think about when he wrote him a letter in which he stated: “While I am hardly one to complain about a young African American making an honest living, I urge you to ask yourself just how honorable it is to preside over the abuse and suffering of animals."

9. Richard Pryor won the first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Beginning in 1998, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts began awarding its annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which "recognizes individuals who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th-century novelist and essayist Samuel Clemens, best known as Mark Twain." Pryor was chosen as their very first recipient. In the more than 20 years since, he has been joined by an illustrious group of comedy legends, including Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Dave Chappelle.

10. Despite his deteriorating health, Richard Pryor never stopped performing.

Even while MS continued to rob him of his mobility, Pryor’s comedic mind continued cranking. Throughout the early 1990s Pryor would often show up at Los Angeles’s famous standup club The Comedy Store to take to the stage in his wheelchair. In the above clip from The Joe Rogan Experience, a few comics discuss what it was like to watch the all-time great perform in his diminished state.

This story has been updated for 2020.