Dolly Parton Isn't the Only Person to Turn Down the Medal of Freedom—Here Are the Others

During the course of President Donald Trump's term in the White House, his administration apparently requested to honor Dolly Parton with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on two separate occasions. And the country music icon says that on two separate occasions, she turned them down.

Appearing on the Today show on Tuesday, the 75-year-old musician shared that she was offered the highest civilian award in the country twice within the past four years, but denied the honor both times. "I couldn't accept it because my husband was ill and then they asked me again about it and I wouldn't travel because of the COVID," Parton explained.

Even though it was scheduling conflicts that previously kept her from accepting the Medal of Freedom, Parton said she's not sure if she would accept the honor were it to be offered to her a third time, even under more convenient circumstances.

"Now I feel like if I take it, I'll be doing politics, so I'm not sure," she explained. "But I don't work for those awards. It'd be nice but I'm not sure that I even deserve it. But it's a nice compliment for people to think that I might deserve it."

Dolly Parton Turns Down Medal of Freedom
Dolly Parton performs onstage at a luncheon for the Netflix Film Dumplin' at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 22, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

In addition to her many musical achievements, Parton's humanitarian efforts make her a prime candidate for the prestigious award. At the height of the pandemic, the "Jolene" singer donated $1 million to help scientists develop a coronavirus vaccine. After wildfires erupted in her home state of Tennessee in 2016 and destroyed thousands of homes, Parton helped establish the "My People Fund," which provided monthly $1,000 donations to several hundred families in need. And since 1995, Parton has run a literacy program that has supplied children with more than 100 million books through the Dolly Parton's Imagination Library.

The Medal of Freedom, meanwhile, dates back several decades. President Harry S. Truman created the award in 1945 to honor those who served the U.S. during World War II. Nearly 20 years later, President John F. Kennedy reintroduced the award as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and expanded the award recipients to include anyone who made a "meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," according to the National Archives Federal Register.

Since then, the Medal of Freedom has been bestowed upon hundreds of U.S. citizens—humanitarians, athletes, politicians, musicians and actors alike. But, like Parton, a small number of Americans, including Truman himself, have actually turned down the award. Find out who (and why) below.

Bill Belichick

The Trump administration reportedly planned to present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to superstar NFL coach Bill Belichick at the top of this year. However, the New England Patriots' coach—who, across his entire career, has led teams to eight Super Bowl victories—turned the award down, citing the "tragic events" at the Capitol building on January 6 as one of the reasons, according to the New York Times.

President Harry S. Truman

Although he was the creator of the honor, when the House of Representatives tried to recognize Truman with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1971 for his service during World War I and his achievements during his term, he declined.

"I do not consider that I have done anything which should be the reason of any award, Congressional or otherwise," he wrote in a letter to Congress at the time. He also noted that his acceptance of the honor would detract from what it was originally created for, which was to recognize "combat bravery."

Jacqueline Kennedy

When President Lyndon B. Johnson set out to award President John F. Kennedy with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom shortly after his death in 1963, Johnson hoped to include former first lady Jacquline Kennedy in the award as well. However, she didn't accept the honor; according to a recent article by the New York Times, her reasoning was most likely to keep the focus on her late husband.

Moe Berg

The first person to decline the Medal of Freedom was baseball player-turned-World War II spy Moe Berg. Truman wanted to recognize the Brooklyn native—who was fluent in several languages, including Japanese and German—for his service during the war, and help with sussing out whether Nazi forces were working on an atomic bomb. But Berg apparently wasn't comfortable with the attention.

Nicholas Dawidoff wrote in his 1994 biography of Berg, called The Catcher Was a Spy, that Berg said, "The medal embarrasses me." The former catcher, who played with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, also reportedly wrote a note to a colonel explaining that the story behind his "humble contribution" to the war effort could not be revealed.

The medal was eventually donated to the Baseball Hall of Fame by Berg's sister, who accepted it after her brother's death, according to the New York Times.