Famous People Who Refused Major Awards

In entertainment, awards are often highly coveted. An actor, for example, may want an Oscar to push their career to the next level of success. Or a band can have their eyes on a Grammy so their songs can get more traction and more people will come to their shows. An award can also be desired outside of entertainment because there probably aren't many scientists who would turn down a Nobel Prize since at the very least it could bring more attention to their research.

But on the opposite end, there are some who said they don't want an award when it was given to them and turned it down. Some celebrities said they thought receiving an award was ridiculous and it cheapened their art. Others refused their prize because they didn't like how it was presented to them compared to how it was given to others. Then you have those famous people who've refused an award for political reasons or because they wanted to bring attention to a certain cause. There are obviously a slew of reasons a celebrity will turn their back on an award, and we compiled a list of some who did just that. Here we go.

Sinéad O'Connor didn't want a Grammy

Sinéad O'Connor had a lot of people salivating over her 1990 album Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, and in 1991 she received four Grammy nominations for it. She also won the category of Best Alternative Music Performance. But instead of showing up at the ceremony, the Irish singer skipped the Grammys altogether, refused to accept any awards, and wouldn't perform her Prince written-smash "Nothing Compares 2 U." The reason? O'Connor felt the awards were based on celebrity, materialism, and popularity, not art.

"We are allowing ourselves to be portrayed as being in some way more important, more special than the very people we are supposed to be helping, by the way we dress, by the cars we travel in, by the 'otherworldliness' of our shows and by a lot of what we say in our music," wrote O'Connor in a letter that she sent to the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and was published by the Los Angeles Times. "How can we sit there hoping to win a Grammy when we have failed in our duty as artists to speak the truth?" The singer — who is the first person to ever refuse a Grammy — spoke again about her decision in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1991. She said during that interview, that her real beef was with "the music industry" and her "peers" for not addressing social issues enough. 

Marlon Brando said no to an Oscar

A lot of people have taken the film industry to task in the last few years for the way certain groups have been portrayed on screen. And that frustration seemed to grow even more in 2020 when people staged racial justice protests around the world while calling out various industries. Marlon Brando also had a problem with the way certain groups were portrayed on film, Native Americans in particular, and in 1973 he refused to accept an Oscar for his role in the Godfather. Brando had actor Sacheen Littlefeather accept the award for him, who was president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee.

"I'm representing Marlon Brando this evening and he has asked me to tell you ... that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award, and the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry," Littlefeather told the audience to boos and applause. The New York Times published Brando's full statement one day after the Oscars.

"The motion picture community has been as responsible as any for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing him as savage, hostile, and evil," the letter read in part. "It's hard enough for children to grow up in this world. When Indian children ... see their race depicted as they are in films, their minds become injured in ways we can never know."

Skepta used a song to say he turned down an award

Grime artist and rapper Skepta has racked up his fair share of awards over the years, including the UK's Mercury Prize in 2016 for his album Konnichiwa. But in his 2017 song "Hypocrisy," Skepta said that he turned down an MBE, which stands for Member of the Order of the British Empire. The award is given to individuals who have achieved "a great impact in their line of work," according to BBC.

On the track, Skepta briefly touches on why he wasn't interested in taking on the title. "Just came back from the Ivors/And look at what we collected/The MBE got rejected/I'm not tryna be accepted," he rapped over bouncy percussion and faint sounding strings. In "Hypocrisy," the London-born artist referenced getting the songwriter of the year prize at the Ivor Novello Awards in 2017, as well as the award for best contemporary song for his cut "Man." He followed up Konnichiwa with 2019's Ignorance Is Bliss, an album NME called "colourful, kaleidoscopic and loose."

Julie Andrews wanted others to be recognized

There are some actors who seemingly want to stand out from their castmates in a production and be considered the star, the head honcho, the main draw. That person is probably going to want all of the accolades for themselves as well. Well, no one could say that about Julie Andrews, who in 1996 refused a Tony nomination for her role in the Broadway production of Victor/Victoria. Her nom was the only nod the show received, and she wasn't interested in taking all the glory.

The Sound of Music star announced her decision at a May 1996 curtain call of the show and said being the only person nominated is what made up her mind. "I have searched my conscience and my heart and I am afraid I cannot accept this nomination," she told the audience, before gesturing to the show's cast and crew. "I prefer to stand with the egregiously overlooked." 

Tony Adams, one of Victor/Victoria's producers, spoke about Andrews' decision and was asked if he and others tried to talk her out of it. "We played devil's advocate in terms of every scenario, what might be best and what the upsides and what the downsides were, and at the end of the day left it to her to make a very, very personal and very major and painful decision," he told CNN in 1996.

Thom Yorke said that being honored confused him

The Hall of Fame. Those four words alone have prestige and no matter the field, being inducted into a Hall of Fame is a colossal sized deal for most. To see an example of that, check out former NFL coach Jimmy Johnson tear up in a touching moment after finding out that he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on live TV in 2020. But some don't look at a Hall of Fame induction as an honor, like Radiohead's Thom Yorke, who said he was baffled by it. In 2019, the British band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Yorke and other members refused to show up at the ceremony, which was held in Brooklyn, New York's Barclays Center. 

"We've always been very blasé about that stuff," Yorke told Variety in 2019. "So we don't want to offend anyone. We just think that we just don't quite understand it. We've had it explained to us, so it's cool. But we don't really understand it as English people. The only two members to show up on the night of the ceremony was drummer Phil Selway and guitarist Ed O'Brien, who seemed to feel the opposite of Yorke. "It is a big f*cking deal and it feels like it," said O'Brien.

DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince staged a boycott

Rap music has become a major part of the Grammys, with multiple categories surrounding the genre, as well hip-hop artists performing during the ceremony. But back in the days, rap was barely mentioned at the Grammys, not even in the mid-'80s when it broke into the mainstream thanks to Run-DMC. The Grammys only started to officially recognize hip-hop music in 1989 when the category of Best Rap Performance was added. 

DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince were up for the award that year for their humorous hit "Parents Just Don't Understand," which they won. But the group, whose members consist of Will Smith and Jeff Townes, boycotted the ceremony because the award wasn't read during the TV broadcast. "We don't have the problem with the Grammy as an award or the Grammy as an institution, we just had a problem with the 1989 design of the awards show," Smith told ET that year.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, slew of other rappers also boycotted the ceremony that evening, including LL Cool J and Salt-N-Pepa, but New York rapper Kool Moe Dee attended, a decision that he was later criticized for. "They said there wasn't enough time to televise all of the categories," Townes told ET. "They televised 16 categories and from record sales, from the Billboard charts, from the overall public's view, there's no way you can tell me that out of 16 categories, that rap isn't in the top 16."

George C. Scott trashed the Oscars

When actor George C. Scott won an Oscar in 1971 for playing Gen. George S. Patton in Patton, he wasn't at the podium dressed in a tux thanking those who helped him. He was actually in New York with his then-wife, actor Colleen Dewhurst. Instead of watching the big show, the Los Angeles Times noted that "he watched a hockey game on TV and went to bed."

Scott was the very first person to ever refuse an Oscar, but he didn't do so without warning. Rather the actor, as Today recounted, "telegraphed the Academy months before the ceremony to let them know he didn't want the award." A polite preemptive rejection. "I respectfully request that you withdraw my name from the list of nominees. My request is in no way intended to denigrate my colleagues," read the telegram, published in part by EW. But that wasn't the only time the late actor indicated he wasn't a fan of the Oscars. As the Los Angeles Times recalled, he once told the media that the event "a two-hour meat parade, a public display with contrived suspense for economic reasons."

Axl Rose refused his honor in writing

Those who've already reached adulthood probably know this painful truth: Most of your favorite bands will eventually break up. Of course, a lot of bands are still together, others may join up temporarily for reunions but many times fans of older groups are left with memories and a bunch of old songs. It's safe to say that many were heartbroken when the original members of Guns N' Roses parted ways a bunch of years ago and some reports said that lead singer Axl Rose and guitarist Slash were on the outs. "He hates my guts," Slash told Rolling Stone in 2012. "It's over a lot of different stuff; I don't even know." 

It seemed that same beef, and possibly issues with other bandmates, kept Rose from accepting an invitation to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. "I strongly request that I not be inducted in absentia and please know that no one is authorized nor may anyone be permitted to accept any induction for me or speak on my behalf," wrote Rose in a letter, according to the Los Angeles Times. In the end, Slash, Duff McKagan, Steven Adler, and Matt Sorum showed up to the ceremony, while Rose stuck to his word and didn't show. Slash left the band in 1996, according to NME, but Guns N' Roses reunited for a reunion tour in 2016.

Greta Thunberg said her award wasn't necessary

Working with others to make sure the decision-makers are paying attention to science — not worrying about getting the credit — seemed to be the crux of environmentalist Greta Thunberg's response after she was offered a hefty reward for her work. As the AP reported (via NBC News), the Nordic Council was ready to give Thunberg an award and $52,000 in prize money in 2019, but she ultimately turned it down. She also chose not to attend the award ceremony, held in Stockholm, Sweden. "The climate movement does not need any more awards," wrote Thunberg on Instagram Oct. 29, 2019. "What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science."

But although Thunberg didn't want an award for her work, she seems to be okay with her image being placed on a stamp. The Irish Post reports that Sweden's postal service released stamps with a drawing of the young activist standing on a cliff, gazing at birds. Thunberg first rose to fame as an environmentalist when a photo of her staging a lone protest outside of the Swedish parliament went viral in 2018.