6 People Who Rejected Awards

We’re right in the middle of Awards Season. Last month Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes were awarded, followed by the Golden Globes, and in the next few weeks, we’ll see the Emmys and Oscars. And while most artists and performers would be thrilled to get any one of these awards, there’s always the occasional grump who gets a prize from his/her peers and says “no thanks.” Here are a few prize examples of people who rejected awards.

Ving Rhames. In 1998, the actor won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a made for TV movie or miniseries for his title role in HBO’s Don King: Only in America. When he went on stage to receive his award, he turned it down, and, in the spirit of “giving,” gave the trophy to fellow nominee Jack Lemmon, nominated for 12 Angry Men. Lemmon said it was “one of the sweetest moments of his life.” Rhames insisted Lemmon keep the award; the Globes’ governing body later quietly had a second trophy sent to Rhames.

George C. Scott. The actor has won two Oscars, one for Best Supporting Actor in 1962 for The Hustler and in 1971 for Best Actor for Patton. By then, he felt that actors shouldn’t be in competition with each other. He sent Patton producer Frank McCarthy to accept the award on his behalf…which he then tried to donate to a Patton museum (which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wouldn’t allow).

Sinead O’Connor. The Irish pop singer was as famous for starting controversy in the early ‘90s as she was for her hits like “Nothing Compares 2 U.” One of those controversies: she refused to attend the 1991 Grammys, where she won (and later rejected) an award for Best Alternative Album because she thought the ceremony was “too commercial.”

Jean Paul Sartre. The French author and philosopher was best known for existentialist works such a No Exit, Nausea, and The Flies. In 1964, the Swedish Academy awarded him a writer’s highest honor: the Nobel Prize for literature. Always the downer, Sartre declined, saying that “no writer should allow himself to be turned into an institution.”

Boris Pasternak. Another writer turned down his Nobel, but it wasn’t his idea. The Soviet government forced Pasternak to reject his prize in 1958, because of intense Cold War politics. He died two years later; his family was given his medal in 1989.

Marlon Brando. The star won and accepted an Oscar for his 1954 performance in On the Waterfront, but he won again in 1973 for his starring role in The Godfather. Instead of taking the podium, he sent an actress and civil rights activist named Sacheen Littlefeather to the stage. Littlefeather rejected the award on Brando’s behalf as a statement against poor treatment of Native Americans.