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Top 20 Celebrity Activists of All Time

An inside look at stars ranging from Harry Belafonte to Ronald Reagan

Political Activist Angelina Jolie in Afghanistan

Angelina Jolie, as a goodwill ambassador for UNHCR, meets with a refugee and her youngest son in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2011. — Jason Tanner/Demotix/Corbis

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt

Stars are often most effective in the public arena when their political identity is an extension of their image as an entertainer. John Wayne symbolized bravery and courage so often that people invested him with those qualities when he joined debates off screen; George Clooney today similarly benefits from the Bogart-like image of rueful realism that he projects in his films.

Think of Jolie as the exception to this pattern. On screen, she often plays icy action heroes who are alluring but amoral, desirable but duplicitous. Yet over the past decade, Jolie has steadily earned respect in the international development community as a nurturing source of compassion in some of the world's most troubled places. As a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations since 2001, she has used her celebrity to shine attention on the struggles of refugees everywhere, from Cambodia and Thailand to Sierra Leone and Darfur.

"She appears to be living her commitment," a Republican said, "and it's not an easy commitment to live."

Pitt, her partner, hasn't been as publicly engaged in causes, but he has participated in Bono's ONE campaign and joined with Clooney to found the Not on Our Watch project. Pitt has made his biggest mark by raising tens of millions of dollars, and by donating millions of his own, toward the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Next: Willie Nelson >>

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