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Top 20 Celebrity Activists of All Time

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

Senator Harry Reid and Robert Reford backstage at Take Back America conference

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-N.M., and Robert Redford at a conference in Washington, D.C., in 2010 — Roll Call/Getty Images

Robert Redford

Compared with most celebrity activists, Redford took a measured path into politics. He didn't become engaged until after he became a breakout star as Paul Newman's sidekick in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and even then he first undertook a local issue (blocking the building of a highway through a canyon near his Utah home).

From that initial seed blossomed decades of involvement in environmental causes; no film star has been more closely identified with the green movement.

Like Warren Beatty, Redford has always seemed keenly aware of the public's limited tolerance for instruction from entertainers. At times, that's led him, again like Beatty, to prefer an off-screen role in his activism — as he did during the Reagan presidency in organizing quiet conferences that convened environmentalists and industry leaders, with mixed success, to bridge their differences.

But in recent years, Redford has again played a more visible and, at times, confrontational part: After the BP oil spill last spring, he recorded a bristling five-minute video for the Natural Resources Defense Council in which he declared, "When I hear some of the energy companies advertising themselves as conservationists ... I want to throw up."

Next: Frank Sinatra >>

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