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Top 20 Celebrity Activists of All Time

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

George Clooney speaks with President Barack Obama about the political climate in the Sudan

President Barack Obama talks about Sudan with George Clooney during a meeting outside the Oval Office in 2010. — Pete Souza/The White House/Corbis

George Clooney

On screen, Clooney represents a throwback to a bygone age of Hollywood elegance — the closest thing to another Cary Grant that the film community has produced. In his political life, Clooney is helping to forge the emerging model of 21st-century celebrity activism.

Following a mold cut primarily by Bono (whom he freely acknowledges as an inspiration), Clooney is global in his orientation (his principal political cause has been the violence in Darfur); disciplined in his commitments (the relief telethon he organized after the Haitian earthquake was a rare break from his focus on Africa); interested more in direct action than in electoral politics (although he supports President Obama, he wasn't a visible figure in his campaign); willing to work with political leaders from both parties; measured in his public comments; and creative in his use of modern communications tools to advance his causes.

Clooney became perhaps the first celebrity with his own satellite when he partnered with Google, Harvard University and the United Nations to fund one to monitor potential violence during the voting on independence for south Sudan this year. Clooney has also been an institution builder, joining with actors Don Cheadle, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and others to found Not on Our Watch, a group that aims to mobilize global attention in the wake of humanitarian disasters and atrocities.

Political insiders surveyed by National Journal praised his "sincerity," "hard work" and "strictly humanitarian [effort] with no taint of self-promotion." Witty, self-deprecating and dogged, Clooney is acquiring a reputation in the political world that parallels his on-camera persona — something like a car that attracts with its style but ultimately impresses for its reliability.

Next: Melvyn Douglas and Helen Gahagan Douglas >>

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