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The 10 Most Heartwarming Grownup Celebrity Moments of 2022

We dare you not to reach for the tissues while reading these

A collage of celebrities from Dolly Parton to Sheryl Lee Ralph

Photo Illustration: MOA Staff; (Source: Getty Images (5))


From toxic tabloids to reality franchises that thrive off tension, celebrity culture can often be a not-so-nice world. Luckily, over the past year, there have been plenty of grownup celebrities who filled our timelines and TV screens with moments of grace, good humor, warmth, joy and kindness. Take a walk down memory lane with these 10 feel-good stories, which restored our faith in Hollywood — and humanity.


Actor Troy Kotsur holding his Oscar at the Academy Awards

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Troy Kotsur became an unexpected Oscar darling

The little film that could, CODA was a Sundance breakout that follows the “child of deaf adults,” Ruby Rossi (20-year-old Emilia Jones), who hopes to become a singer but doesn’t want to abandon her family. At the Academy Awards, the indie darling defeated blockbuster Goliaths to win in three categories, including best picture, and Troy Kotsur, 54, took home best supporting actor for his role as Ruby’s fisherman father, Frank. Only the second deaf actor to win an Oscar — after his CODA wife, Marlee Matlin, 57 — Kotsur delivered his acceptance speech in American Sign Language and thanked his father, who had been paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident and was no longer able to sign. It was such a moving moment that Kotsur’s interpreter got audibly choked up.


Dolly Parton on stage at  the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony

Amy Sussman/WireImage/Getty images

Dolly Parton showed off her humble side, then became a rock star

In the spring, country legend Dolly Parton, 76, was nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and she took to social media to decline the nod. Even though she was “extremely flattered and grateful,” she wrote, “I don’t feel that I have earned that right. I really do not want the votes to be split because of me, so I must respectfully bow out.” The silver lining: The nomination inspired her to write her first rock ’n’ roll album (Rock Star, which will debut in 2023). When she was named one of the official inductees, Parton had a change of heart and said she would “accept gracefully” out of respect for the fans who voted for her. During the November induction ceremony at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater, she opened her speech by joking, “I’m a rock star now!” before donning a black leather jumpsuit and an electric guitar to debut her new tune “Rock Song.” “I figure if I’m gonna be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame,” she announced, “I’m gonna have to earn it.”


Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin said goodbye to Grace and Frankie

After seven seasons, the hit Netflix sitcom Grace and Frankie came to an end with a sweet series finale that — spoiler alert if you haven’t watched yet — saw the bawdy, boozy duo Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda reuniting with their 9 to 5 costar Dolly Parton, 76. She appeared as a “working-class angel” who Grace and Frankie meet in heaven after accidentally electrocuting themselves. (Don’t worry, she sends them back down to Earth for a second shot at life.) Perhaps even more charming than the last run of episodes was the pair’s farewell media tour, which reached its zany peak with their appearance on The Vanity Fair Game Show, in which they quizzed each other on their 50 years of friendship. Fans of Tomlin, 83, and Fonda, 85, won’t have to wait long to see them back on screen together: They costar in the Super Bowl–themed comedy 80 for Brady, which hits theaters in February.


Actor Brendan Fraser at the Venice Film Festival

John Phillips/Getty Images for BFI

Brendan Fraser got emotional at the Venice Film Festival premiere of The Whale

After his career got off to a promising start in the 1990s, Brendan Fraser, 54, mostly disappeared from the spotlight, in part because of a series of debilitating on-set injuries, and also because he alleges he was the victim of sexual assault at the hands of a powerful industry player, which nearly made him quit Hollywood altogether. He slowly started returning to the screen in a series of well-received supporting TV and film roles, but this year marks his big comeback. He’s earning major Oscar buzz for his turn as a reclusive and morbidly obese writing professor in 53-year-old Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale. When the wrenching drama premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September, the chronically underrated actor was met with a six-minute standing ovation, and he got visibly emotional at the crowd reception. It’s impossible not to root for the noted good guy, who recently nabbed his first Golden Globe nomination for the role.


Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph holds up her trophy during her acceptance speech at the Emmys

Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images

Sheryl Lee Ralph delivered an instantly iconic Emmys acceptance speech

Four decades after her Tony-nominated turn in Broadway’s Dreamgirls, Sheryl Lee Ralph, 65, finally got another juicy role she could sink her teeth into when she was cast as the caring kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard on ABC’s public school–set mockumentary Abbott Elementary. For her work on the inaugural season, she became the first Black actress to win the Primetime Emmy for best supporting actress in a comedy series in 35 years. When her name was announced, the audience leaped to their feet, and when she reached the stage, Ralph belted out Dianne Reeves’ powerful anthem “Endangered Species”: “I am an endangered species/ But I sing no victim’s song/ I am a woman, I am an artist/ And I know where my voice belongs.” She continued, “To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like.”


Actress Christina Applegate reacts in joy after her star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame is revealed

Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images

Christina Applegate made her first public appearance since her MS diagnosis

Last year, Emmy-winning actress Christina Applegate, 51, announced via Twitter that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she didn’t make another public appearance until this November, when her star was unveiled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Backed by her Married… with Children family Katey Sagal, 68, and David Faustino, 48, and her Dead to Me co-star Linda Cardellini, 47, she tearfully thanked her friends and family members for their support but showed off her trademark wit, joking, “Oh, by the way, I have a disease. Did you not notice? I'm not even wearing shoes! Anyhoo, you're supposed to laugh at that.” She ended on a note of sincere gratitude: “Thank you so much, this is an incredible honor.”


The album cover for Kate Bush's Hounds of Love

David Lichtneker/Alamy

Kate Bush improbably had the song of the summer

It’s been 37 years since English singer-songwriter Kate Bush, 64, released “Running Up That Hill,” her biggest hit in the United States, which peaked at number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100. All that changed this summer when the song featured prominently in the new season of Netflix’s Stranger Things, skyrocketing it up to number 3 on the charts! The usually media-shy artist agreed to a rare interview with BBC, her first since 2016, and she said of the song’s newfound success, “[Stranger Things] is such a great series, I thought that the track would get some attention. But I just never imagined that it would be anything like this. It’s so exciting. But it’s quite shocking, really, isn’t it? I mean, the whole world’s gone mad.”


Actress Michelle Yeoh speaking at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival

Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for SBI

Michelle Yeoh finally received the accolades she deserves

The 60-year-old Malaysian-born actress had an incredible year thanks to the unexpected success of the absurdist action-adventure-comedy Everything Everywhere All at Once, which places her on this year’s short list of best actress front-runners. The film sees Yeoh taking on villains in countless parallel universes in increasingly kickass action sequences, but in interviews about the project, she showed off a decidedly more vulnerable side. In one viral clip with GQ, she dabbed tears as she recalled her decision to sign on for the film: “[This] is something I’ve been waiting for, for a long time, that’s going to give me the opportunity to show my fans, my family, my audience what I’m capable of: to be funny, to be real, to be sad. Finally, somebody understood that I can do all these things.” There’s so much unspoken in those tears shed — about her place in Hollywood as an Asian actress and the opportunities missed over the decades — but for now, we can celebrate her victories.


U2 and other celebrities in support of Ukraine

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Celebrities visited Ukraine to show their support

During the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, many celebrities — including Angelina Jolie, 47, Sean Penn, 62, Liev Schreiber, 55, and Ben Stiller, 57 — made visits to the war-torn nation to volunteer, meet with refugees and shine a spotlight on the conflict. Stiller memorably met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 44, telling him, “You’re my hero. What you’ve done and the way that you’ve rallied the country and for the world, it’s really inspiring.” Ukraine-born Mila Kunis, 39, and husband Ashton Kutcher, 44, have raised $37 million and counting on their GoFundMe page, while chef José Andrés, 53, and his World Central Kitchen charity had served more than 150 million meals by September. And Marvel regular Benedict Cumberbatch, 46, proved his superhero bona fides by housing a Ukrainian family in his U.K. house, remarking, “I want to give them some stability after the turmoil that they’ve experienced, and that’s within my home.”


Joni Mitchell at the Newport Folk Festival

Carlin Stiehl for The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Joni Mitchell returns to the Newport Folk Festival after health struggles

Since having a brain aneurysm in 2015, the Canadian songstress, 79, has made very few public appearances, and she had to teach herself to walk, sing and play guitar again. She put that hard work to good use with a surprise appearance at July’s Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, performing her first full-length public concert in two decades. But this wasn’t some quick cameo: She played a 13-song set, including the hits “A Case of You,” “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Both Sides Now,” complete with a rousing electric guitar solo on “Just Like This Train.” Seated in a throne-like chair and flanked by fellow artists Wynonna Judd, 58, and Brandi Carlile, 41, Mitchell held court as the queen of folk, and her resilience left many in the audience and onstage awestruck and emotional.

Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.

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