Comedian Ellen DeGeneres was among honoured with the country's highest civilian medal.
US president Barack Obama honoured DeGeneres for her influence on the gay rights movement who was among 21 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Michael Jordan were among those who received the award, which recognises contributions to United States culture, security and international interests. It is is the highest honour a civilian can receive.
"These are folks who have helped make me who I am,'' Obama said.
"Everybody on this stage has touched me in a very powerful, personal way, in ways that they probably couldn't imagine."
In 1997 Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay.
Presenting DeGeneres with the award President Obama said her bravery helped "push our country in the direction of justice".
"It's easy to forget now, when we've come so far... just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago," he said during the award ceremony at the White House.
"What an incredible burden that was to bear - to risk your career like that - people don't do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders."