Denzel Washington has been called an “actor’s actor”–someone that actors look up to. He has won numerous awards on screen and on stage. This year, he’s being honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the Biden Administration.
But, the Academy Award winner, 67, missed Thursday’s Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House after contracting the coronavirus. Washington was one of 17 people to be honored, PEOPLE.com confirmed.
“Denzel tested positive for COVID and so he was unfortunately unable to attend the Medal of Freedom award ceremony,” a rep for Washington says. The White House also confirmed his absence due to a positive COVID test.
“He feels fine,” a rep for Denzel Washington told PEOPLE.com.
Other honorees on Thursday included sports stars Megan Rapinoe and Simone Biles, and former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, among others. John McCain, Steve Jobs, and AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka all received the medal posthumously.
In a press release, President Biden said that Washington and his fellow honorees “demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation — hard work, perseverance, and faith.”
The statement continued, “They have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities — and across the world — while blazing trails for generations to come.”
Two of the latest COVID subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, appear to push past the protection from vaccines and previous infections more easily than most of their predecessors.
The most common Covid symptoms in June of 2022 were runny nose, sore throat, headache, persistent cough and fatigue. Less than one-third of people surveyed reported fevers, according to data from the Zoe COVID Symptom Study. It appears that Denzel might be experiencing lesser forms of these symptoms or no symptoms at all.
One thing many people wouldn’t necessarily know about Mr. Washington is that every step of his distinguished career, the award-winning actor and director has committed himself to philanthropic work. He and his wife, Pauletta Washington, have worked with and donated to numerous organizations, raised millions for The Smithsonian Museum of African-American History, and starting a multi-million-dollar effort to renovate playwright August Wilson’s childhood home.
He is also a spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Club. While several childhood friends ended up in prison, Washington chose a different path, and he credits the Club as being a steadying influence during tough times. Washington’s support is rooted in powerful, personal experience. “When it comes to Boys & Girls Clubs,” he says, “I know what I’m talking about.”
“In my town in Mount Vernon when I was in kindergarten I remember them building this club and hearing about what was going on in there,” explains Washington. “At first, it was just a place to go and have some fun. You know, I didn’t realize I was being taught a lesson for my life. I just thought I was going to play some basketball, but I’ve been a member in heart and mind for 58 years now.”
“Being involved in the club, I’m seeing young men and women express themselves and talk about their dreams and hopes and how they want to lead us forward as a country. It’s inspiring to me to know that we are in good hands.”
Denzel continues his legacy of philanthropy to Wiley College, a historically Black college in Marshall, Texas. This is the 15th year in a row that the actor has made a gift to the school, donating $100,000 to Wiley’s forensics program this month.
“That’s what it’s all about,” continues Washington. “I mean you can’t take it with you. To share my experiences with young people and to watch them listen and be curious, it’s the way to go. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To see the potential in these young people and to see their leadership, it’s inspiring to me.”