2021’s top political celebrity moments
The White House seeking help from an 18-year-old to promote COVID-19 vaccination. A reality star aiding in the aftermath of the U.S.’s chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal. A governor passing legislation inspired by a pop star.
The past year had no shortage of buzzworthy moments when celebrities got involved in political happenings. Here are some of the most talked-about stories involving A-listers from the last 12 months.
In 2021, the Olympic gold medalist and reality television star mounted an unsuccessful bid to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). After swirling speculation, Jenner announced her candidacy in April, making her the biggest name to challenge the incumbent governor.
The former “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star kept her famous family, the Kardashian-Jenner clan, out of her campaign. Jenner reportedly asked her adult children “not to be involved whatsoever.”
After Newsom beat the recall effort, Jenner said she would consider running again but added that the Republican Party needs to first become “more inclusive.”
In August, the iconic country singer shared what inspired her to donate $1 million to researchers developing Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“I knew something bad was on the rise and I just wanted to kind of help with that,” Parton told the U.K.’s Absolute Radio.
The “9 to 5” singer was among the famous faces that filmed themselves getting the COVID-19 vaccination. In a video she posted to social media in March, Parton sang an adapted version of her hit song “Jolene” with altered lyrics to promote vaccination while documenting the experience.
“Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you please don’t hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, ’cause once you’re dead, then that’s a bit too late,” she sang in the video.
— Dolly Parton (@DollyParton) March 2, 2021
The actor-turned-activist is no stranger to Capitol Hill, having become heavily involved in politics over the past few years. Milano took her activism to the next level in 2021 by teasing a potential congressional run in 2024.
“I’m looking at California’s 4th District to potentially run against [GOP Rep. Tom] McClintock,” Milano told ITK in June, adding that she’d hope to flip the seat blue.
The “Me Too” activist was later arrested at a White House voting rights protest in October. Milano explained her arrest on Twitter, saying she was “demanding the Biden Administration and the Senate to use their mandate to protect voting rights.”
Just days after the incident, Milano returned to Capitol Hill to provide testimony in support of the Equal Rights Amendment at a House hearing.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
The actor and former professional wrestler this year toyed with the idea of mounting a White House bid.
Johnson addressed his political aspirations several times but noted that his fate was in the hands of the general public.
“I would consider a presidential run in the future if that’s what the people wanted,” he told USA Today in February.
An April poll found that 58 percent of respondents wanted to see celebrity figures such as Johnson join the political world, prompting him to once again tease a bid during an interview on NBC News’s “Sunday Today.”
As of October, the “Jungle Cruise” star hadn’t ruled out a potential run.
“I don’t think our Founding Fathers ever envisioned a six-four, bald, tattooed, half-Black, half-Samoan, tequila drinking, pickup truck driving, fanny pack wearing guy joining their club — but if it ever happens it’d be my honor to serve you, the people,” Johnson said in a Vanity Fair interview.
Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician and TV host commonly known as Dr. Oz, entered the world of politics in late 2021 when he jumped into the Pennsylvania Senate race. Oz is running as a Republican to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) in one of 2022’s most competitive races.
“We have not managed our crises as effectively as past generations. During the pandemic, I learned that when you mix politics and medicine, you get politics instead of solutions. That’s why I am running for the U.S. Senate: to help fix the problems and to help us heal,” Oz wrote in an op-ed published by the Washington Examiner.
“The Dr. Oz Show” will end on Jan. 14 after more than a decade on the air.
The teen pop star teamed up with the Biden administration over the summer to promote COVID-19 vaccination among young people.
In July, the “Good 4 U” singer visited the White House to meet with President Biden and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, and pushed vaccination on social media. The 18-year-old also made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room, where she made brief remarks.
Brief remarks from Olivia Rodrigo in the White House briefing room. She said she was “beyond humbled” to be at the White House and is “in awe” of the work POTUS and Dr. Fauci have done on vaccines. pic.twitter.com/Go9DFLEvJj
— AlexGangitano (@AlexGangitano) July 14, 2021
“I am in awe of the work President Biden and Dr. Fauci have done and was happy to lend my support to this important initiative,” Rodrigo said.
Vice President Harris also shared a post to her Instagram featuring Rodrigo following her visit.
The former “Friends” star made several calls for COVID-19 vaccination throughout the year, arguing that people have a “moral” obligation to share whether they’ve gotten the shot.
“There’s still a large group of people who are anti-vaxxers or just don’t listen to the facts. It’s a real shame,” Aniston said in an interview for InStyle’s September issue.
She added, “It’s tricky because everyone is entitled to their own opinion — but a lot of opinions don’t feel based in anything except fear or propaganda.”
After catching some flack for her comments, the Emmy Award winner doubled down on her stance in an Instagram story. She later detailed being “bullied” and being called a “liberal Vax-hole” over her vaccine advocacy in a December interview for The Hollywood Reporter.
The Oscar-winning actor teased a potential Texas gubernatorial run throughout the year before finally nixing the idea last month. The “True Detective” star said he ultimately decided not to mount a challenge against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in favor of leading through other avenues, including by supporting entrepreneurs and leaders that help promote good citizenship.
“As a simple kid born in the little town of Uvalde, Texas, it never occurred to me that I would one day be considered for political leadership. It’s a humbling and inspiring path to ponder,” McConaughey said. “It is also a path that I’m choosing not to take at this moment.”
— Matthew McConaughey (@McConaughey) November 29, 2021
Before the actor put speculation to rest, current Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) shared their opinions on McConaughey.
O’Rourke echoed a similar sentiment in September, calling McConaughey a “really popular figure whose political views have not in any way been fixed.”
The pop legend took to social media to voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement in April.
Spears posted an image of Black man holding up a sign while sitting on a bus that read, “White people have generational wealth. Black people have generational trauma.”
“Just sayin’!” Spears captioned the image, which she shared with her more than 29 million Instagram followers.
Spears’s social justice post came months before she waged a legal battle to end her conservatorship. Before her 13-year arrangement came to an end, the performer inspired lawmakers to create legislation tackling conservatorship reform.
In July, Reps. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced a bill dubbed the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation, or the FREE Act, also known as the Free Britney Act.
“If it can happen to Britney Spears, it can happen to anyone in this country,” Mace said. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a similar bill into law in October.
The reality star and business mogul continued her criminal justice advocacy work in 2021 as she worked toward her law degree.
Kardashian, who notably helped commute the sentence of grandmother Alice Marie Johnson during the Trump administration, was a factor in the decision to commute the sentence of former death row inmate Julius Jones in November.
Jones, who was convicted of first-degree murder for a 1999 killing, was spared from death by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) just minutes before he was set to be executed by lethal injection. Kardashian was among those who put pressure on Stitt to commute the sentence after the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board in early November recommended that Jones’s sentence be commuted in light of doubts surrounding evidence from the case.
Kardashian also notably helped secure the safe transfer of an Afghan girls soccer team and their families to the United Kingdom following the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from the country this summer. The A-list mom and her brand, SKIMS, chartered the plane that carried 130 people.
“Many of those families left their houses when the Taliban took over. Their houses were burnt down,” she told The Associated Press. “Some of their family members were killed or taken by Taliban. So the danger and the stress was very high, and that’s why it was very important to move fast to get them outside Afghanistan.”
Jim Bob Duggar
The Duggar family patriarch decided to once again flex his political muscles in 2021 when he announced his candidacy for the Arkansas Senate. The former “19 Kids and Counting” star, who previously served in the Arkansas House, ran on a platform that targeted “cancel culture,” vaccine mandates and censorship from social media companies.
“The liberals scream ‘it’s my body’ when they want to end the life of an unborn child but would gladly force mandatory vaccines upon everyone without hesitation,” Duggar wrote on his campaign website’s “Why I’m Running” page.
His political run came as his son Josh Duggar pleaded not guilty to federal child pornography charges. The former TLC star was found guilty of receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography in early December.
Jim Bob Duggar lost the Republican nomination for the Arkansas state Senate seat days after the conviction.
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