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Top 10 People Who Refused History Most Prestigious Prizes

Updated on August 14, 2015


Many have dedicated their life work to battling the foundations that once ruled society and people’s mind. They revolutionized cultures, science, and even nations. But not all said ‘yes’ to the fame and money, among those life changing heroes, some due to madness or political views preferred to remain far away from those which are history most prestigious prizes.

10- John Lennon

There is no doubt that The Beatles were one ofthe best British bands ever. Performing worldwide in the 60’s, they had popularity as nobody else did in the industry at the time.Along with their success came many awards and national recognition. We guess they would be happy and contempt, but no, John Lennon returned the MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) givento him by the Queen herself. John even wrote a letter to the Queen stating the reasons why he was returning the title:

Watch Him Returning his MBE

“Your Majesty,

I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against 'Cold Turkey' slipping down the charts.

With love. John Lennon of Bag“

Lennon was a man who protested against what he thought was wrong, and what better way to protest than to say NO! Right to the Queen’s face.


9- Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak was a Russian poet, novelist and also a translator. His book “My Sister, Life” revolutionized Russian poetry in 1921 and made him a roll to follow for future young poets. On the exact same year he also published what is known to be his masterpiece “Rupture”. Following a great career, Boris was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, a great honor to any writer, an honor Pasternak refused. The reason he is our nº9 in the list, is because he didn’t refuse it willingly, he did so because the Nobel nomination by the Swedish Academy enraged the Communist Party of Soviet Union, to a point where he was evenexpelled from the Soviet Writer’s Union. The award was later accepted by his descendants on his behalf in 1988.

(source: )

8- Sir Alfred Hitchcock

British film Director Alfred Hitchcock is probably the most regarded Director of the movie industry. The man was a pioneer, he created many of the movie producing techniques directors still use nowadays. Among his many awards and honors we can count 2 Golden Globes, 8 Laurel Awards, 5 Lifetime Achievement awards, as well as5 nominations for Best Director by the prestigious Academy Award.

Much glory and recognition, but Mr. Hitchcock refused in 1962 a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) from the Queen. Later before his death he did end up accepting a knighthood.Hitchcock is just one of 277 people who refused honors from the British Empire, a list that the Cabinet Office of England was forced to present to public in 2012. Full list here ( ).

(source: )

7- Stephen Hawking

Nowadays with all the “hype” around him because of the movie “The Theory of Everything”, the famous physics genius Stephen Hawking is everywhere. Which brings us to memory that one time when he declinedthe Queen’sknighthood.One of the reasons being, he just doesn’t like titles (in this case the ‘sir’), he actually despises the whole concept of it. But there’s more to it, the main reason for Hawking having declined such honor from the British Empire, were his thoughts behind the way United Kingdom had mismanaged the science funding. I guess by now we can say many geniuses are not very fond of “Britain’s old lady”.

(source: )

6- Erik Axel Karlfeldt

Karlfeldt was a lyric poet and master of rhyme and meter. He gained fame trough his tradition-bound poetry full of high symbolism. In 1918 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature but Karlfeldt refused mentioning that too many Swedish writers had already received the award, and since he was Secretary of the Nobel Committee itself, the poet convinced his colleagues not to vote for him and to discard his nomination. He received the Nobel posthumously in 1931, same year he died, becoming the only Nobel Prize for Literature posthumously awarded.

(source: )

5- LêĐứcThọ

Sometimes being a genius is not solving a great mathematical problem or writing a revolutionary book, sometimes is fighting for what is right and bringing peace to a country at war. LêĐứcThọ was a Vietnamese politician that fought the French rules in Vietnam and worked alongside Henry Kissinger for a cease-fire in Vietnam and for the retreat of American troops on the ground. He was arrested two times for his political activities (1930-1936 and 1939-1944), but he never gave up, always kept fighting for his country and its people. In 1973 Tho and fellow colleague Henry Kissinger were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in negotiating the Paris Peace Accords. However LêĐứcThọ declined, claiming that peace had not yet been achieved because U.S and South Vietnam were violating the peace agreement.

(Source: )

4- Jean Paul Sartre

Sartre was a French philosopher, playwright, novelist and political activist. He was one of the leading figures of the 20th-century philosophy. Threw plays he conveyed many of his thoughts and philosophies. In 1964 the Swedish Academy decided to award him with the most prestigious literature prize, the Nobel, Sartre declined. Stating in his letter to Swedish Press regarding the refusal: “my refusal is not an impulsive gesture, I have always declined official honors”. It was not the first time the philosopher refused a prestigious prize, he had previously refused the Legion of Honor, a high decoration established by the historical former emperor of France, Napoleon Bonaparte. Jean Paul Sartre believes a writer’s name and work should not be connected to an institution, and by accepting a Nobel Prize he would forever be associated with the Swedish Academy and all the political preferences that came along with it.

(source: )

3- Grigori Perelman

You know you are a genius when you have solved one of the 7 Millennium Prize Problems. They are the hardest problems ever presented in math, many geniuses have tried to solve them and failed. The American philanthropist Landon Clay offers $1.000.000 for each problem solved. Only one of those seven problems has been solved, the Poincaré conjecture problem (see:, that had remained unsolved for a century. The brain behind it was Grigori Perelman a Russian mathematician, and yes he does look like your crazy math teacher from university. In fact, he does have a bit of craziness in him, not only he declined the cash prize and the Fieds Medal award he also refused to appear at the congress, stating "I'm not interested in money or fame; I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo". He is the only mathematician to have refused a Fieds Medal.


Also: Grigori Perelman documentary

2- L.S Lowry

When it comes to turning down awards, nobody else has rejected as many as the British painter L.S Lowry. In fact he owns the current record for most refused British Empire honors ever, five to be precise. Lowry gained fame by painting urban landscapes with human figures often referred by fans and art enthusiasts as “matchstick men”, his most famous piece of work is a series of portraits he did about a girl named Ann. The renowned painter rejected an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1955; a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1961; a knighthood in 1968; a Companion of Honor in both 1972 and 1976.


1- Oliver Cromwell

The man who said ‘no’ to one of the biggest awards in history, the British crown! One only dream about being king and holding a crown, but not Cromwell. English military and political dictator, Cromwell, was one of the men behind the infamous regicide of Charles I. In fact, he was one of the 59 court members who voted on the king’s trial and consequently his execution. After the execution, Cromwell was formally offered the crown and its titles in an attempt to stabilize the constitution under a civilian-led style of government.After much thought Cromwell, refused the honors, but still ruled as Lord Protector of England. One year after Cromwell death, all what he had fought for fell and the monarchy returned.

(source: )


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    • StephanPoe profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Glad you enjoyed it cianeko :)

    • cianeko profile image

      AT Abueva 

      3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I didn't know that the Queen also experienced being rejected until I read this. Thanks for sharing this article.

    • StephanPoe profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Hello Chantelle! Thank you for reading, I hope it was a useful and interesting information for you.

    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 

      3 years ago from Chicago

      I really enjoyed this article. I learned a lot. Thanks for sharing.


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