Denzel Washington was forced to pull out of a White House ceremony where he was to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Oscar-winning actor and the director was among 17 others to receive the award, the highest civilian honor that can be bestowed in the United States.

President Joe Biden presented the medals at an event Thursday, but said Washington would give them to him “at a later date.”

“There’s a man who couldn’t be here today but wanted to be: Denzel Washington, one of our greatest actors in American history,” he said.

“He couldn’t be here with us today, but I will give him this reward later if he can come here.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant public, community, or private endeavors.

In addition to Washington, other celebrities on the list include two Olympic gold medal winners, soccer player Megan Rapinoe and gymnast Simone Biles.

More about Denzel Washington

Joe Biden awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Olympic gymnast Simone Biles
Joe Biden awards US women's soccer player Meghan Rapinoe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Megan Rapinoe gets a medal

Addressing Biles, who at 25 is the youngest recipient of the award, Mr Biden said: “She’s adding to the medal count today – I don’t know how you’re going to find room.”

Gun control advocate Gabby Giffords also received an award.

The president introduced her as “one of the bravest people I have ever known.”

The Democrat nearly died after being shot in the head at a campaign event in Tucson in January 2011.

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