Denzel Washington was forced to retire from a White House ceremony where he was supposed to receive 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 the event Thursday, but said he would give Washington “at a later date.”

“There is 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 might not be here with us today, but I will give him this award later when he is able to get here.”

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values ​​or security of the United States, world peace, or other important social, public 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 Bile.

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Joe Biden awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Olympic gymnast Simone Biles
Joe Biden awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to US women's national soccer player Megan Rapinoe
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Megan Rapinoe receives the medal

Addressing Biles, who at 25 is the youngest ever to be honored, Mr. Biden said: “Today he adds to his medal count – I don’t know how you will find space.”

Gun control advocate Gabby Giffords also received the award.

The president presented her as “one of the bravest people I have ever met”.

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

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