Ellen DeGeneres breaks down in tears at star-studded Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony

Updated: 

Ellen DeGeneres broke down in tears as she and a host of stars were awarded America's highest civilian honour by President Barack Obama.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom recognises "especially meritorious contributions" to the national interests, security or culture of the United States.

Obama called this year's group of honourees a "particularly impressive class", with Tom Hanks and Robert De Niro recognised alongside fellow film stars Robert Redford and Cicely Tyson.

Ellen DeGeneres with President Barack Obama (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
Ellen DeGeneres with President Barack Obama (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Music stars Bruce Springsteen and Diana Ross and basketball greats Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were also honoured.

"I am the president, he is The Boss," Obama said of Bruce during the presentation at the White House.

Ellen wiped away tears as Obama praised her influence on the gay rights movement and said it was easy to forget the difficulties she faced when she came out as gay in 1997.

Sports broadcaster Vin Scully, centre,  is applauded by fellow Me dal Of Freedom honourees  Tom Hanks,Diana Ross, Michael Jordan and Bruce Springsteen
Sports broadcaster Vin Scully, centre, is applauded by fellow Medal of Freedom honourees Diana Ross, Tom Hanks, Michael Jordan and Bruce Springsteen (Andrew Harnik/AP)

"What an incredible burden that was to bear, to risk her career like that," he said. "People don't do that very often, and then to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders."

The host of the Ellen show was initially unable to enter the White House after she forget her official ID.

But she later revealed she had been allowed into the building as she posted a video of the group of Medal of Freedom winners taking part in a mannequin challenge.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda were recognised for their philanthropy work.

Other honourees included sports broadcaster Vin Scully, inventor Richard Garwin, architect Frank Gehry, computer scientist Margaret H. Hamilton and Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels.