The 150 most essential people in the history of popular culture.
- Muhammad Ali– So much more than just a boxer, Ali just epitomizes the word icon.
- Elvis Presley– Mike might be the King of Pop, but Elvis is just the straight up King. If rock and roll has a birthdate, it probably has a something to do with this guy’s hips.
- Babe Ruth– The man, the myth, the legend. Even all these years later, no one even comes close to the Sultan of Swat.
- John Lennon– Tough to pick between Paul and John for the higher spot, but Lennon’s activism and early death earn enough icon points to be the difference.
- Bob Dylan– The voice of a generation and perhaps the greatest songwriter to ever pick up a guitar.
- Marilyn Monroe– Maybe the most beloved movie star ever, Monroe bedded the top athlete, playwright and politicians of her era. Not too shabby.
- Michael Jackson– Hard to defend at this point, but there’s no denying his nearly unparalleled impact on popular culture. (They don’t call him the King of Pop for nothing, or at least that’s what they used to call him) Also, he made Thriller. Thriller.
- Michael Jordan– His Airness, the undisputed greatest sports marketing icon of all time.
- Al Capone– The archetypal gangster, Scarface took criminality to new heights of celebrity.
- Paul McCartney– May be too low on this list. Paul McCartney is pop music.
- Charlie Chaplin– For a solid twenty-year stretch, there was no more famous person on the entire planet than Charlie Chaplin. Film classics like City Lights and The Gold Rush still hold up today.
- Marlon Brando– Brando basically invented acting as we know it today.
- Frank Sinatra– The dopest crooner that ever lived.
- Alfred Hitchcock– Arguably the greatest director of all time, Hitchcock was also a larger than life figure that brought the cameo to new heights.
- Johnny Carson– The guy for thirty years of late night television.
- Jackie Robinson– A true sports icon and a damn good second baseman to boot.
- Walt Disney– An animation pioneer, a 22-time Oscar winning producer, and miner of childhood magic.
- David Bowie– If every one of Bowie’s personas could have it’s own vote, he’d probably be up here five times.
- Martin Scorsese– Hitchcock and Kubrick may be the two most important directors ever, but when it comes to modern film, no one’s made more classics than Scorsese.
- Mickey Mantle– If you were a seven-year-old boy during the fifties and sixties, there was no one you dreamed about being more than The Mick.
- Bing Crosby– No recording artist more sold more than Bing in the 20th Century.
- Joe DiMaggio– The Yankee Clipper, his 56-game hit streak is one of the most iconic records in any sport.
- Steven Spielberg– He invented the blockbuster with Jaws, perfected it with E.T. and Jurassic Park, and ascended to new heights with Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
- James Brown– The ultimate frontman and the all-time hardest working dude in show biz.
- Robert De Niro– The Godfather. Goodfellas. Raging Bull. Taxi Driver. A movie resume to rival any in history.
- Pablo Escobar– The most iconic drug dealer the world has ever known.
- Mary Pickford– The OG of pop culture icons, Pickford was the original movie star and possibly the first true celebrity.
- Prince– When you can change your name to a symbol and the world just goes along with it, you know you’ve reached a whole other level of celebrity.
- Mick Jagger– The most prolific frontman to ever rock an arena.
- Madonna– A titan of Eighties fashion, music, love, and all around celebrity.
- Al Pacino– Before he started drifting into caricature mode in the late 90’s, Pacino played some of the most iconic roles in history. Michael Corleone and Tony Montana are the quintessential gangster roles of modern day.
- Harrison Ford– Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Does it get any more iconic?
- Paul Newman– From playing Fast Eddie Felson to Cool Hand Luke to Butch Cassidy, there was no cooler star in sixies America than Paul Newman.
- Tom Hanks– Is there anyone more beloved in Hollywood right now than Tom Hanks?
- Stevie Wonder– Stevie signed with Motown at the age of 11 and has been killing it ever since.
- Humphrey Bogart– The ultimate leading man during Hollywood’s golden age.
- Lucille Ball– The funniest woman on television during a time when everyone was watching the same three things. Everyone loved Lucy.
- Louis Armstrong– Foundational jazz trumpeter and one of the first mainstream African-American cross-over entertainers in American history.
- John Wayne– The manliest man who ever manned.
- Oprah Winfrey–Oprah isn’t just a talk show host. She’s a media empire.
- Shirley Temple– A child star, American diplomat, and tasty beverage.
- Eddie Murphy– Arguably the most important star in SNL history, Eddie single-handedly saved the show from extinction following the original cast exodus.
- Miles Davis– Miles birthed the cool in more ways than one. No modern jazz artist looms larger.
- Richard Pryor– The father of modern stand-up, Pryor transformed his tragic upbringing into comedy gold.
- Bob Marley– 10 million dorm room posters can’t be wrong.
- David Letterman– A titan of late night, Letterman reinvented what was possible in comedy.
- Meryl Streep– Meryl Streep is to all other actresses what Tiger Woods is to all other black golfers.
- Mel Brooks– The rare five-tool comedian, Mel’s writing, directing, and acting talents have earned him the grand slam of entertainment awards (Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony).
- Steve Jobs- A visionary for the computer age.
- Bruce Lee– As synonymous with the Kung-Fu flick as any one man could be with a genre of movies.
- Joe Namath– The first true face of football, Namath’s marketability was instrumental to the early success of the NFL.
- Bill Murray– A national treasure and the funniest guy in every room he’s ever been in.
- Elton John– 300 million records sold
- Denzel Washington
- Elizabeth Taylor
- Bruce Springsteen
- James Dean
- Johnny Cash
- Lorne Michaels
- Harry Houdini
- Tony Bennett
- James Stewart
- Buddy Holly
- Hugh Hefner
- Andy Warhol
- Tom Cruise
- Sammy Davis Jr
- Audrey Hepburn
- O.J. Simpson
- Groucho Marx
- Jack Nicklaus
- Jim Brown
- Katharine Hepburn
- Jack Nicholson
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Tiger Woods
- Jerry Seinfeld
- Ray Charles
- Jayne Mansfield
- Eric Clapton
- LeBron James
- Woody Allen
- Robert Redford
- Magic Johnson
- Joe Louis
- Sean Connery
- Ernest Hemingway
- Jerry Garcia
- Clark Gable
- Jimi Hendrix
- Clint Eastwood
- Aretha Franklin
- Jim Morrison
- Whitney Houston
- Christopher Walken
- Charles Manson
- Will Ferrell
- Dr. Dre
- Joan Rivers
- Bill Cosby
- Will Smith
- Wilt Chamberlain
- Justin Timberlake
- Ted Bundy
- John Belushi
- Freddie Mercury
- Dick Clark
- William Shatner
- Jerry Lewis
- Michael J. Fox
- Julia Roberts
- Notorious BIG
- Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Rudolph Valentino
- Bo Jackson
- Ted Danson
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus
- Kurt Cobain
- Robin Williams
- Derek Jeter
- Arnold Palmer
- Judy Garland
- Stan Lee
- Larry David
- Stephen King
- Andrew Lloyd Webber
- Pamela Anderson
- Christopher Reeve
- Grace Kelly
- Bob Hope
- Carol Burnett
- Cindy Crawford
- Mike Tyson
- Samuel L. Jackson
- Brad Pitt
- Taylor Swift
- George Clooney
- Dean Martin
- Wayne Gretzky
- Stanley Kubrick
- Orson Welles
- Diana Ross
- Kanye West
- Jon Stewart
- Britney Spears
- Quentin Tarantino
- Hulk Hogan
The Bubble: Sylvester Stallone, Evil Knievel, Rihanna, Andre the Giant, Tom Brady, Dwayne Johnson, Liberace, Jackie Chan, Morgan Freeman, Steve Martin, Joe Montana, Bono, Shaquille O’Neal, Drake, Ozzy Osbourne, Christie Brinkley, Jay Leno, Ralph Lauren, Alex Trebek, George Carlin, Dale Earnhardt, Steve McQueen, Raquel Welch, Jennifer Lopez, Mickey Rooney, Farrah Fawcett, Cher, Burt Reynolds, Lady Gaga, Howard Stern
*No political or history figures (with all apologies to Princess Diana, Martin Luther King, Joan of Arc, Obama, Columbus, Jesus etc etc)
what??? No Jackie Chan.. He is afterall the greatest action movie star of all time and the world knows him…
worth a bubble add
Sorry but….why George Clooney and not Johnny depp or Jim Carrey?
Clooney for his multi-disciplinary talents (major TV start, major movie star, writer, director, academy award nominations in 6 different categories) Depp’s last decade has been bad enough that I think its fair to exclude him. Carrey is right on the bubble.
nonsense. Captian Jack Freakin Sparrow has his own cameo in a Disney ride. East AND west.
And not to mention Depp has aboused his wife and frankly doesn’t deserve the attention
HIS WIFE ABUSED HIM. FULL STOP.
Bill Cosby and O.J Simpson are on there…
Freddie Mercury: the greatest rock frontman. Could just state Queen as a whole given they are the best live rock act ever. Chuck in Bohemian Rhapsody launching the age of the music video.
Monty Python: “The beatles of comedy” for good reason. Like the rock band they were a self contained unit, writing their own material, discarding the rules of television comedy with absurdist skits (see Saturday night live for Python’s influence)
George Orwell: no writer has influenced pop culture more since Charles Dickens from the century before. Hemingway (on the list), James Joyce, Virginia Woolf are probably greater literary talents from the 20th century, but none come near the impact of Orwell on political/popular culture. Orwellian: Big Brother, thought crime, room 101, memory hole. government surveillance
Stan Lee: the godfather of comics.
Ozzy Osbourne: frontman of a band that started a genre.
Andrew Lloyd Webber: musical theatre king. Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Jesus Christ Superstar
Good call Kerry! Sticking to individuals only I think its difficult to add any one member of Monty Python for being particularly iconic (though Cleese comes closest) Still, I think Stan Lee, Mercury, and LLoyd Webber have gotta be there, and now are thanks to you. Orwell’s impact was surely great, though I don’t think it was strictly pop cultural enough for this list.
Kubric is 143.?? STANLEY FCKING KUBRICK!?
In terms of impact than yes 100% should be right up near the top–arguably the greatest director of modern cinema. However calling Kubrick iconic a tough one- I don’t know how many average people would be able to pick his face out of a lineup. A master craftsman almost completely devoid of the usual celebrity that accompanies that profession.
First time I’ve ever heard his name. Simply not a household name at all
Picasso is a huge exclusion among 20th century pop culture figures, especially since you include Warhol.
I’m glad Britney Spears makes this list even if she is ranked 148/150 (yet Pamela Anderson is 130…..). Britney helped opened the doors in the 90’s for all singers, for people like Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Justin Timberlake’s owes a lot of his fame to dating Britney (arguably the most famous person in the world at the time). An interesting choice to see them ranked above Britney here.
I feel the Spice Girls also deserve a mention. Their cultural impact was massive and they paved the way for Britney and other teeny boppers.
Beyoncé and Britney came out around the same time! Actually Beyoncé debuted with destiny child a year before than Britney! Britney did not paved a way for Beyoncé!
Feeling like Roberto Clemente is a big miss here. A superstar athlete, world champion, who died tragically while trying to help others.
Magic Johnson without Larry Bird?
Lots of classic Hollywood stars missing: Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant, and perhaps most iconic of all Greta Garbo.
Julia Louis Dreyfuss???? What the hell is she doing on here
Ted Bundy is a criminal. He shouldn’t be on the list
What about OJ Simpson?
lmao are you kidding how can you not include Katy Perry —- she was unstoppable and literally everywhere from 2009-2016 …. teenage dream is literally the definition of pop
Clearly this list is an American perspective since it has a lot of baseball players that no one outside of the US knows anything about. And Bill Murray is the 52nd greatest pop icon ever? That’s gotta be a joke!
Michael should easily be much higher on this list, I mean top 3 wouldn’t be so bad for him. I mean you could say you don’t like his music (although he outsold your favorite artist) but his fame is undeniable. He is more famous than anyone on this list, most of the time by a mile like with Marylin Monroe, Lennon, Dylan. He was much more famous than both Dylan and Monroe by just too much, his fame dominated the 80s, 90s, and 00s, however Lennon comes a little closer but only from ’64-70.
Also, it’s not “hard to defend him”. He was acquitted by a jury of his peers. Some other things on this list don’t make sense either, some deserve to be higher/lower, but I guess everyone has their own list.