Who makes your list of most inspirational people? Who motivates you to be your best self? Who makes you want to get off the couch and start inventing something, helping somebody, or just being a better person?
Recent coverage of 86-year-old gymnast Johanna Quaas — who still moves like a tween on the parallel bars — got me thinking about folks worth admiring. Here are a few:
Bill Gates. The Microsoft chairman could spend his $61 billion (according to Forbes) on yachts. But instead, he and his wife started the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, officially dedicated to bringing innovations in health, development, and learning to the global community.
Warren Buffett. The 81-year-old, worth $44 billion, could just retire to the Omaha home he bought in 1958 for $31,500. Nah. Instead, he is still investing and trying to get the rich to give back. Along with Microsoft's Bill Gates and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, he has promised to donate at least half of his wealth to charity- and has asked other wealthy people to join in.
J.K. Rowling. The one-time teacher and single mom spent six years writing the first Harry Potter book - and then got rejected by nine publishers. Fortunately, she persevered. Her seven-novel series got millions of reluctant readers to love books. Yay! The Harry Potter franchise also made Rowling a wealthy woman (Forbes called her "the first female billionaire novelist"). The 46-year-old isn't just resting on her laurels. In February she announced that she is writing an adult book. An inspirational quote from her: "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you've lived so cautiously, that you might as well not have lived at all."
Bono. The 51-year-old lead singer of U2, the world's richest entertainer, has been married to his childhood sweetheart for 29 years. The father of four has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace for his work to help Africa. Why not make like Bono and volunteer?
Meryl Streep. The 62-year-old Academy Award-winning actress has been married to her husband, Don Gummer, for 34 years (the equivalent of hundreds of years in Hollywood). She managed to make high-quality movies while raising four seemingly well-adjusted kids.
Helen Mirren. At 66, Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren looks fabulous without trying to appear like a 20-year-old. She marches to her own drummer, saying she didn't have kids because she felt she lacked a maternal instinct and not getting married for the first time until she was 53.
No longer with us but on my list:
Paul Newman. He started the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for kids with serious illnesses such as cancer. And he always stayed faithful to actress Joanne Woodward, his wife for a half century, telling an interviewer, "Why go out for hamburger when you've got steak at home?" (See who else makes the longest celebrity marriages list.)
Abe Lincoln. The president who freed the slaves packed a lot of accomplishments into his 56 years. He also said some of my favorite quotes, such as "Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle." He was a clear thinker and clear writer. Scholars note that nine out of 10 words in his Gettysburg address were one syllable. ("Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.") (Read how to write more clearly, a la Lincoln.)
Thomas Edison. The one-time telegraph operator developed the phonograph and figured out how to bring electricity to the masses. A hard worker, he famously said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration," and, "The chief ingredients for success are imagination plus ambition and the will to work."
Eleanor Roosevelt. The First Lady from 1933 to 1945 pushed for civil rights and women's rights. Among her inspirational quotes: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." She (and her husband, FDR) grew up privileged but started programs for the poor. (Read more about presidential families.)
Martin Luther King. Before his assassination at age 39, the peaceful civil rights leader inspired millions with lines such as, "I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood."
Mark Twain. The author publicly supported freeing slaves and giving women the right to vote. Among his famous sayings: "Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been."
Who else belongs on a list of most inspirational people? Please comment and add to this list.
For more about inspirational celebrities, read: