From George Clooney to Bill O’Reilly and from Elizabeth Warren to Jeff Bezos, we reveal 2015’s definitive ranking of the most powerful Americans 50+.
What is power? Now, that was the key question we had to grapple with as we made this sure to be talked about list. It boiled down to this: Influence. If your presence, your words, your endorsement of anything moved the needle considerably in perception or tangible action—social media, legislation, business practices, innovation—you had power. Billionaires (and there are plenty of those in this country and on our list) are only wealthy people if they also don’t use their considerable resources to move the needle however they see fit. With that in mind, what follows is the NiC 50, the definitive ranking of the most powerful Americans 50+ in 2015.
50 Tom Hanks
Has anyone ever carried the mantle of “America’s most beloved movie star” lighter than Tom Hanks? Cary Grant? Jimmy Stewart? Maybe. But for this two-time Oscar winner (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump), every performance he gives is a revelation in “everyman-hood” that leaves his movie audiences (and critics) shaking their heads in amazement. Tom Hanks is the real deal.
49 Whoopi Goldberg
Though Whoopi Goldberg is one of the few people on this planet who simply doesn’t need a last name to be recognized, her tenure as moderator on The View has become decidedly less impactful. Too often relegating herself to an intractable, my-way-or-the-highway approach, Goldberg still has a daily national perch to spout her (often) contrarian opinions.
48 Kathy Griffin
2015 started out a little rough for the take-no-prisoners, celebrity-bashing funny lady (we’ll skim over the entire, albeit brief, Fashion Police fiasco), but there’s no denying when the need arises (and when does it not arise?) to skewer the Hollywood entitled celebs, Griffin remains unrivaled—by a country mile.
47 Robert Redford
A true testament to how a beloved movie icon can transition gracefully in a career (from leading man, to occasional supporting player to creating one of the world’s premiere film festivals), Robert Redford gets it right. Oh, and if your independent film gets into Sundance, your own Hollywood journey can get the jump start it needs.
46 James Patterson
The writer behind the global sensation Alex Cross and Michael Bennett books, Patterson was certified by Guinness World Record as the first novelist to sell more than one million e-books. His fans will make sure he’s in the black for a very long time to come.
45 Ted Turner
The outspoken founder of CNN—a network that instantly changed the media landscape by introducing the ubiquitous 24-hour cable news phenomenon—has also put his considerable fortune do the talking as well, most famously his $1 billion gift to the United Nations, an organization that most of his fellow billionaires deride openly. Ted Turner is a true American original.
44 Bobby Flay
Is there a show on Food Network that Bobby Flay isn’t starring, hosting or competing? The New York City-based celebrity chef also operates highly acclaimed restaurants in his ever-expanding empire. The master of the grill and lover of Southwestern flavors is affable, relatable and talented. And, now he’s a bachelor too.
43 Brad Pitt
Arguably the name most Americans would say if asked to name the “most handsome” movie star, Pitt has maintained that aesthetic appeal while choosing interesting roles (Moneyball, The Tree Of Life, Inglourious Basterds) and being one-half (with wife Angelina Jolie) of the world’s most glamorous (and powerful) couples.
42 Alice Waters
The creator of “California cuisine”—forever changing how Americans dine out by focusing on fresh, locally harvested produce—is the chef and proprietor of Berkeley, CA institution Chez Panisse, Waters changed an entire industry: How many people have ever done that?
41 Denzel Washington
The two-time Academy Award winner is another of our celebrities that only require a first name to not only be instantly recognizable, but spark an attitude, a feeling. When one hears “Denzel,” one either swoons, has mad respect or both. His unflinching performance in Training Day remains a master class in controlled rage, right up there with anything Robert De Niro has ever done.
40 John McEnroe
The legendary tennis player—known to most Americans as the “You! Cannot! Be! Serious!” tantrum-inducing bad boy during his playing days has transitioned to nothing less than the “voice” of the entire sport. John McEnroe’s unfiltered commentaries make even one-sided matches worth watching. A true gift.
39 Sarah Jessica Parker
One of the newest members of the 50+ club, SJP (as she’s internationally known to her millions of fans), has used her career-defining role as Carrie Bradshaw on the mega sensation Sex And The City to become not only a can’t-miss red carpet staple, but a legitimate fashion player in her own right. And if that wasn’t enough, Parker also carries the label as one of New York City’s proudest ambassadors.
38 Bill O’Reilly
Love or hate him, Bill O’Reilly is a lot of things, but mostly he’s resilient. How he managed to survive the media onslaught about embellished or fabricated accounts about his past work (something NBC’s Brian Williams may or may not be able to do), is all the proof anyone needs to see O’Reilly’s power. He ain’t going anywhere.
37 Viola Davis
When does an acting role seem like a political act? When Viola Davis tears into her scenes as university law professor/accomplished attorney Annalise Keating, the fascinating and complicated protagonist in freshman hit ABC drama, How To Get Away With Murder—who just happens to be African-American. Davis, one of her generation’s most accomplished actresses, says more with 20 seconds of silence than lesser peers can in monologues. She’s that good.
36 Kevin Spacey
There is no question how good Kevin Spacey is at his craft. Just prior to landing his head-exploding turn as the single-most Machiavellian Washington politician ever on American television in Netflix’s signature series, House Of Cards, Spacey was skating close to being a little too self-aware of his acting prowess. Then, in an instant, Spacey’s interpretation of Frank Underwood (along with an equally terrific Robin Wright as his wife) reminds everyone that, yes, Spacey is in fact that damn good.
35 Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Emmy’s most acclaimed situation comedy television actress of all-time (even besting the comedic queen to end all queens, Lucille Ball), Julia Louis-Dreyfus has bookended her extensive career with two roles that will go down as singularly iconic—Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes and, now, Veep’s Selina Meyer. Louis-Dreyfus is a revelation on the HBO hit and the timing of such a show couldn’t have been better. She’s America’s hilarious best.
34 Tom Ford
Here’s the thing, there’s little question that Tom Ford is the planet’s most stylish man, but it’s what he’s done with that title that’s so impressive. Just by entering the eyewear and fragrance categories, Ford’s offerings were instantly regarded best in class. Everyone he touches turns to magic.
33 Howard Stern
The so-called “shock jock” and “king of all media” is also one more thing no one seemed to notice: The best interviewer working in any medium right now. Don’t believe me? Listen to his revelatory, engaging conversations with the likes of Anderson Cooper, Madonna and Bravo’s Andy Cohen. Those three are no slouches at this game, but, in Stern’s deft hands, those celebrities and many more are revealing things they had no plans on discussing. Don’t get it twisted: Howard Stern is a great interviewer.
32 Shonda Rhimes
It’s one thing to basically take over a network’s primetime dramatic offerings as Shonda Rhimes has done at ABC thanks to Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder (Aaron Spelling carried equal sway in the 1970s with The Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island), but the fact that her shows are the single-most diverse programs on American television makes it all the more important. Kerry Washington (Scandal) and Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder) are the first African-American women to lead primetime shows on network TV, let alone back-to-back on must-see-TV Thursday nights. Shonda Rhimes, we thank you.
31 Robert Downey Jr.
Has anyone in the history of American cinema ever had the see-saw ride of Robert Downey, Jr.’s career? From “most talented actor in his generation” debut with films Bright Lights, Big City and Chaplin to complete drug-addled meltdown to a stunning (sober) resurgence and become Hollywood’s highest paid actor, thanks in large part to the Iron Man/Avengers juggernaut franchises, RDJ is on fire. And, as the newest member of the 50+ club, it’s promising to know that this talented force of nature is still burning up the box office. How’s that for clout?
30 Jack Nicklaus
Is there a golf-loving American in this country who doesn’t love/respect/cherish the “Golden Bear?” Nicklaus has also been nothing but gracious in the firestorm surrounding fellow golf prodigy Tiger Woods and that man’s pursuit of Nicklaus’ record-setting 18 titles at majors (Woods currently sits at 14). Golf legend, business mogul and his sport’s greatest ambassador—we all love Jack.
29 Barbra Streisand
Without a doubt, Barbra Streisand is the last megawatt superstar currently in our midst, and, as her last album, Partners, proved when it debuted on Billboard’s Hot 200 at No.1 making Streisand the only artist in history to have a top-charting album in six consecutive decades. In short, no one has ever done more, better, longer, with more passion and acclaim than one Barbra Joan Streisand, America’s most super of superstars.
28 Clint Eastwood
Rebounding nicely from that disastrous keynote address he gave memorably to an empty chair (pretending it was President Obama), Clint Eastwood re-asserted himself as a major movie director (again) by guiding the past year’s most unexpected hit, American Sniper. Though that movie has plenty of supporters and detractors, there’s no questioning the skill of this particular film director.
27 Adam Moss
Completely unknown to 99 percent of the country, the current editor in chief of New York—and former EIC at 7 Days and The New York Times Magazine—has invisibly amassed a career of achievement that (save Vanity Fair’s Tina Brown) is unrivaled by any living person. What Moss expects/demands/delivers is nothing less than the best journalism to be found anywhere. How many editors can walk around with that claim? Exactly.
26 Lisa Kudrow
Perhaps the most underrated of all the Friends cast—Kudrow’s take on Phoebe was the single-most daring role of the group of telegenic New York City pals—but it wasn’t until her, um, comeback in The Comeback, HBO’s one season only super meta show within a show concept that Kudrow ripped out your heart and stomped on it for good measure. It was, at times, exceedingly uncomfortable to watch the humiliation this woman had to endure, but she’s tougher than she looks and her tear-stained optimism is a thing to behold. It’s hard to describe the sublime, other worldly talent that Kudrow called upon to portray this character, suffice to say this: Do yourselves a favor and binge watch The Comeback on HBO On Demand. If Kudrow doesn’t win the Emmy for best comedic actress, there really isn’t any justice in Tinseltown. She was that good.
25 Jeff Bezos
As if being founder and chief executive at Amazon wasn’t enough for the mogul—Forbes reports his fortune is hovering at the $40 billion mark—in 2013, Bezos purchased The Washington Post in a move that shocked everyone. Is Jeff Bezos taking over the world right under our noses?
24 Gloria Estefan
How amazing must one’s life be to have a major Broadway musical about your life make it to the Great White Way? That’s exactly what’s happening with On Your Feet, a musical about Cuban-born multiple Grammy-winner Gloria Estefan’s and her husband/manager Emilio’s fascinating (and unlikely) road to global superstardom. Gloria Estefan’s success paved the way for other Hispanic artists including Ricky Martin, Shakira, Jennifer López and Enrique Iglesias. Singing it forward?
23 George Clooney
The near hysteria from fans and media alike surrounding this actor/activist’s wedding this past year hasn’t been seen since the days of Elizabeth Taylor’s and Richard Burton’s explosive union so many decades ago. In the interim, Clooney continues to flex his considerable muscle behind the causes he so strongly advocates for. It’s as if Cary Grant and Ralph Nader forged this singular American icon in the making.
22 Bill Nye
If “kill them with kindness” is a thing, then, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” should patent “destroys ignorance with facts” as his own. The climate change isn’t real roll call of geniuses have all tried to discredit Nye in front of live audiences, on television cable news shows and other FOX News lovin’ environs, all to no avail. Nye annihilates them with, yes, science, yet never descends into name-calling (that’s what the rest of us do to those head-in-the-sand intellectual giants). Nicely done, Science Guy.
21 Chris Evert
What Chris Evert has done—both on and off the tennis court—is unprecedented. From the moment she broke through at her first US Open when she was a teenager in a ponytail who refused to show any emotion during her matches to current day that she’s regarded as one of the true titans of her sport, Evert has done it all with grace, humor, inclusion and moxie. She’ll always be our “Chrissie.”
20 Diane Von Furstenberg
If empowering women and girls to be their best selves all the while creating one of the most important fashion brands in the world weren’t enough, Diane Von Furstenberg entered the fractured world of reality television via last year’s House Of DVF on E! The show whittles down a group of aspiring female candidates who aspire to be the next DVF “brand ambassador” but it wasn’t the (frankly) less than capable youngsters that carried the show, but the icon herself, so full of wisdom, compassion and class. It was like watching Jackie Kennedy mentor White House interns at the height of Camelot. And there’s no question that Diane Von Furstenberg is Queen of this kingdom.
19 Dan Savage
If you’ve ever seen Dan Savage on CNN or Real Time With Bill Maher or The Daily Show With Jon Stewart or at your local supermarket, you’d know one thing for sure: Dan Savage is scary smart—and funny. He’s also possibly the very best guest on the topic of gay marriage and anti-bullying. As the creator of the wildly popular “It Gets Better” campaign (telling bullied kids that it does get better after the horrors of high school), Savage is using his humor for the greater good—and how.
18 Tim Cook
How does one replace the most beloved tech innovator of all time? Quietly. As Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook has deftly pulled off a very difficult trick: Continue the explosive growth of one of the planet’s most important companies while introducing new products and improvements on other favorites (iPhone 6 Plus, anybody?) all the while paying respect to the late Steve Jobs even as Cook charts his own path. Cool beans, Mr. Cook
17 Rosie Pérez
Just by having her job—she’s one of the now four panelists on long time ABC daytime ratings juggernaut, The View—Rosie Pérez is already the Hispanic woman with the biggest daily platform in America. The Oscar nominated actress hasn’t abandoned her much-acclaimed roles in film and Broadway, but with this opportunity, Pérez is lending her decidedly New York-laced voice to a wide array of current hot topics. She’s a most welcome addition to the landscape of endless chatter.
16 Bill Maher
Agree with him or not—and, as of late, not every liberal is that blindly enamored by some of Maher’s views—there’s no denying that his take on the soon-to-be crowded field of presidential hopefuls will be nothing short of hilarious, appointment television.
There is only one “Queen of Pop” and, Madonna, with her latest chart-topping—and best—album in more than a decade; Rebel Heart (and world tour) has once again proven why she’s maintained her status as the single-most talked-about pop star in our midst. Her vocals and songwriting on the new album have benefitted from her maturity. There’s no stopping this woman—thank goodness. We can’t even imagine a world without Madonna.
14 Michelle Obama
As a nation we’ve been privileged to have a wide array of classy, well-intentioned First Ladies as of late—from Jacqueline Kennedy to Laura Bush—but no one could have prepared us for the special brand of sass, contemporary realness and passionate activist otherwise known as Michelle Obama. Be it raising money and awareness for US military families or tackling head-on this country’s childhood obesity epidemic, FLOTUS still has to raise two young daughters in the world’s biggest fishbowl—and, yes, even win the crown of best dancer to ever occupy the White House. I mean, have you seen her Doogie?
13 Bill Clinton
How Bill Clinton supports his wife’s efforts for the presidency may be the single-best and, ultimately, most crucial of all of the possible intriguing subplots forming as the field of candidates emerge. Bill Clinton’s strengths are so overwhelming (he memorably rescued President Obama’s second term with his soaring, scorching speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention ensuring Obama’s election win), but his negatives are ever lurking. This is the time to, once again, keep your eye on the first President Clinton. How could you not?
12 Meryl Streep
What is there left to say, really, about the greatest actress that ever lived? The only controversy is that Meryl Streep has “only” actually won three Academy Awards while being nominated a head exploding 19 times (12 of those noms were clear victories for Streep who was robbed because of what I call “brilliance fatigue” by Oscar voters). But now Streep is re-emerging as a dedicated and public advocate for causes she most believes in, particularly surrounding women and girls’ rights. Don’t mess with her—she’s Meryl Streep for a reason.
11 Arianna Huffington
The tale of how a well-educated, television-ready Greek woman conquered nothing less daunting than the world of media itself is a story worth telling. Arianna Huffington is a force of nature and her creation, the globally significant The Huffington Post, has made her one of the genuinely great bastions protecting America from the relentless FOX News Channel right-wing onslaught. It’s quite a site to see. We’ll say this slowly—don’t mess with Arianna Huffington: Consider yourself warned.
10 Ellen DeGeneres
The things about Ellen DeGeneres (the influencer) to admire are 1) she’s a tireless activist for full equality across the board all the while doing it with her unrivaled big name Hollywood allies and plenty of humor; 2) you could see an old episode of her eponymous daytime talk show from, say, seven years ago or last week’s, and you’d have a hard time figuring out which one was the more recent one. Ellen stays in her (ever widening) lane and American can’t get enough of her. We know we can’t.
9 Jeb Bush
The Bush most thought would be first (after his father) to ascend to the White House, Jeb Bush, the popular former two-term governor of Florida, is poised to become a viable (“adult”) alternative to the ever-growing “clown car” of GOP hopefuls (Ted Cruz very much included). It’s a long way away from November 2016 election day, but one has to know that this Bush brother will somehow be right in the middle of the conversation for a while to come.
8 Maria Celeste Arrarás
The single most-watched Hispanic woman on Spanish language television, Maria Celeste Arrarás, is a force of nature and much beloved by her millions of viewers. As co-host (with MSNBC’s José Diaz-Balart) of the nightly national news on Telemundo as well as host and managing editor of her top-rated daily news/entertainment hybrid show, Al Rojo Vivo, Maria Celeste (as she’s universally known) will be a powerful voice as the nation’s Hispanic issues take center stage during this next election cycle. Don’t take this proud Puerto Rican native lightly—she’s been on top for more than a decade for a reason.
7 Elizabeth Warren
For liberals, the senior senator from Massachusetts is nothing short of Mother Teresa dressed up as a former Harvard professor. Though she insists repeatedly that she, in fact, does not want to be president, her influence as a consumer protection advocate—and chief irritant to the “too big to fail” financial giants on Wall Street—make Warren an undeniable leader right where she is.
6 Dr. Mehmet Oz
Somewhere along the way as of late, some of the shine has been scuffed up a bit off of Dr, Mehmet Oz’s can-do-no-wrong armor. But, still, “America’s Doctor” remains the single-most influential person with a medical degree in this nation. And with healthcare still at the fore of just about everybody’s real life and political agendas, Dr. Oz is whom millions of us continue to turn for no-nonsense advice. And he does practice what he preaches.
5 Indra Nooyi
As Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo, the second largest food and beverage business in the world, Indra Nooyi is the very embodiment of the American dream. How this Indian-born titan of business became an American, and rose to become one of the most powerful women on the planet is a testament to her “can-doness” and her life embodies a lead by example principle that surely inspires millions of young girls and women around the globe. Remember this woman’s name.
4 Charles/David Koch
Easily the most feared/admired/reviled brothers in recent American history, billionaires Charles and David Koch have made it their mission in life to elect as many Republicans as possible—anything less would be deemed a failure. As much sway FOX News has in the public discourse for right-wing candidates in a public forum, the Koch brothers prefer to do their work shrouded in mystery and obfuscation. Only when they speak of their generous contributions to some of Manhattan’s most important cultural institutions are they happy to talk, but ask them why they support any and all Tea Party-loving candidates and agendas, they clam up. Doesn’t make them any less influential—in fact, quite the opposite is true.
3 Oprah Winfrey
Enjoying her first full year of undisputed ratings and financial success running her cable television network, OWN, Oprah Winfrey remains the one person on Earth that other celebrities remain in awe of and inspired by. Her mantra of positivity, kindness, forgiveness and candor mixed with self-deprecation has been an intoxicating (and most effective) approach to building an empire. Oprah is just Oprah, and she’s helping us in immeasurable ways.
2 Hillary Clinton
Poised to break through those last stubborn shards of glass, the only reason Hillary Clinton hasn’t already been President of the United States six years ago was Barack Obama represented an unstoppable movement. This time around, don’t count her out and we fully expect to witness the first woman ascend to the highest office in the land. Who’s going to stop her? Ted Cruz? LOL
1 Bill Gates
The single-most powerful/important man on this list came to it in a classic story arch—from technology titan/bully to genuine American hero doing everything in his vast power to legitimately help the world. Putting the legend (and mind-blowing fortune) Gates created with Microsoft, it’s his work—alongside his equally dynamic wife, Melinda Gates—on their foundation that hears both of their names that has resulted in a seismic shift in not only how we view the roles of billionaires in our society, but, importantly, how they view themselves. Gates has encouraged his fellow billionaires to consider giving up significant parts of their fortunes to help the world and a wonderfully surprising number of them have already signed on. Bill Gates deserves this slot for showing the world that with great power (and wealth) comes great responsibility. Bill Gates is the living embodiment of responsible global citizen. A Nobel Prize may yet be in order. For now, he’ll have to settle for sitting atop Now It Count’s list of 50 most powerful Americans.
Share us your thoughts on who didn’t make the list (and why) below.