Born on May 6, 1961 in Lexington, Kentucky, George Clooney studied broadcast journalism at Northern Kentucky University but dropped out in 1981 without earning a degree. He broke into show business in the mid-1980s, playing bit parts on such television sitcoms as The Facts of Life and Roseanne. But it was his role on the popular NBC drama ER in 1994 that solidified his status as a Hollywood heavyweight. Since then, Clooney has been an A-list actor appearing in numerous major films.
Along with his rise of celebrity, so too has Clooney’s stature grown as a political activist. “I’m an old-time liberal,” he said in 2005, “and I don’t apologize for it.” On another occasion that same year, Clooney said: “Yes, I’m a liberal and I’m sick of it being a bad word. I don’t know at what time in history liberals have stood on the wrong side of social issues. We thought that blacks should sit at the front of the bus, that women should be allowed to vote, that maybe [Senator Joseph] McCarthy was a jerk, that Vietnam was wrong and strip-bombing Cambodia was probably stupid. We’ve been on the right side of all these issues.”
Disparaging President George W. Bush’s 2002 reference to Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an “axis of evil,” an outraged Clooney said in a February 2003 interview: “It’s the head guys who really tick me off. You dumb down at the top, so what does that do to the bottom? Who’s going to stand up for us now? I just want someone smart to stand up and shout, ‘Bullshit!’ They tell us we’re going to war and no one’s saying ‘Bullshit’ loud enough. And the language! Listen to the language! ‘Evil.’ ‘Evil’? ‘Nexus of evil’? ‘Evil-doer’? That’s my favorite, ‘Evil-doer’! What’s wrong with their vocabulary: couldn’t they come up with ‘schmuck’?”
Shortly before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Clooney said he did not believe that President Bush would “try and talk [to the Saddam Hussein regime] without jumping in and killing people first.” This was particularly appalling, he explained, because “[T]here’s no connection between al-Qaeda [the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks] and Iraq, which we know, we spent a lot of time trying to prove it and it didn’t happen. And we’re going to go into a war and we’re going to kill a lot of innocent people.” Clooney further asserted that America’s looming invasion of Iraq illustrated how “we’re picking on people we can beat”—a stark contrast to the U.S. stance on North Korea: “[W]e’re going to go in and negotiate with North Korea because they have a [nuclear] bomb, because we don’t want to get involved in a fight that could result in a real problem.”
In Clooney’s view, war as a means of solving international disputes had become anachronistic. “You can’t beat your enemy anymore through wars,” he said in February 2003. “Instead you create an entire generation of people revenge-seeking…. Our opponents are going to resort to car bombs and suicide attacks because they have no other way to win.”
Over the years, a number of Clooney’s films have reflected his political positions.
A staunch proponent of limiting the rights of gun owners, Clooney is a committed foe of the National Rifle Association (NRA). When receiving a special filmmaking achievement award from the National Board of Reviews in January 2003, he said, jokingly, that the NRA’s then-president, Charlton Heston, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, had “announced again today that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s.” When asked later if he regretted having made that remark, Clooney responded, “I don’t care. Charlton Heston is the head of the National Rifle Association; he deserves whatever anyone says about him.”
In March 2006, Clooney expressed his anger at Democrats for not taking a tougher stance against the Iraq War: “The fear of [being] criticized can be paralyzing. Just look at the way so many Democrats caved in the run up to the war. In 2003, a lot of us were saying, where is the link between Saddam and bin Laden? What does Iraq have to do with 9/11? We knew it was bullsh**. Which is why it drives me crazy to hear all these Democrats saying, ‘We were misled.’ It makes me want to shout, ‘F*** you, you weren’t misled. You were afraid of being called unpatriotic.’”
Clooney is an environmental activist.
During the 2008 presidential election season, Clooney publicly supported Democrat Senator Barack Obama, stating, “I’d love him to be president, quite honestly.” Throughout the campaign season, Clooney was in almost-daily contact with Obama—via text messages, emails, and phone calls—even offering the candidate advice on presentation, public speaking, body language, and foreign policy; e.g., he advised Obama to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq if he were to become president. Clooney also took part in an overseas fundraising event for Obama. In 2011 the actor described Obama as someone “who is smarter than almost anyone you know, who’s nicer and who has more compassion than almost anyone you know.” And in May 2012, Clooney held a $15 million fundraiser on behalf of Obama’s re-election bid.
Clooney has likewise been a longtime admirer of Hillary Clinton. In May 2015 he vowed to support Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign in “whatever way I can help.” “I think she’s a tremendous candidate,” said Clooney. “I know her and I think the world of her. And I think I would be very happy if she were president.”
Speaking at Variety magazine’s Power of Women luncheon in October 2018, Clooney accused President Donald Trump of using fear to divide Americans:
“Fear of Muslims. Fear of immigrants. Fear of minorities. Fear of strong women. And because our government needs us to be afraid, the question is, are we really scared of all the things that actually make America great? And if the answer is yes, then we’ll have history to answer to. Because these are the ideas that will define us for generations. After all the jokes, and insults, and reality show frenzy, what will be remembered, what will stand the test of time is holding responsible these wolves in wolves’ clothing. When you call an entire religion your enemy, you might very well make an enemy out of an entire religion. When you tell a whole race of people that you value them less, you can’t be surprised when they question your values. when you tell women that coming forward to testify about their abuse is a joke, don’t be shocked when they’re standing on your lawn, laughing on November 7 [Election Day].”
In June 2020, Clooney donated the legal maximum of $10,000 donation to the Democrats’ Georgia Federal Election Committee, to support the U.S. Senate campaigns of Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in that state.
On July 28, 2020, Clooney teamed up with former president Barack Obama for a virtual fundraiser on behalf of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Donations for the event ranged from $250 to $250,000.
When a Kentucky grand jury decided in September 2020 not to indict the three police officers who had been involved in the highly publicized late-night shootout that killed a 26-year-old black woman named Breonna Taylor in her apartment six months earlier, Clooney told the Hollywood Reporter that he was “ashamed” of that decision. Said Clooney: “I was born and raised in Kentucky. Cut tobacco on the farms of Kentucky. Both my parents and my sister live in Kentucky. I own a home in Kentucky, and I was there last month. The justice system I was raised to believe in holds people responsible for their actions. Her name was Breonna Taylor and she was shot to death in her bed by 3 white police officers, who will not be charged with any crime for her death.”
But Clooney’s version of the circumstances surrounding Breonna Taylor’s death bore no resemblance to the reality. At 12:30 AM, on the morning of March 13, three officers appeared with a “no knock” warrant at the door of Taylor’s apartment. However, their supervisors told them to knock anyway and announce that they were police, which the officers did. When they got no response from anyone inside the apartment, they used a battering ram to break down the door. Either roused by the officers’ announcement or by the sound of the breaking door, Taylor and her boyfriend, a low-grade drug dealer named Kenneth Walker, got out of bed and went to the entrance hall. Walker was carrying a gun, which he fired at the intruders in the darkness, hitting Sgt. Jonathan Mattingly in the leg. This triggered a hail of bullets from the officers, six of which hit Taylor and killed her in the hallway of the apartment. She was not “shot to death in her bed,” as Clooney claimed.
In a December 2, 2020 interview with People magazine, Cooney lamented what he characterized as America’s racist origins and track record: “I’ve been to so many countries that are really failed states, and they look to this country for leadership. We come up short a lot—race being our great original sin and clearly the one we’ve been the worst at—but we are in the constant process of trying to find a more perfect union.”
While being honored by New York’s Museum of Modern Art in a virtual ceremony on December 7, 2020, Clooney delivered a speech in which he addressed the toll that the coronavirus/COVID pandemic had taken on people worldwide before taking a verbal swipe at President Trump:
“We have faced an overwhelming threat that has affected people all over the world. But what I want to say to all of you is that we’re going to get through it. This scourge that’s disrupted so many lives, it’s terrified us, wrecked our economy, left us feeling like there’s no hope. Well, now we see there is. There’s more than hope. There is a bright light at the end of this tunnel. We will soon say goodbye to the dark ages. Goodbye to fear. Goodbye to doubt. Goodbye to the anxiety. Once this is over and Trump’s out of office, we should probably do something about COVID, too. That would be important. Here’s to 2021.”
In a December 2020 interview with USA Today, Clooney voiced great optimism about the prospect of “a really effective presidency” by Joe Biden: “I feel like we’re in so much better shape because I do think this: Moments meet the man or woman. And this is Joe Biden’s moment. He is a compassionate, kind man. And we’re going to need that after we’ve lost probably … close to 400,000 people by the time we get [the coronavirus pandemic] in our rear-view mirror. We’re going to need compassion through this and [Biden] is every bit of that, on top of being a very smart, wise guy, wise man.”
In December 2020, Clooney predicted that Senate Republicans would refuse to work collaboratively with President Biden because so many of them wished to become President themselves: “Every single one of these guys have aspirations for bigger things — Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, all of them. They think people will travel with them because, ‘I’ve stuck with you, Don,’ but the truth is, they won’t. They stay with Donald [Trump] because Donald, for all of his immense problems as a human being, is a charismatic carnival barker.”
As of January 2021, Clooney had a net worth of approximately $500 million.
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Further Reading: “George Clooney” (Biography.com).