Who Ranked Higher on ‘Greatest American’ — Oprah or Elvis Presley?

Elvis Presley and Oprah are two American celebrities so huge they were ranked in the top 10 of the Discovery Channel’s list of the greatest Americans. The list was released on the four-part docuseries The Greatest American in 2005. Who ranked higher? How did Oprah and the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll compare to other American icons?

Elvis Presley in a leather jacket
Elvis Presley | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The top Americans of all time — according to a 2005 poll

Firstly, a little background. According to The Guardian, 2.4 million people voted in the one-time competition. The first eight people on the list were all political figures. Starting from the top of the list, they were Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. Lincoln, King, Washington, and Franklin are each some of the most famous Americans who ever lived, and each of them are honored with memorials in the nation’s capitol. They are fairly obvious choices for the list.

Reagan, however, might seem like an odd choice for the top spot. Ronald Reagan Jr. had his own explanation for why his father was placed so highly on the list. “People remember the funeral,” he said. “I’m sure he would be very honored to be in the company of these great gentlemen.” For context, Reagan’s funeral was a major television event the year prior to the poll.

Ronald Reagan in front of flags
Ronald Reagan | Michael Evans/The White House/Getty Images

In addition, it’s important to note the time the poll was taken for explaining why Bush and Clinton scored so highly. Bush and Clinton were, at the time of the poll, the most recent Republican and Democratic presidents. That possibly influenced how they were perceived by members of their own parties. It’s unknown how they would rank on a similar list today — if they would rank on the list at all.

Who was the highest ranked entertainer — Elvis Presley or Oprah?

The eighth spot on the list belonged to its highest-ranked entertainer: Elvis. Elvis remains one of the most famous American rockers, so his placement on the list is understandable. One spot below him was another iconic entertainer — Oprah. Fascinatingly, Elvis and Oprah were ranked higher than Franklin D. Roosevelt, one of the most esteemed American presidents, who occupied the 10th spot.

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Again, this choice has to be understood in context. Since 2005, Oprah has been involved with plenty of political activism as well as some successful films like Selma and Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire. In addition, Elvis’ celebrity has dimmed somewhat among millennials. After all, History reports he receives millions of streams less than David Bowie, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson on Spotify. Because of this, it’s not clear if Oprah would rank higher than Elvis if the poll were held today.

Other entertainers on the list

According to The Guardian, two other entertainers made the top 25: Walt Disney at No. 13 and Bob Hope at No. 17. It’s certainly interesting how Americans value their entertainers so much. Elvis died in 1977, but even in 2005, he still took up a huge place in the American psyche.