How Sam Smith Got It Wrong: 11 Notable Out Oscar Winners
Sam Smith stirred up controversy at the 2016 Oscar ceremony when he took to the stage to accept his award for Best Original Song, along with fellow songwriter Jimmy Napes. The British singer misquoted an interview with Sir Ian McKellen earlier this year in which he stated, “No openly gay man has ever won the Oscar; I wonder if that is prejudice or chance.” That led an elated Smith to misconstrue the idea and believe he might be the first openly gay Oscar winner in the history of the Academy Awards, which he claimed to be during his teary acceptance speech for Best Original Song. That caused screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who won Best Screenplay in 2009 for Milk, to reprimand him on Twitter for not knowing his LGBT history (and flirting with his fiancé, Olympic diver Tom Daley).
In fact, many members of the LGBT community have been recognized by the Academy over the years, though there is a clear disparity in the winners for marquee categories like Best Actor and Actress (Jodie Foster has won two Best Actress Academy Awards but didn’t discuss her personal life until many years later). To recognize those who were openly gay Oscar winners, here are 11 notables to take home a statue before Smith.
Sir John Gielgud (1981)
Best Supporting Actor for Arthur
A rare EGOT winner, Gielgud is considered one of the greatest actors of the 20th century, and he was the first openly gay actor to win an Oscar, and he did it for his turn in the British comedy starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minelli. He was a deeply private man and after his death in 2000 at the age of 96, letters were published that revealed he was threatened and blackmailed with being exposed as homosexual in the 1950s.
John Schlesinger (1970)
Best Director for Midnight Cowboy
He carefully crafted the controversial X-rated film starring Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman as two hustlers in New York City to appeal to both a gay and mainstream audience, which allowed other filmmakers to directly address gay identity in later films. It also won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay that year.
Melissa Etheridge (2007)
Best Original Song for “I Need to Wake Up” from An Inconvenient Truth
Etheridge publicly discussed her sexuality as she began campaigning for President Bill Clinton in 1993. Later, she teamed up with former Vice President Al Gore for an original song to accompany his documentary on the dangers of global warming, An Inconvenient Truth. Etheridge’s win was a huge shock since the rock singer was up against not only a Randy Newman contribution to Pixar’s Cars but three new tracks from blockbuster movie-musical Dreamgirls as well.
Stephen Sondheim (1991)
Best Original Song for “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)” from Dick Tracy
Sondheim is used to sweeping at the Grammys and Tonys, but his contribution to Dick Tracy starring Warren Beatty, Madonna and Al Pacino is his only Oscar win. Madonna recorded the jazz ballad for the film.