These are (supposedly) the Most Famous People of All Time

If we ask you to make a list of the most famous people of all time, you probably won’t have any problems writing down a few dozen names. The bigger question is whether other people will agree with your selection or not. Are you already thinking of a politician? Or do you have an international music icon in your mind?

To help you better understand how fame translates into real-life data, internet-based market research and data analytics firm YouGov devised a survey to define fame by the percentage of people who have heard of a certain person. To be famous, a person doesn’t necessarily need to be liked. What counts is how well their name is recognized in the society. In this post, we’ll also touch on the topic of popularity on more than one occasion. YouGov defines popularity as a percentage of people who have a positive opinion of a certain individual.

With that being said, it’s time we dig deeper into the world of fame and find out who some of the most famous figures are according to the data provided by American adults and obtained by YouGov. You’ll probably recognize some of the names right away, but others might as well leave you in shock!

Barack Obama

 The President of the United States of America Barack Obama at a press conference at the G20 meeting
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Octavio Hoyos

Barack Hussein Obama II, the first African-American president of the United States, leads this list with a 99% fame rating, meaning that he is recognized by 99 out of 100 respondents on average. After all, who hasn’t heard of the politician who spearheaded a landmark healthcare reform and oversaw the recovery of the economy following the Great Recession?

Born in 1961, Obama served as the 44th US president from 2009 to 2017. In 2009, he received a Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” The former president also received two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Narrator and two Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Album.

Fun fact: Obama was sworn into office using the same Bible Abraham Lincoln used 148 years earlier.

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) seated and holding his spectacles and a pencil on Feb. 5, 1865 in portrait by Alexander Gardner.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Everett Collection

Often dubbed America’s favorite son, Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States who was in office from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Not only is Lincoln one of the most famous Americans but he is also adored by people and comes with a high popularity rating of 85% – higher than any other politician included in this survey.

As a revolutionary, Lincoln led the Union to victory and helped end the American Civil War. He is also credited with abolishing slavery and leading by example to build a free and just nation for all. Nowadays, Lincoln is not only considered a famed historical figure but also a martyr and a national hero.

Fun fact: Lincoln was the first president to get photographed at his inauguration.

Tom Cruise

 Tom Cruise attends the UK Premiere of "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square in London, England.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Fred Duval

There are few actors out there who succeeded in transforming their name into a whole new subgenre like Tom Cruise did. The Top Gun and Mission: Impossible star rose to fame in the 1980s thanks to his charming persona and natural charisma combined with the desire to put hard work into the craft called acting.

Leading by example, Tom Cruise made headlines when he decided to do his own stunts for the action hit Mission: Impossible. His ongoing success not only earned him the status of a Hollywood legend but also helped define high standards for the action genre in the film industry.

Fun fact: Tom’s full name is Thomas Cruise Mapother IV.

George W. Bush

President Bush Giving a Speech
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Jason and Bonnie Grower

As the 43rd US president, Bush had an 8-year run in the office. Following the 9/11 attacks, Bush was also tasked with leading America’s response to the terrorist attacks and increasing the level of security both on a domestic and foreign level.

And while George W. Bush is recognized by almost every American out there, he also happens to be the least-liked person on this list. While only 47% of respondents have a positive opinion of him, he is disliked by as many as 26% of participants.

Fun fact: Bush was the head cheerleader while studying at the Phillips Academy boarding school.

Albert Einstein

Wax figure of world-famous scientist, theoretical physicist, Nobel laureate, creator of theory of relativity Albert Einstein
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Harmony Video Production

Not only is he a world-renowned physicist with the most iconic hairstyle that ever existed, but he’s also one of the most famous people on the globe and possibly the greatest and most influential mathematician that ever lived. He’s Albert Einstein.

Born in 1879, Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who published his theory of general relativity which went on to shape the course of physics and everything we know. He is also credited for other life-changing contributions like the quantum theory of light and the discovery of the photoelectric effect. Not only is he incredibly famous but Einstein is also adored by 83% of respondents included in the YouGov survey.

Fun fact: Einstein had to get private lessons after flunking his first college entrance exam.

Michelle Obama

First Lady Michelle Obama delivers her speech to the Democratic National Nominating Convention from the podium in the Wells Fargo Arena
Image Credit: Shutterstock / mark reinstein

The former First Lady of the United States and the wife of Barack Obama has become a role model for young women around the world after spearheading countless projects and advocating on the topics of education for girls, healthy living, and equal rights during her days in the White House and before that.

Often dubbed as one of the most influential modern-day female leaders, Obama rose to fame by using her power and intelligence to address social issues rather than seek personal gain. The majority of respondents have a positive opinion of the former FLOTUS.

Fun fact: Michelle Obama won two Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Album in 2020 and 2024.

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
Image Credit: Shutterstock / SRichardImages

Queen Elizabeth II was the longest-ruling monarch in the world and a most precious member of the British Royal Family. Her name was, and still is, revered not only through the Commonwealth but the vast world.

Born in 1926, Elizabeth II assumed the mantle of a monarch on February 6, 1952, and reigned continuously for more than 70 years until her passing on September 8, 2022. During her reign, the female leader helped connect billions of people while helping steer her nation through many changes and the gradual diminishing of the empire.

Fun fact: Before becoming a monarch, Elizabeth II served as a truck mechanic in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service.

Sylvester Stallone

Sylvester Stallone attends the closing ceremony screening of "The Specials" during the 72 Cannes Film Festival
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Denis Makarenko

The Rocky Balboa star is another great example of what an actor can achieve through hard work and tons of dedication. His name is out there for all the right reasons, and he’s made the list of most famous people out there by getting his face punched repeatedly during his 56-year career.

All jokes aside, Stallone struggled as an actor after moving to New York City at the age of 23 in 1969. After breaking the ice, however, he became an action movie icon with his films like Rocky and Rambo defining the action-drama side of the movie industry.

Fun fact: Sylvester Stallone wrote and sold the original Rocky script to producers. Fortunately, he managed to negotiate to star in the movie as well, paving the way to his stardom.

Michael Jackson

Portrait of Michael jackson wearing suit singing in a wax museum
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Arpan Bhatia

The King of Pop was born in 1958 and he passed at the age of 50 in 2009. He has made his name known not only through music but also thanks to his skills as a dancer and his sizeable donations to charity over the years. With over 500 million record sales worldwide, Jackson remains one of the top-selling musicians in history.

On the darker side, the musician also faced a number of terrible allegations both during his career and posthumously. Regardless of what people may think of him, Michael Jackson remains one of the most famous names in the music industry with superhits like Billie Jean, I’ll Be There, and Thriller still being the life of many parties around the globe.

Fun fact: Jackson made his recording debut at the age of 9.

Will Smith

Will Smith attends National Board of Review Gala at Cipriani 42nd street
Image Credit: Shutterstock / lev radin

You might have heard of him thanks to movies like Men in Black, Bad Boys, and King Richard. That’s right, we’re talking about the Hollywood legend Will Smith. The actor was born in 1968 and he kicked off his acting career with a role on NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the early 1990s. Since then, he has already scooped up multiple accolades including four Grammy Awards and an Academy Award.

And though that infamous slap during the 2022 Oscars likely helped bring some attention to his name, Will happens to be the second least-liked person on this list with a popularity rating of just 54%.

Fun fact: Will Smith measured 6′ 2″ when he was 13 years old. He hasn’t grown in height since.

Author: Zan Kokalj


Zan Kokalj is a veteran content writer, copywriter, and author inspired by the impact of ink on paper.

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