By Leah Sarnoff‍, ETOnline.com.

Denzel Washington was noticeably absent from the Presidential Medal of Freedom Ceremony that took place at the White House on Thursday. ET has learned the honouree did not attend because he tested positive for COVID-19.

President Biden addressed the actor’s absence during the ceremony in the East Room.

“There’s a man who couldn’t be here today but wanted to be: Denzel Washington, one of our greatest actors in American history. Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Tony Awards, (and) wide acclaim from audiences and peers around the world,” Biden said. “He couldn’t be here with us today, but I’ll be giving him this award at a later date when he’s able to get here,” the President explained.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honor and is handed out once a year. In addition to Washington, there were 16 other recipients, including Simone Biles, Megan Rapinoe, late Sen. John McCain, Sister Simone Campbell and Diane Nash, who worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

At the ceremony, Biden delivered a speech to the “extraordinary group of Americans up here on the stage.”

“On Monday, we celebrated the independence of our nation, a nation always a work in progress in creation of possibilities, the fulfillment of promises,” the president said. “That’s the American story. It’s not a simple one. It’s never been a simple one, but the fourth of July week reminds us what brought us together long ago and still binds us, binds us at our best. We strive for – what we strive for, we, the people, doing what we can to ensure the idea of America, a cause of freedom shines like the sun to light up the future of the world. That’s the soul of our nation.”

Biden continued, “That’s who we are as Americans. And that’s what we see, an extraordinary, extraordinary group of Americans up here on this stage that I have the honour to recognize today with the presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian award.”

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Ellen Bullock