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Actor Richard Gere has received a prestigious humanitarian award in his home city of Philadelphia.

The Golden Globe winner accepted the Marion Anderson Award, named after the famous African-American opera singer who fought racial segregation in the 1930s, at a ceremony at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts on November 12.

“I’m not worthy of this award in any way whatsoever,” said the 58-year-old star of films such as “Chicago” and “Pretty Woman”. “I can’t tell you how this makes me feel. My heart is so wide open.”

Gere received the award for his charity and humanitarian work over the last three decades. A devoted Buddhist, Gere has advocated Tibetan independence since 1978, and is a friend and student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He has made numerous trips through India, Nepal, Tibet, Mongolia, and China, and has released a book featuring his own photographs of these regions, with a foreword written by the Dalai Lama.

In 1987, Gere co-founded Tibet House, and is now Board Chairman for the International Campaign for Tibet. He has testified on Tibet’s behalf before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the European Parliament, and the House International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee in an attempt to free the nation from China’s grip. His own charitable organization, the Gere Foundation, was set up to award grants to humanitarian foundations, especially in relation to Tibet.

Gere also established Healing the Divide, an organization dedicated to improving care for HIV/AIDS patients, and in 2004 instigated the Heroes Project, which addresses the spread of AIDS in India. He is a spokesman for Meals On Wheels, and earlier in 2007 appeared in the charity’s first ever advertising campaign, along with his father who has been a volunteer for 17 years. He is also a longtime supporter of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

“We are proud to honor Richard Gere with the Marion Anderson Award,” said Philadelphia Mayor, John F. Street. “His accomplishments as an actor are only surpassed by his accomplishments as a humanitarian and as a advocate for human rights issues around the world. We are particularly pleased to honor Mr Gere this year as it will mark the first time that the award will be conferred upon a native Philadelphian.”

Gere attended the award ceremony with his friend and co-star of three films, Diane Lane, and made special mention of the woman the award is named after. He told the audience that Marion Anderson paved the way for artists to use their celebrity status for humanitarian work, and urged people to adopt her traits.

“I think that is what we are here for,” he said during the ceremony. “To make the road easier for those who follow us.”

The Marion Anderson Award, which includes a $100,000 honorarium, is bestowed annually upon individuals whose support for a cause upholds humanitarian principles and benefits society, and previous recipients include Oprah Winfrey, Sidney Poitier, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones, Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck, and Harry Belafonte. Marion Anderson gained international fame in the music world in the 1930s, although she faced racial segregation at home in the United States. She bravely fought racism with her music, and became the first African-American person to perform at the White House in 1939. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Johnson in 1963, and died in 1993 at the age of 96.

“In honoring Richard Gere, we celebrate the achievements of an outstanding artist and humanitarian,” said Pamela A. Crawley, Chair of the Marion Anderson Award. “He has used his remarkable career as an actor to support his unparalleled advocacy for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. He has traveled the globe supporting efforts that allow people to live in health, in the integrity of their cultures, and with the fundamental human rights that all citizens of the world must possess. These are the qualities of a leader, and we are deeply honored by his acceptance.”

“Richard is a man whose heart dictates his choices,” added award winning actress, Diane Lane. “He has cultivated this tenacious advocacy for those who are in danger of being railroaded, shut out, and trampled under the big machine of ‘Business As Usual’.”

Gere intends to share the prize money between selected charities.

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