Michael Jordan, Oprah, George Clooney nixed from Clinton state dinner list

Actor Harrison Ford (right), who would later go on to play another fictional president in the film "Air Force One," is greeted by President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the receiving line for a state dinner honoring Blair and his wife Cherie. (AFP/Getty Images.)
Actor Harrison Ford, right, who would later go on to play a fictional president in the film “Air Force One,” is greeted by President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a state dinner honoring Blair and his wife, Cherie. (AFP/Getty Images)

The National Archives’  big document dump of papers from the Clinton administration offered a peek behind the curtain into the usually secretive process of planning a White House state dinner. In 1998, amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Clintons were gearing up for a state dinner for Prime Minister Tony Blair. Given the special friendship between the two countries, this dinner was a particularly big deal — if state dinner invites are always hot commodities, these were sweltering.

The documents from the planning process show a list of “suggested guests” from several categories — the administration, Congress, the media (see page 105 here). What’s really interesting is comparing this initial roster with the list of those who wound up actually attending the glittery fete to see who didn’t make the cut.

Of course, there’s the possibility that those who don’t show up on the latter simply turned down the White House’s invite, but does anyone do that? So who fell off the list? It’s a big (and A-listy) group, including George Clooney, Sean Connery, Ralph Fiennes, Anthony Hopkins, Kenneth Branagh, Angela Lansbury, Helen Mirren, Michael Jordan,  Andre Agassi, Susan Sarandon and her then-partner Tim Robbins, Bruce Springsteen, Oprah Winfrey  and more.

That’s not to say the dinner, where Stevie Wonder and Elton John performed, wasn’t chockablock with A-listers. Guests included Barbra Streisand and James Brolin, Harrison Ford and Tom Hanks (sorry George!), Barry Diller and wife Diane Von Furstenberg, Steven Spielberg, John F. Kennedy  Jr. and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and Anna Wintour, in addition to the usual Washington suspects.

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Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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