By Dan Morgridge
great american heroes feat Greatest American Heroes   Entertainment Edition

Stephen Colbert and Kanye West (Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

It’s hard to think of anything besides fireworks, friends and family around the Fourth of July. Okay… and barbeque, and possibly the beach. But we all know that it’s a day to celebrate those who fought to make this country free. Presidents, soldiers and all those early settlers who resisted imperial rule to make our country free all come to mind. But since we know about their deeds and sacrifices already, it’s time to acknowledge some other true American heroes who don’t quite warrant their own holiday… yet.

Betty White

betty white Greatest American Heroes   Entertainment Edition

(Photo Credit: Brian To/Getty Images for The Lifeline Program)

Celebrating her 90th birthday this year, Betty White is a treasure of bygone eras. And yet, White is no relic — she just received her 20th Emmy nomination. In the ’50s and ’60s, she hosted and guest-starred on several game shows, and spent 10 years hosting the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She achieved TV fame as a repressed homemaker with a quick wit on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in the ’70s, then won audiences over again with her straight-faced double entendre naiveté on The Golden Girls. White stars in two new shows, played beer pong on late night television, and recently endured a nude photo scandal — which she handled with class. Her quick wit and double entendres might get her in trouble — but her sweetness always shines through.

Kanye West

kanye west Greatest American Heroes   Entertainment Edition

(Photo Credit: Dario Cantatore/Getty Images)

Sometimes true talent comes with rough edges. While ostensibly famous for his rapping and production, Kanye has cemented his place in pop culture — and littered the media landscape — with his off-the-cuff tweets, comments and stunts. Whether having diamond teeth implanted, interrupting awards ceremonies to share his opinion, or just spouting out his every uncensored thought via Twitter, West is just as famous for being famous. But West also deserves a lot of credit. He’s one of the most talented producers in music today, expanding horizons and challenging standards all while keeping people’s toes tapping.

See which music acts are on tour this summer.

Stephen Colbert

stephen colbert Greatest American Heroes   Entertainment Edition

(Photo Credit: Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

Stephen Colbert is one of the smartest voices in American politics today, though Bill O’Reilly might disagree. While Jon Stewart originated the concept of a politically sarcastic news show, The Colbert Report approach of embracing the double-talk makes it just slightly superior to its originator. Lampooning political bombast with as straight a face as possible, Colbert forces viewers to acknowledge the madness of today’s political power plays simply by presenting himself as a comedian.

Joss Whedon

joss whedon Greatest American Heroes   Entertainment Edition

(Photo Credit: Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW)

While writing Buffy The Vampire Slayer doesn’t seem like the stepping stone to Hollywood success, Joss Whedon has always avoided stereotypes. His strong female characters, sharp dialogue and natural flair for the perfect plot make Whedon a rare creature in Hollywood today. After reaching a cult audience with Buffy and his space-cowboy series, Firefly, Whedon took his very human characters to the big screen in 2012. In both the not-quite-horror movie Cabin In the Woods and the record-breaking Marvel superhero movie The Avengers, Whedon does what he does best. He makes audiences forget they’re watching a movie and just lets them enjoy a (surprisingly believable) story.

Preview this summer’s movie blockbusters.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

neil degrasse tyson Greatest American Heroes   Entertainment Edition

(Photo Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is doing what most people thought was long since impossible — making science cool again. As the head of the Hayden Planetarium and the host of four seasons of NOVA ScienceNOW, Tyson brings a vibrant yet stern tone to his science, almost chastising the listener into realizing they are discussing heavenly bodies. And yet Tyson isn’t afraid to attack these sacred entities either; his planetarium was one of the first to demote Pluto from planet status. Tyson’s vim and vigor have proven engaging in both TV guest appearances and internet viral videos. He’s helped a nation look up at the stars again.

Check out the Summer Guide at CBS Local.

Dan Morgridge is a writer from Chicago.


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