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Elton John receives Harvard Foundation's humanitarian award

 (Steven Senne / Associated Press)
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Elton John has achieved one of Harvard University's highest honors: Humanitarian of the Year.

The celebrated musician's philanthropic efforts to combat HIV and AIDS garnered the Harvard Foundation's Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award, which John received during a ceremony at the Cambridge, Mass.-based institution on Monday.

The 70-year-old joins an elite class of previous recipients that includes Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former United Nations Secretaries-General Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Javier Perez de Cuellar. John is also the recipient of the Harvard School of Public Health’s AIDS Initiative Leadership Award, which he accepted in 2013.

"I've seen the power of the human spirit translated into compassion and extraordinary global progress," the singer said Monday, according to the university's newspaper. "This has been the most important lesson of my life. Nothing is more profound or more powerful than recognizing our common humanity."

The Oscar- and Grammy-winning artist said he has lost friends to AIDS and regretted not doing more to help the cause earlier in his career — a time when he was battling his own addictions such as drugs, alcohol addiction, an eating disorder and self-absorption.

John, who was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, established the Elton John AIDS Foundation in 1992 after meeting and being inspired by Indiana teenager Ryan White, who became a poster child for HIV awareness during the 1980s. The "Rocket Man" singer's foundation has since raised more than $385 million to support HIV/AIDS-related programs.

The musician's philanthropic efforts also earned him a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 1998.

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