Bon Jovi and 12 others — including NBA star Shaquille O’Neal and civil rights activist Paul Robeson — were named to the New Jersey Hall of Fame on Monday. The honor is meant to highlight positive contributions made to a state often stereotyped as a land of corrupt politicians, belching refineries and gangsters.
“This group of hall of famers embodies the spirit of New Jersey, a combination of drive, determination and creativity that has led them to greatness,” Gov. Jon Corzine said in a statement.
The winners were chosen by New Jersey residents, who had months to pick their favorites online, and by the hall’s voting academy, made up of 100 state organizations. All inductees have deep ties to the state.
Other inductees to the hall’s second class include funnymen Bud Abbott and Lou Costello; astronomer Carl Sagan; Yankee shortstop Phil Rizzuto; novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald; poet Walt Whitman; comedian Jerry Lewis; tennis star Althea Gibson; inventor Guglielmo Marconi; and writer William Carlos Williams.
Failing to make the cut this year were actor Jack Nicholson, President Woodrow Wilson, musician Count Basie and novelist Philip Roth.
Bon Jovi, a New Jersey native, is building affordable housing in Newark and other cities through his charitable foundation. Robeson, a celebrated scholar, athlete and performer, was among the first African-American students at Rutgers University.
“The New Jersey hall should serve as a reminder that the people of New Jersey strive for excellence and engage in myriad productive and rewarding activities that help society and give back to mankind,” Corzine said.
Asked about his induction to the hall, O’Neal, a Newark native who plays for the Phoenix Suns, called the award a “great and humbling honor.”
“I hope that through this wonderful museum, my accomplishments both in the NBA and in the classroom can be an inspiration to others,” he said.
For Bon Jovi, the award could be especially sweet. Despite having sold millions of records in a career spanning more than 25 years, he was snubbed by the Rock Hall by failing to gain a nomination last year, his first year of eligibility.
The induction ceremony will be held in May at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.
Inductees last year included Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Albert Einstein, Toni Morrison and Yogi Berra.
The hall has a virtual home but no permanent physical location.
Plans are in the works for two satellite museums and a mobile museum that will travel around the state.
The hall is supported by private funds but operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
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