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A lot of people in showbiz are rich and famous, but most of them have higher aspirations: They want to be George Clooney.

That’s not just because of his success, taste, humor and home in Italy’s Lake Como. Clooney knows how to handle the spotlight, yet maintain his privacy. But the real reason he is respected/idolized/envied is his ability to capitalize on his clout for things that matter.

His second film as director, “Good Night, and Good Luck” served notice to the industry that he wasn’t interested in just creating star vehicles but also in tackling big and timely topics.

In an entirely different arena, his work on behalf of various humanistic causes is a reminder that Hollywood activism can mean more than writing a check or hosting a fundraiser. Clooney supports many industry philanthropies; and on a global scale he brought attention to humanitarian crises like Darfur, Haiti, 9/11 and the 2004 Asian tsunami. At a time when most celebs are nervous about speaking up on hot-button issues, he has been vocal about topics ranging from Iraq to gay rights.

As if this weren’t enough, he has a reputation as a dependable worker and someone who can handle the weirdness of 21st-century celebrity. The fan-mags and tabloids were obsessed with his late-September wedding to Amal Alamuddin. During the preparations and immediately after the ceremony, “experts” who’ve never met him were speaking with authority about him, her and their relationship. Amid all the hoopla, he managed to ignore most of it. He can be cooperative with the media and ignore them, whichever is appropriate.

George Clooney in “Good Night, and Good Luck”

For all these reasons, he’s a good choice for the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.’s Cecil B. DeMille Award, which honors anyone who made a valuable contribution to the entertainment industry.

As HFPA president Theo Kingma told Variety, “It didn’t take us long to pick him. He is someone who’s made big contributions to both film and TV, and who is beloved by the industry. There is also the other George Clooney, a man who has used his platform to make us aware of places like Sudan. It’s an incredible combination.”

Some people get success too soon, and some get it too late. If it’s the former, they become jerks (or worse); if it’s the latter, they become mean.
Clooney seems to have gotten the balance right. He grew up with showbiz savvy, thanks to his father, broadcast journalist Nick Clooney and his role on “The Facts of Life.” When George Clooney became a star and heartthrob with NBC’s “ER” in 1994, he had been kicking around long enough to appreciate success and is always quick to point out that luck plays a role in any showbiz career.

Over the years, there have been jokes at his expense (targeted at everything from “Return of the Killer Tomatoes” through “Monuments Men”). Barry Adelman, exec producer of the Globes, points to last year’s ceremony with hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (who will repeat their role on Jan. 11).

“One of the biggest laughs I’ve ever heard on an award show is when they did the George Clooney ‘Gravity’ joke,” says Adelman. “Clooney wasn’t there that night. But he was there the year before when Amy made out with him in the audience. They’re great friends. I’m really looking forward to this year; there should be a great chemistry between (the hosts) and George.”

George Clooney seems to have it all: looks, brains, talent, common sense — and that home in Lake Como.