Who Is the Most Famous Person in the World?

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
Queen Elizabeth, Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Jesus Christ and Cristiano Ronaldo
Among the candidates are (from L): Queen Elizabeth, Michael Jackson, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, Jesus Christ and Cristiano Ronaldo. Phil Dent/Redferns/David Crotty/Patrick McMullan/Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Bethany Clarke/Getty Images/HowStuffWorks

Ah, fame. How do you measure it? Is it the person with the biggest social media following, the founder of the religion with the most followers, the head of the largest country or something else? Does it count if someone is very famous in one part of the world and unknown in another?

A 2009 poll put the odds of achieving even a basic level of fame (i.e., 10 percent of survey participants had even heard of this person) at 1 in 62,986. This is just a little better than the odds of being struck and killed by lightning, at 1 in 83,930. But true household name status, where 80 percent of survey respondents had heard of the person? Only 2 percent of the 4,763 "celebrities" in the poll's database had achieved that status.

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So, to be recognized throughout most of the world is indeed a rare feat. But who is the best-known person? To help us answer an unanswerable question, we've looked at the most famous people in a variety of categories. Here they are:

Most Famous Person on Social Media

Most people probably assume that the most-followed person on social media is Ms. "Break the Internet" Kim Kardashian, her sister Kylie Jenner or another member of the reality TV clan. Although both of those powerful ladies land in the top 10 in terms of Instagram followers, the No. 1 spot goes to football great Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 477 million followers and counting. He's also the most-followed person on Facebook.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United
Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United controls the ball during the Premier League match between Brentford FC and Manchester United Aug. 13, 2022, in Brentford, United Kingdom.
Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Jenner takes a distant second place to Ronaldo, at "only" 367 million followers. Ronaldo's fame might seem odd to non-soccer fans, but he's widely regarded as one of the best forwards ever to play the game. With 3.5 billion football/soccer fans around the world, he's impressed an enormous audience during his storied career. Plus, it doesn't hurt that he's easy on the eyes.

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Most Famous Religious Figure

Founding a religion with a lot of adherents could be another way to measure fame. The prophet Muhammad was the founder of Islam, a religion with more than 1.8 billion followers. In fact, so revered is he that "Muhammad" was the most popular baby name in 2021 and is believed to be the most popular name in the world overall, if you take into account all its different spellings.

Another well-known religious figure is Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism, a religion with around 500 million adherents. But in this fame category, we're going to have to give it to Jesus Christ, the founder of the largest religion in the world. There are some 2.38 billion Christians around the globe, about a third of the world's population.

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Most Famous Politcal or Historical Figure in the World

Some might go with Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving monarch in England, who was on the throne for 70 years. She was often in the news, as people kept up with the soap opera that the British royal family has become.

Others might think of the person who achieved the most notoriety and name Adolf Hitler, the German dictator responsible for starting World War II (which resulted in the deaths of 50 million people) and the Holocaust, the state-sponsored murders of 6 million Jews and millions of disabled people, Poles, homosexuals and Soviets.

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For the most famous person, you might select a social justice warrior like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela, who were revered by most people in their home countries of the U.S.A. and South Africa, respectively, as well as abroad for their fights for civil rights.

However, in terms of impact and sheer numbers of people, we're going to name Mahatma Gandhi as the most famous historical figure in the world. India's current population is 1.4 billion, and though not every citizen may know who he is, between the numbers who do and the rest of the world who knows him, that will rank in the billions. The "father" of the nation of India was a major figure in that country's fight to gain independence from Britain and was well-known for using non-violent civil disobedience as resistance, a principle known in India as Satyagraha. Gandhi also influenced other leaders of non-violent resistance movements such as King and the Dalai Lama.

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Most Famous Entertainers, Dead and Alive

One way to measure celebrity fame is by earnings and the sad truth is that many stars are worth more after they're dead. Forbes magazine puts out an annual list of the highest-paid dead celebrities. Every year since his death in 2009, Michael Jackson has ranked on top, with the exceptions of 2012 (when Elizabeth Taylor was No. 1) and 2021, when the estate of Roald Dahl made an enormous deal with Netflix, giving the author the top spot. Overall, Jackson's estate has earned a staggering $2.6 billion since 2009. His album "Thriller" is still the biggest-selling album of all time.

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson performs on stage on his HIStory tour in December 1996.
Phil Dent/Redferns

In the category of alive celebrities, Forbes ranked Peter Jackson (director of the "Lord of the Rings" movies) as No. 1 in 2022. He earned $580 million while selling part of his visual effects firm for $1.6 billion. In second place was Bruce Springsteen (who sold his music catalog to Sony in 2021) with Jay-Z in third place. In addition to his music career, Jay-Z also invests in a music streamer and a champagne brand. The highest-paid actor came in at No. 4, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who earned $270 million. But only a quarter of his earnings were from acting – the rest was from his tequila brand. Johnson also ranks in the top 10 of Instagram followers.

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Most Famous Person on Google

Our final way to measure fame is look at who is being searched for the most on Google. According to Business Insider (using Google data), the top three people for 2021 were Alec Baldwin (the actor currently in legal trouble for discharging a revolver onset that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins); Kyle Rittenhouse (who shot three men during a Black Lives Matter protest) and Danish professional footballer Christian Erikson (who successfully underwent surgery after experiencing cardiac arrest and collapsing on the football pitch).

For Baldwin, Rittenhouse and Erikson, their high-ranking status in this category may be more a case of "who are they, again?" rather than "wow, they're so famous."

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Originally Published: Nov 10, 2009

Most Famous Person FAQ

Who is the most famous person in the world?
In terms of internet traffic, Alec Baldwin was the most searched person in the year 2021.
Who is the most famous person in history?
In Michael H. Hart's book "The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History," he listed the most famous and influential people of the world ever known to mankind. Muhammad, the central human figure of Islam, topped the list.
Who is the most famous celebrity in the world?
In 2022, footballer Cristiano Ronaldo had the most followers on social media.
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