40 Times Birthday Girl Angelina Jolie Inspired Us

Angelina Jolie (Getty Images)
Angelina Jolie (Getty Images)

Whether or not you ever proclaimed yourself "Team Jolie," you've surely been inspired by something Angelina Jolie has done through the years — from her dedication to helping refugees to her candidness in talking about her breast and ovarian cancer scares. After an angsty few years learning how to live in the spotlight (blood vials anyone?), she figured out a way to largely use her celebrity for good.

As the mother of six turns 40 today, we're looking at 40 things — big and small, serious and silly — that she's done through the years that have made us cheer…

1. Angelina was open and honest about the discovery of her BRCA1 gene and the double mastectomy that followed it. In a May 2013 op-ed for The New York Times titled, "My Medical Choice," Angelina shared that her doctors estimated that she had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. "Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy," she wrote. "I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."

2. She turned her problem into a teaching moment, urging others to get tested. "I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer," she explained in that 2013 op-ed. "It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options. Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of."

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at the 'World War Z' premiere in London (Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at the 'World War Z' premiere in London (Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

3. She was the vision of strength at her first post-mastectomy public appearance. Leave it to Angelina to slay her first red carpet after revealing she'd had a preventative double mastectomy. The actress stood by Brad Pitt at the world premiere of World War Z, looking gorgeous in a black floor-length Saint Laurent gown with sheer cutouts.

4. She became one of the Internet's biggest memes. Angelina broke the Internet before that was even a thing with her 2012 Oscars gown, showing only the skin of a single leg. Countless jokes and even a Twitter account for her gam soon followed. Take that, Kim!

5. Breastfeeding is beautiful, yo. Long before Gisele Bündchen and Alyssa Milano made waves by sharing their mother and child moments on Instagram, Angie went way more public, allowing a photo of herself — taken by Brad Pitt — feeding one of her twins to cover W magazine back in November 2008.

6. She's the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador for refugees. Known for being a bit of a Hollywood wild child, Jolie found a purpose when she began to travel to war-torn regions and saw the horrors people there were facing. Work with the UN Refugee Agency led to her being named UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2001. She still makes frequent trips to refugee camps and even brings her children with her on missions. "Once I started to learn about the world, I became grateful for everything that I certainly have," she told USA Today. "Since going through my first war zone, never have I woken up and not been simply grateful."

7. She made nice with her father after he told the press she had "mental problems." Raised by her mom, the late Marcheline Bertrand, Jolie had a difficult relationship with her father, Jon Voight. Things came to a head in 2002 when the Ray Donovan star told Access Hollywood that his daughter should "get help" for her "serious mental problems." She issued a tersely worded statement, saying it was "not healthy” for her to be around her father. By 2010, however, she was able to find forgiveness and they buried the hatchet. Voight, who got to know his six grandchildren, told the U.K.'s Daily Mail, "Being reunited with my Angie is very precious to me." They still have their limitations though. While they're no longer estranged, Voight still didn't score an invite to her wedding last year.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' (Fox)
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' (Fox)

8. Tango, anyone? We can't speak for you all, but after watching Angelina and Brad's steamy tango in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, we sure wanted to sign up for dance classes.

9. She bravely revealed her thoughts on life after death. In an October 2014 interview with the French Marie Claire, she admitted, "I'm not certain [if there's life after death]. I feel in contact with my mother when I look at my children. I can feel her influence over me then. I see that my way of raising them resembles the way she raised my brother and I. It's more apparent with my daughters Shiloh and Vivienne. Therefore, yes, my mother is there, present in this influence, all the time."

10. With her kids in mind, Angelina pressed on with taking intrusive, yet preventative measures to avoid cancer. Two years after opening up about her double mastectomy, Jolie held true to her word about following up with any preventative surgery information that could be useful to other women. After learning she had a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, the star had a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Her doctors recommended she have the surgery to remove her tubes and ovaries, because on top of the BRCA gene, three women in her family — her mother, grandmother, and aunt — died from cancer. "I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family," Jolie wrote in The New York Times. "I know my children will never have to say, 'Mom died of ovarian cancer.'"

Angelina Jolie with Zahara Marley Jolie-Pitt and Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt at Nickelodeon's 28th Annual Kids' Choice Awards (Lester Cohen/WireImage)
Angelina Jolie with Zahara Marley Jolie-Pitt and Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt at Nickelodeon's 28th Annual Kids' Choice Awards (Lester Cohen/WireImage)

11. Her first appearance after the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes was also all about the kids. Angie sure knows how to make a triumphant return to the spotlight. A week after revealing she removed her ovaries and fallopian tubes, Jolie brought along daughters Zahara and Shiloh to the Kids' Choice Awards, where she won Favorite Villain for Maleficent. "I want to say that when I was little, like Maleficent, I was told that I was different and I felt out of place and too loud, too full of fire, never good at sitting still, never good at fitting in," she told the young crowd. "And then one day I realized something, something I hope you all realize. Different is good."

12. She puts her testimony where he mouth is. It's one thing to advocate for refugees worldwide and another entirely to march into to the UN Security Council and rip it a new one for its inaction as the Syrian government routinely slaughters its own people which is exactly what Jolie did in April of this year. "We cannot look at Syria, and the evil that has arisen from the ashes of indecision, and think this is not the lowest point in the world’s inability to protect and defend the innocent," Jolie said.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (George Pimentel/WireImage)
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (George Pimentel/WireImage)

13. Pregnancy style doesn't have to be frumpy. No matter how big her baby bumps got, Angelina still killed it on the red carpet, proving once and for all that being with child doesn't necessarily mean you need to wear a tent to a fancy event.

14. Don't forget that awesomely international family. By the time she was just 33, she had six children, including three — Maddox, Pax, and Zahara — who were adopted from around the globe. Seeing all of them always looking so happy together gives us perpetual warm fuzzies. "I have a big, crazy happy family," she has said. "I'm used to chaos, and I'm very, very lucky." Indeed.

15. She started the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation. Adopting Cambodian orphan Maddox in 2002 changed her life instantly. "For me, becoming a parent changed everything," she told People magazine. "My priorities straightened out. My life is all different." A year later, she established a charity in her son's name, which is dedicated to eradicating extreme rural poverty, protecting natural resources and conserving wildlife. Twelve years later, it’s still going strong — and she and Brad started additional charities in the names of their other children.

16. She supports the troops. The world traveler has taken the time to visit American troops overseas both in active warzones at visiting with injured soldiers in a military hospital in Germany.

Angelina Jolie and Amy Pascal (AP Photo)
Angelina Jolie and Amy Pascal (AP Photo)

17. She always keeps her cool. The Sony Pictures hack last year showed that the studio's co-chairman Amy Pascal and producer Scott Rudin had said some not-so-nice things about Jolie over emails that happened to be released on the same day Jolie ran into Pascal at an industry event. So what did Angelina do? She kept it classy, leaving her mouth shut and saying all she needed to say with her eyes.

18. She has Star Wars in her eyes. During a new interview with Domhall Gleeson for Interview magazine, Jolie shared her favorite Star Wars character. "I'm personally a Boba Fett fan," she said. When pressed about getting a role in the new movie, she added, "Can Boba Fett have a missus? Well, put in a good word for me, then."

19. She made sure we knew that we are all Malala. It should come as no surprise that the story of Malala Yousafzai — the young girl shot in the face by the Taliban for standing up for her right to an education — moved Jolie. In 2012, just days after Malala Yousafzai was shot while riding a bus home from school, Jolie penned an essay, "We Are All Malala," for The Daily Beast. In it, she encouraged mothers around the world to teach their daughters what had happened and to stick up for their sisters around the world. She also predicted Yousafzai's 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the Critics' Choice Awards (Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt at the Critics' Choice Awards (Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

20. Just look at how Brad and Angelina work the PDA during awards shows. Can you say #RelationshipGoals?

21. Her charity work isn't just international. Just like the Red Cross, when disaster strikes here in the U.S., you can be sure Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will show up quickly. The couple spent years and millions of dollars revitalizing the New Orleans's Ninth Ward after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They donated money to Joplin, Missouri, after the city — just miles from Pitt’s hometown of Springfield, Missouri — was flattened by a tornado in 2011. And the list goes on and on.

22. That beautiful friendship with Unbroken subject Louis Zamperini at the end of his life. When Jolie directed last year's Oscar-nominated Unbroken, she formed a bond with the World War II hero. Zamperini died at 97 in July, about six months before the movie was released, but not before he imparted some wisdom on her that she later shared. "When there is an obstacle, you have to rise to the challenge, not be overwhelmed by it," Jolie said in a statement upon his death. "And we're not alone in the world."

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's wedding (People)
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's wedding (People)

23. Her wedding and baby photos raised money for charity. Many celebs have been known to cash in on the first look at their newborn babies or wedding pics, but not Angelina. Of course, she and Brad knew that their exclusive photos were valuable, so they sold them to a few glossy publications, but they have always donated the proceeds to charity. Shots of their twins, Knox and Vivienne, went for a reported $14 million in 2008; daughter Shiloh's first baby pics went for $4.1 mil in 2006; and photos of their adopted son, Pax, reportedly fetched another $2 million in 2007. The couple also donated the $5 million they made on their 2014 wedding pics to the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which supports humanitarian projects around the world.

24. Accessories can be unforgettable, too. Do you remember who won at the 2009 Oscars? Do you remember Angelina's emerald earrings? 'Nuf said.

25. Awards can be well-deserved. When she was just 38, Jolie became the youngest winner ever to receive the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, one of several lifetime achievement awards given annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to a person who brings credit to the industry. Officials applauded Jolie for her work with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Council on Foreign Relations, and many other charitable organizations.

26. Superstardom doesn't mean you should stop trying for super-spousedom. "We have more moments where I say, 'I'm going to be a better wife. I'm going to learn to cook,'" newlywed Angelina told Tom Brokaw on the Today show in November 2014. "[Brad] says, 'Oh, honey, know what you're good at.' … He knows my limitations." Of course, part of being a better spouse is about inspiring greatness from one another. Later in the same interview, while talking about her and Brad's upcoming film, By the Sea, shot in lieu of a honeymoon, she explained, "We wanted to try things; we wanted to push each other; we wanted to be artists and see what we could make."

27. She keeps an open mind about strangers. Look no further than Angelina's photos with Radioman, an NYC street legend who was once homeless, during the Unbroken premiere, and snaps with a drag queen dressed as her character at the fete for Maleficent. #ClassAct.

28. She wants you to laugh. That horrifying Maleficent laugh sent shivers down our spines, but it wasn't easy. "Anybody that reads this should try this: Go into your bathroom and actually try to do the biggest laugh you can possibly do [into the mirror]," she ordered our friends at Yahoo Movies. "It was one of the hardest things to do."

29. Her directorial debut was internationally-minded. Rather than kicking off her directing career with something simple and popular with the fans who loved her in blockbusters like Salt and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Angelina went for a passion project and story a bit more difficult to watch. She wrote, directed, and produced In the Land of Blood and Honey, a love story set against the background of the Bosnian War and filled with actors who lived through the real war. Making the film was filled with drama, but she persisted. In addition to permits being revoked and then reinstated, Jolie and some of the actors received threats. However, she saw the project through to the end and even held a screening in Bosnia.

30. Angie was bi before it was cool. In 1997, to be bisexual was far edgier than it is these days, but Angelina never shied away from talking about her fluid sexuality. Jolie dated model Jenny Shimizu in the late '90s when they starred in Foxfire together. "I probably would have married Jenny Shimizu if I hadn't married [Jonny Lee Miller]," she told Girlfriends magazine in 1997. "I fell in love with her the first second I saw her."

31. She lets Shiloh be who she wants to be. The Namibian-born beauty was never a girly-girl — and that's okay with Jolie. She is "like a little dude," the actress told Vanity Fair in 2010. "She likes tracksuits, she likes suits. She likes to dress like a boy. She wants to be a boy. So we had to cut her hair. She likes to wear boys’ everything. She thinks she’s one of the brothers." Cheers to her letting her kid — who goes by "John," according to Brad — be true to herself and grow up to be who she wants to be.

32. Remember when she got the chickenpox? No matter how old you are, getting chickenpox is no laughing matter. Angelina tried to best of her spotty situation by amusingly explaining to her fans that she'd be home itching instead of celebrating her directorial effort. It was a reminder that life throws curveballs — even to Angelina Jolie.

33. When Jolie sells products, the proceeds go for a good cause. In 2011, a line of necklaces, bracelets, and rings that she designed herself — would you expect anything less from Jolie? — in a collaboration with jeweler Robert Procop gave 100 percent of its proceeds to her charity Education Partnership for Children of Conflict. The organization helps children who are victims of national conflict or natural disasters.

34. She can be friends with her exes. Angelina has stayed on friendly terms with her most famous ex, Billy Bob Thornton, whom she married on May 5, 2000, just one month after going public with their romance. They decided to end their marriage after just two years, but the friendship has remained. When Thornton was asked in a 2014 interview if they kept in touch, he said, "Oh of course, yeah. She's amazing, amazing. She's got so much energy and so much goodness in her, and we check in on each other all the time. She makes sure I'm doing okay. I make sure she's doing okay."

35. She allows her kids to eat junk — and is honest about it. Many celebs insist on feeding their children only the finest organic foods, but Angelina isn't afraid to let her six children enjoy the occasional bag of Cheetos or a trip to McDonald's. She's not your average mom, but she wants to let her kids lead as normal a life as possible, Happy Meals and all.

36. She makes sure her messages reach younger audiences. Jolie has long used her fame to call attention to worthy causes, as she did in 2005 when MTV made a special out of a trip she took to Africa. In the network's Diary of Angelina Jolie and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs in Africa, the audience learned about the poverty, disease, and famine affecting a village in Kenya. While we don't have exact numbers on it, we're pretty sure 100 percent of the people who tuned in would not have done so without Jolie's involvement.

37. Risks lead to breakthroughs. Early in her career, Jolie took a risk by playing a real person — which tends to go either very well or very badly — when she played the late model Gia Carangi for the HBO movie Gia. Her portrayal of a woman who struggled with heroin addiction and died of complications from AIDS won her a 1999 Golden Globe Award, critical acclaim, and, arguably, a whole lot more work.

Angelina Jolie (Getty Images)
Angelina Jolie (Getty Images)

38. Let's not forget that time Angelina proved a lady can totally rock a tuxedo.

39. The bar for celebrity wine is much higher now. Jolie and Pitt convinced us that a wine doesn't have to be bad just because it has a celebrity's name on it. Their Chateau Miraval Rosé 2012, named for their French estate of the same name, came in at No. 84 on Wine Spectator's Top 100 Wines of the Year list the year it was released.

40. She accepts the hard reality of life with inner peace. "Regardless of the hormone replacements I’m taking, I am now in menopause," she wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times following the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes. "I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes. But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared." If we hope to learn anything from Jolie, it’s her strength and resolve.