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The odd list of those awarded key to the city of Detroit over the years

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein speaks on a national television April 8, 2002 in Baghdad. Hussein announced that he would suspend oil exports for one month in protest of the Israeli incursion into the Palestinian territories. (Photo by INA/Getty Images)

The list of Detroit ‘key to the city’ recipients is interesting, to say the least.


The key to the city is one of the highest honors given to anyone.

Sometimes the key to the city is a symbolic honor, a fun honor or a very meaningful honor. They’re often given to athletes, politicians and celebrities.

Every year, Santa is presented with the key to the city at the end of America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit. Santa is spoiled with keys. So we’ll leave him off this list.

Here’s a look at some of the lucky people awarded the key to the city of Detroit over the years:

1974: Stevie Wonder: Detroit Mayor Coleman Young presented Motown legend Stevie Wonder with the key to the city, which inspired “Songs in the Key of Life." Okay, that’s not true, but it was released just two years later!

1980: Saddam Hussein: Okay, so this is clearly the strangest name on the list. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was awarded the key by Mayor Coleman Young for donations he made to a local church. In 1980, when Saddam was on good terms with the United States, he gave money to fund the Sacred Heart Chaldean Church in Detroit, to the tune of $200,000. Read more about this story here from the WDIV archives.

2006: Jerome Bettis: Detroit native and Pittsburgh Steelers legend Jerome Bettis was given the key to the city by former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick days before winning the Super Bowl, which was played in Detroit against the Seattle Seahawks. He attended Mackenzie High School in Detroit.

2007: Steve Yzerman: The “Captain” Steve Yzerman rightfully received the key to the city after retiring from the Red Wings and after his jersey was retired by the team. Yzerman was the longest serving captain for any team in history (19 years), and helped lead the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup wins. Now, he’s back to win another key as general manager. (We hope!)

2010: Elmo: So, Saddam Hussein was definitely strange, but this may be even more strange. Elmo was given the key to the city by former Mayor Dave Bing during a visit at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. This is cute, of course. But Elmo is a Muppet. Also, if Elmo gets Detroit’s key, shouldn’t he get every key? He’s surely visited other cities and hospitals.

A handful of others have received keys to the city, including Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, Big Sean and Berry Gordy. Who do you think deserves a key?


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