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'Notorious RBG': Ginsburg transcended the court to become a pop culture icon

The spontaneous outpouring of grief across the country spoke to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s influence and devotion.
Image: Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a Supreme Court Justice; RBG working out with weights and a protest sign that reads \"Long Live the Queen\"
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

Ruth Bader Ginsburg rose from a feminist advocate to the Supreme Court bench, but it was her transcendence to cultural icon that reverberated Friday as thousands expressed an outpouring of grief.

In a country where women still crave female political leaders, Ginsburg filled a void. She became an idol for liberal women, including many who felt their progress was stymied when Donald Trump was elected president. The devotion went beyond the political arena, penetrating the cultural domain from comedy sketches to workout routines.

Women carried tote bags with her image. Babies were clad in outfits with her profile. She was honored as a titan capable of enduring multiple cancer treatments while still hearing cases in the nation’s highest court.

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death Friday night, a large group of mourners gathered outside the U.S. Supreme Court and sang “Amazing Grace” in her honor. The American flag was lowered to half staff.

Ginsburg also became a champion of gay rights. In San Francisco’s Castro District, a historically gay neighborhood, people marched through the streets waving rainbow flags and chanting “Vote!” over and over again. A few people carried signs that read, “We won’t let you down.”

The spontaneous outpouring of grief across the country spoke volumes about Ginsburg’s influence, which transcended the courtroom and blossomed into rock star status.

Rarely are judges and lawyers revered in this way.

"Justice Ginsburg inspired the generations who followed her, from the tiniest trick-or-treaters to law students burning the midnight oil to the most powerful leaders in the land," former President Barack Obama said. "We’re profoundly thankful for the legacy she left."

Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, was seen by many as a revolutionary giant in the guise of a petite woman. She represented possibility and opportunity, the natural conclusion of hard work and the ongoing fight for justice.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the kind of scholar and patriot you get excited about explaining to your kids. The kind of person who you say ‘who knows, one day you could be HER,’” actress Mindy Kaling tweeted. “I hope you rest well, RBG, you must have been tired from changing the world.”

Ginsburg inspired everything from exercise videos to hashtags. She was turned into an action figure and had a Tumblr account dedicated to her "glory."

She became known as the "Notorious RBG," a reference to the '90s gansta rapper Notorious B.I.G.

Ginsburg’s workout routine is so ubiquitous that it got the "Saturday Night Live" treatment earlier this year. In the skit, comedienne Kate McKinnon wore a sweatshirt with the words “Super Diva” emblazoned across the front. It was based on previous video footage showing the small but mighty Ginsburg exercising with a personal trainer. The “RBG Workout” is now a book.

Ginsburg’s tenacity did not waver even in her final days. She told her granddaughter that her “most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed,” NPR reported.

She showed that same doggedness on the bench. When she dissented, she donned a ruffled white collar over her black robes. Imitations of Ginsburg’s “dissent collar” became a popular online purchase. Earrings and necklaces fashioned in the style of her collar became a common accessory.

“I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks,” she said in the 2018 documentary “RBG.”

When the documentary premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, she was reportedly given the red carpet treatment.

“Surely the smartest and toughest person I'll ever have the privilege to know. Rest in Peace, Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” film director Julie Cohen tweeted Friday night.