WASHINGTON (AP) — David Letterman’s “stupid human tricks” and Top 10 lists are being vaulted into the ranks of cultural acclaim as the late-night comedian receives this year’s Kennedy Center Honors with rock band Led Zeppelin and three other artists.
Stars from New York, Hollywood and the music world gathered Sunday in Washington to salute the comedian and the band, along with Dustin Hoffman, Chicago bluesman Buddy Guy and ballerina Natalia Makarova.
The honors are the nation’s highest award for those who influenced American culture through the arts. President Barack Obama will host the honorees at the White House before they are saluted by fellow performers in a show to be broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS.
Meryl Streep introduced the honorees Saturday during a dinner at the U.S. State Department and noted Letterman had surpassed his mentor, Johnny Carson, in sustaining the longest late-night television career for more than 30 years.
Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel joined in celebrating his influence on many other comedians.
“I knew Johnny, and I loved Johnny. Johnny was beyond reproach,” Colbert said in a toast to Letterman. “Dave was stupid. Dave was ours. Dave was like us.
“We wanted to throw things off of buildings. … We would love to stick our heads out the window of 30 Rock and yell at passers-by, ‘I’m not wearing any pants!’”
Colbert marveled at Letterman receiving such an award after he “corrupted the minds of a generation.”
Paul Shaffer, Letterman’s longtime band leader, said he knew his boss was uncomfortable hearing such accolades, but that he was also enjoying every second of it.
Big names from the rock world dressed in black tie for the occasion to honor their heroes in Led Zeppelin as a string ensemble played “Kashmir” and other tunes at the State Department.
Zeppelin front man Robert Plant said he was flattered and overwhelmed in receiving the American culture prize. He said he was glad to see his former band mates, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, using good table manners.
The trio is scheduled to appear Monday on CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman.”
Hoffman was honored for charting his own path after taking a junior college class in acting that “nobody ever flunks.”
President Bill Clinton saluted Guy, the Chicago bluesman who was born into a family of sharecroppers with no electricity or running water in Louisiana. “Buddy Guy’s life is a miracle,” Clinton said. “Just imagine you want to be a guitar player and you get your first strings by tearing off the screen door. … He came from that to this.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the ballerina Makarova “risked everything to have the freedom to dance the way she wanted to dance” when she defected from the Soviet Union in 1970.
The Kennedy Center Honors telecast will be seen, as always, on CBS later this month.