AFI Turns 50: 7 Greatest Moments From the Life Achievement Awards

6:30 AM 10/6/2017

by Mia Galuppo

Since 1973, one influential artist (think Beatty, Spielberg, Fonda) has been singled out each year in a ceremony that has become the hottest ticket in Hollywood.

Frank Sinatra, Betty White, Sidney Poitier
Frank Sinatra, Betty White, Sidney Poitier
AP Images; Getty Images

Over four plus decades, AFI has honored the careers of the entertainment industry's best and brightest at their Life Achievement Award ceremonies. Honorees have included Wilder, Beatty, Spielberg, Streep, Streisand and a couple of Douglases and Fondas, while guests have included presidents and princesses (and plenty of Hollywood royalty). With that much star power in one room, there are bound to be some big moments.

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Tricky Dick Salutes John Ford


    Getty Images

    President Richard Nixon presented director John Ford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the very first ceremony, also attended by Jimmy Stewart, Danny Kaye and Charlton Heston. A week before the event, the Watergate burglars had been convicted. A week later, John Dean would begin to cooperate with the Senate investigators.

  • Sinatra Sings for Orson Welles


    AP Images

    Frank Sinatra serenaded the Citizen Kane director with a reworded version of "The Lady Is a Tramp" in honor of Welles' infamous radio broadcast that had many thinking Martians had invaded. "In '38, with a radio play," sang Sinatra. "War of the Worlds filled us with much dismay. And he scared the shhhh … adows away!"

  • A Princess Bows for Jimmy Stewart


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    Grace Kelly left Hollywood at 26 to become princess of Monaco, but she returned some two decades later for a ceremony honoring her Rear Window co-star Jimmy Stewart. "It's nice to be back," she told the crowd from the stage. Two years later, at the actress' funeral, Stewart delivered her eulogy.

  • Rosa Parks Stands Up for Poitier


    AP Images

    When Sidney Poitier became the first African-American recipient of the award, civil rights legend Rosa Parks — the activist who refused to sit in the back of the bus — was on hand for the ceremony. James Earl Jones, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and John Singleton also were present.

  • Mike Myers Dons a Kilt for Connery


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    The Austin Powers star came onstage at Sean Connery's ceremony accompanied by bagpipe music, flanked by Scottish dancers and wearing a kilt with knee-high socks. He said Connery was a favorite of his Scottish father's: "My dad would say, 'See that Sean Connery? That is bloody me on the screen.' "

  • Betty White Drives Freeman Nuts


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    White rolled onstage in a Hudson Commodore (a la Driving Miss Daisy) for a three-minute musical number honoring Morgan Freeman. Surrounded by six tuxedoed backup dancers, the actress sang, "So let's all clap, Morgan. Even though you've made some crap, Morgan. Please don't ever make Hard Rain again!"

  • Woody Allen Goes La-De-Da


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    The famously L.A.-averse director — he doesn't even come for the Oscars — made a rare visit to Hollywood to honor his longtime co-star and muse Diane Keaton. "She has been involved romantically with a half-dozen of the most gifted, charismatic, attractive men in Hollywood," he said. "And every one of them has dumped her."