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David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman, Led Zeppelin, Buddy Guy and ballerina Natalia Makarova were announced Wednesday as this year’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts honorees.
The 2012 recipients will be saluted by a surprise selection of fellow artists Sunday, Dec. 2, from the stage of the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington. CBS will televise the event, again produced by George Stevens Jr. and his son Michael Stevens, in primetime Wednesday, Dec. 26.
The honorees are recognized for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. They are never asked to perform (or to speak or make an acceptance speech, for that matter), so those hoping — or praying — for a Zeppelin reunion for one night almost surely will be disappointed.
While Zeppelin is being honored as a band, singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page and keyboardist-bassist John Paul Jones each will receive a Kennedy Center medallion. The legendary British group disbanded when drummer John Bonham died in 1980, and they have performed on a handful of times since.
“We owe a large debt to the vitality and variety of the music of the American people,” the band said in a statement.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will greet the esteemed seven at the White House, and there’s a State Department dinner and gala hosted on the eve of the performances by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In a statement, Letterman, 65, said it was a wonderful honor for his family, his co-workers at CBS’ Late Show With David Letterman and for himself. In 1993, he helped honor his mentor Johnny Carson with the Kennedy Center prize, delivering one of his signature Top 10 lists about the Tonight Show host.
“I believe recognition at this prestigious level confirms my belief that there has been a mixup,” Letterman said. “I am still grateful to be included.”
Hoffman, 75, said in an interview with The Associated Press that he hasn’t been to Washington since Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
“It’s maybe the coldest I’ve been since I was in Calgary, Canada, when it was 70-below for a film,” the two-time Oscar-winning actor said. “Since I froze my [behind] off watching him be inaugurated, the least he could do is to shake my hand under the circumstances.”
American blues titan Guy, 76, has influenced countless electric guitar players during the past 50 years. He visited the White House this year and persuaded the president to sing a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago” with Mick Jagger.
Makarova, 72, left her native Russia in 1970 and made her debut with the American Ballet Theatre in a production of Giselle. She also performed in Romeo and Juliet days after the Kennedy Center opened in 1971.
Stevens Jr., who will receive an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in December, created The Kennedy Center Honors in 1978 with Nick Vanoff. He has produced every event in the honors’ 35-year history.
The telecast has won an Emmy Award in each of the past three years and is nominated for another one Sunday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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