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Eastwood, Mirren and others honor Morgan Freeman

  • Honoree Morgan Freeman, right, and Forest Whitaker arrive at the taping of "TV Land Presents: AFI Life Achievement Award Honoring Morgan Freeman" in Culver City, Calif., Thursday, June 9, 2011. The special will air June 19th on TV Land. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)

CULVER CITY — Standing on the soundstage where Fred Astaire once danced and Dorothy skipped down the yellow brick road, Morgan Freeman accepted the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award.

Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier, Helen Mirren, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Robbins and Forest Whitaker were among the stars who feted Freeman during a ceremony Thursday at Sony Studios, former home of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

The storied Stage 15 — which AFI Chair Sir Howard Stringer said was once graced by Astaire and Judy Garland in film — was transformed into an elegant ballroom, its walls draped in red and gold and dotted with giant framed photos of Freeman, whom Poitier introduced as "a prince of the craft of acting."

In a room filled with hundreds of his colleagues and friends, Freeman listened to star after star share what they admire about him and his work. The 74-year-old Oscar winner sat at the head table near the center of the room, beaming.

Jackson told the actor he was inspired by both Freeman's work and his words.

"In a world of too much cubic zirconium, you are the real thing," he said.

Whitaker called Freeman an "adviser, a beacon, a confidant, a shoulder to lean on, protector, and friend," both in real life and in the characters he has played on film.

Freeman blew Robbins a kiss when "The Shawshank Redemption" star said, "It was an honor being locked up with you, Morgan."

The three-and-a-half-hour celebration included clips of Freeman's legendary films and early performances — including him singing and dancing on TV's "The Electric Company" in the early 1970s — interspersed with recorded segments of Freeman and other actors and filmmakers reflecting on his career.

There were clips of Freeman the soldier, as in 1989's "Glory"; Freeman the detective, as in "Se7en"; Freeman the loyal friend, as in "Driving Miss Daisy"; and Freeman as God, as in "Bruce Almighty" and "Evan Almighty."

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