A-list celebs pay tribute to iconic comedian

An admiring gaggle of entertainers saluted comedian Bill Cosby’s impact on American humor and media depictions of race at the Kennedy Center’s 12th annual Mark Twain Prize ceremony on Monday.

Comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Sinbad and Steven Wright joined Phylicia Rashad and Malcolm-Jamal Warner, both members of Cosby’s TV family on sitcom hit “The Cosby Show,” to reminisce and introduce a string of videos of his routines. Taped to air on PBS stations Nov. 4, the evening was a raucous but reverential tribute to the comedian and philanthropist, who watched from his box a safe distance away with his wife, Camille.

Rashad and Warner told of lessons learned from mentor and TV dad Cosby on the set of “The Cosby Show,” adding that he always protected cast and crew from the network and outside distractions.

Included in the audience was first lady Michelle Obama, who also met privately with Cosby and members of the cast.

Jazz lover Cosby was also feted by an impromptu jazz band that included Wynton Marsalis, Jimmy Heath and Willie Nelson. Longtime pal Rita Moreno sang a jazzy number, and singer-songwriter Len Chandler performed “Beans in My Ear.”

Others joining the festivities included actor-director-writer Carl Reiner, a recipient of the Twain Prize in 2000, who told of casting a young Cosby in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” after hearing his son Rob mimic the comedian’s “Noah and the Ark” routine.

The video clip-a-thon included vintage bits from “The Jack Paar Show,” “The Dick Cavett Show” and “The Tonight Show” that included Cosby’s “Chocolate Cake” and “Dentist Chair” routines. Seinfeld and Rock told of Cosby’s dramatic impact on their young lives spent listening to Cosby’s albums such as “Why Is There Air?”

A 1998 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, Cosby had previously been offered the Twain Prize but said he declined it twice because of the profanity that dominated the first award show in 1998 for recipient Richard Pryor.

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