Clint Eastwood was the closer at Thursday’s AFI Life Achievement fete for Morgan Freeman, and he didn’t disappoint.
“I grew up watching Morgan Freeman,” Eastwood told the crowd assembled on Stage 15 of the Sony Pictures lot. When the laughter died down, Eastwood explained that he didn’t really grow up until he was 40 and watched Freeman’s work every day in “The Electric Company” with his son.
Sidney Poitier opened the evening with gravitas, noting that in contemporary culture “the movies matter, as do their players.”
Betty White kicked off the tributes by arriving onstage in a “Driving Miss Daisy”-esque sedan. She serenaded her onetime co-star (1998’s “Hard Rain”) with a rendition of “Hello, Dolly!” (in a nod to Freeman’s legit roots) refashioned for the occasion as “Hello, Morgan!” (“Morgan we love you here at AFI”) complete with six chorus boys in tuxes.
Much was made of Freeman landing his first major film roles at the age of 50. Helen Mirren, his co-star in “Red,” said she admired his determination not to let age get in his way.
“Movie after movie, this AARP member has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can kick some serious ass,” she said.
Samuel L. Jackson teased the cameras recording the event for a June 19 spesh on TV Land with his threat to launch an “mf-bomb.” “Mr. Honoree you are a bad-ass … Morgan Freeman,” Jackson said.
Tim Robbins kept it simple with a nod to their time behind bars together in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
“It was an honor being locked up with you, Morgan,” Robbins said.
Others who showered superlatives on Freeman included Cuba Gooding Jr., Rita Moreno, Don Cheadle, Matthew Broderick, Matthew McConaughey (whose rambling remarks raised some eyebrows), Casey Affleck and Forest Whitaker. Garth Brooks gave a performance of “Lean on Me” — twice, in fact, after producers insisted on a retake.
Freeman took the stage after Eastwood gingerly declared his love for the thesp (“I don’t know if it’s proper to love another man, but this is as close as I’m going to get”) and called him forth.
“This is easy to take but hard to believe,” Freeman said. “Where I come from in Mississippi they call this walking in high cotton.”