As Robert De Niro presented the Friars Club Entertainment Icon Award to Tony Bennett Monday night at the Sheraton Hotel in New York, he joked: “Every time I turn around Tony’s doing another great thing — selling out concerts, winning Grammys, collaborating with today’s biggest pop stars like Lady Gaga… Me, I’m doing the occasional movie and selling fish.”
De Niro continued, “He marched with Martin Luther King, from Selma to Montgomery. In short, Tony [Bennett] has dedicated his life to making the rest of us look bad.”
The Friars Club, known for its celebrity roasts and charitable endeavors, gathered actors, comedians and musicians to honor the 18-time Grammy award-winning artist with its sixth Entertainment Icon accolade since the organization was founded in 1904. Bennett joined an exclusive group of talents, including De Niro, Tom Cruise, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and silent-movie star Douglas Fairbanks, when he received the club’s highest honor on his 90th birthday.
Comedian Jeff Ross drew laughs from the audience, while making fun of the room consisting mostly of senior citizens: “Look at this table, I’ve seen younger faces on cash!” Master of ceremonies Larry King had jokes of his own for Regis Philbin who stood to do some schmoozing after dinner. “Regis Philbin is also here. Stand-up Regis. No Regis, stand up!” he yelled.
A-listers like Scarlett Johansson posed for photos by her table, while Rosario Dawson chatted with fellow presenter Brett Ratner. The evening was also highlighted by song dedications from jazz pianist Barbara Carroll, who noted her friendship with Bennett had spanned nearly 60 years.
King later led an impromptu chorus of Bennett’s “The Best Is Yet To Come” with De Niro, Dawson and Nicole Henry. Though the ceremony was in equal parts an awards show and roast, Bennett managed to get the last laugh before thanking the Friars Club. “I’m the only one who didn’t sing it, ’cause I’m not getting paid for it!”
“Thank you very much for being so wonderful and thinking of me,” he continued. “This is something I’ll never forget.”