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Beatty gets just deserts

AFI gives its 36th Life Achievement Award to celebrate the actor's long film career. The show will air June 25.

June 14, 2008|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

No one makes a speech like Warren Beatty. He was in prime form Thursday night when he accepted the 36th annual American Film Institute Life Achievement Award at the Kodak Theatre where he managed to be simultaneously focused and scattered, funny and touching.

"I can't think of anybody I don't like in this room," he said, adding that he knew the cholesterol levels of several of the people in the star-studded crowd. "God knows I do love making good movies. There is really nothing like it."

Beatty, 71, then looked at his wife of 16 years, actress Annette Bening. "I love my profession," Beatty said. "It introduced me to the person who has given me the most important thing of all, which is her love and the love of our four children."

With a career that spans more than five decades, the Oscar-winning actor, writer, director and producer, whose films include “Bonnie & Clyde,” "Heaven Can Wait," "Reds," "Splendor in the Grass" and "Shampoo," joins the ranks of Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, James Stewart, James Cagney and Sidney Poitier, who had been given the Life Achievement Award.

The two-hour presentation at the Kodak, which will be telecast in an edited version at 9 p.m. June 25 on the USA Network, was an eclectic evening featuring Robert Downey Jr., who brought the house down with a stoner joke during a story about how Beatty became involved in the 1975 film classic "Shampoo"; hip-hop artist Pras performing a song from Beatty's 1998 political satire "Bulworth"; and former President Bill Clinton.

After showing clips of "Ishtar," the 1987 critical and commercial disaster that starred Dustin Hoffman and Beatty, Hoffman took the stage, noting he found it ironic "they asked me to speak at the films-that-bombed part of the evening." Hoffman, an avid Lakers fan, made a point of telling Beatty that he skipped the game to be there, unlike Beatty's good friend Jack Nicholson. "Warren, I'm here and I was here for dinner," mused Hoffman. Nicholson showed up after the Laker defeat.

A longtime Democrat, Beatty was praised by former Sen. George McGovern for staging a huge political concert for his presidential campaign in 1972. "I know many good people across this land," McGovern said. "Warren is one of the greats."

Clinton received a long standing ovation late in the evening. He talked about meeting Beatty in 1972 when he was a campaign worker for McGovern and how Beatty helped Clinton sway a young woman's vote by taking a walk with her on the beach in Florida.

Beatty, who seemed overwhelmed by the evening, exclaimed, "This is one hell of a party. How blessed I am to know you."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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