Morgan Freeman has received the 39th American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award in Culver City, Calif., and the ceremony will air today on TV Land at 9 pm EST.

Clint Eastwood, Matthew McConaughey, Casey Affleck, Helen Mirren, Sidney Poitier, Matthew Broderick, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tim Robbins, Betty White, Forest Whitaker and Samuel L. Jackson were among the A-list stars who gathered on Thursday for a black-tie tribute, catered by Wolfgang Puck, to Morgan, 74.

Freeman opened the show in a pre-taped segment, saying, “Over the past 39 years, the AFI has honored the giants and tonight, ME,” as he smiled shyly and gave a thumbs up. Other than 1992 recipient Poitier, Freeman is the only other African American to receive this award, so it was fitting that Poitier began the proceedings, calling him “a character actor and a real character who has become a star and now a star of the AFI forever.”

The three-hour celebration included clips from Freeman's films and early performances, including him singing and dancing on the TV show, The Electric Company, from the early '70s, and taped messages of love from Renee Zellweger, Chris Rock and Steven Spielberg, among others.

But the tributes were not limited to taped ones. Friends from the industry who were present had nothing but glowing praise for Freeman. “He is the most effortless person to be around and to act,” Eastwood told the audience, as he introduced Freeman and presented the award. “It was an honor being locked up with you, Morgan,” said Robbins, Freeman’s costar in the 1994 drama, The Shawshank Redemption. Freeman's RED costar Mirren gushed, “In movie after movie, this AARP member has proven without a shadow of a doubt that he can kick some serious ass.” Jackson called him “the real thing,” and Whitaker described the actor as an “adviser, a beacon, a confidant, a shoulder to lean on, protector, and friend.”

But it wasn’t all sentimentality. White, 89, who starred opposite Freeman in Hard Rain, took to the stage for a song-and-dance number — "Hello, Morgan," sung to the tune of "Hello, Dolly" — and Garth Brooks led a gospel chorus in a rendition of "Lean on Me," the title of Freeman's uplifting 1989 drama, in which he played Principal Joe Clark.

Freeman, for his part, was clearly honored but also humbled. “This is easy to take but hard to believe. Where I come from in Mississippi, they call this walking in high cotton,” he told the audience. “For me, heaven has always been about acting in the movies. I'm proud to be an actor, although for this one night, you've made me feel like a star.”

The actor is known for his roles in movies such as Million Dollar Baby, which won him his only Oscar, Invictus, The Dark Knight, Bruce Almighty and its sequel Evan Almighty.

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