And Tony Bennett just sat there and enjoyed his dinner at the head table. That was the kind of night Robert DeNiro’s Friars dinner was at the Waldorf Hotel Grand Ballroom. Over thirteen hundred people jammed the place to see DeNiro get the Icon Award for Entertainment. It was so crowded that Frankie Valli and his rock and roll pal Jerry Blavat sat in the first tier of boxes so they could be near the stage. Sharon Stone, Edward Norton, David O. Russell, Sting and Trudie Styler, Harvey Keitel and his wife Daphna were among those surrounding DeNiro, wife Grace, daughter Drena and son Rafael.
Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire who owns part of the New York Times and a lot of other stuff, was also honored with the Friars Club Icon Award for Philanthropy.
Sting, Aretha Franklin, and Stevie Wonder each performed. Stevie brought his band and did a mini set of “My Cherie Amour,” “We Can Work it Out,” “Sir Duke,” “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” and “Superstition.” The set was so good that Aretha, who’d just sung “Rolling in the Deep,” got up and danced at her table. So did Sharon Stone. Sting wowed the crowd with “Every Breath You Take,” then headed back to a preview of his “Last Ship” on Broadway.
Don’t worry, there were plenty of Friars stalwarts including Freddie Roman, Stewie Stone, new chief Larry King, who served as emcee and was pretty damn good. The spirits of Alan King and Joan Rivers hovered. I may have missed Friars Joy Behar and Jeffrey Ross, because there were so many people in the place it was impossible to move! The millions raised all go to charity.
“This is not a roast,” we were reminded by NBC’s Brian Williams, who then went on to roast DeNiro tenderly, not in the usual down and dirty Friars style. This was not the place for dirty jokes. That’s another show.
Video messages were sent by Martin Scorsese and Meryl Streep, who are shooting movies, as well as Sean Penn, Jerry Lewis, and Billy Crystal. Paul Anka and Warren Buffet sent a tape of themselves singing “My Way.”
Did the night have buzz? There was enough energy in there to fuel a battalion of Teslas. There was also no air conditioning, as comedian Joel McHale pointed out. Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson also cracked up the crowd. And there were plenty of other celebs including director Barry Levinson, magician David Blaine, Penny Marshall, Kathy Narducci. Christopher Walken, Edgar Ramirez, Stephen Baldwin, casting director Amanda Mackey, “Game of Thrones” star Kit Harrington, Nobu owner Drew Nieporent, Tribeca Film Institute chief Jane Rosenthal, and former New York mayor David Dinkins.
(In the old days, Mike Bloomberg would have been front and center. Where was Bill DeBlasio?)
Robert DeNiro dedicated the night to Robin Williams, his co-star in “Awakenings” after Penny Marshall played an unseen outtake from the movie that was hilarious and heartbreaking.
Deniro doesn’t like speaking in public. He told me before that he had a speech prepared. Then when it was time to give it, somehow the pages had been stapled together in the wrong order. So he read the speech in that order, then read it in the right one. It was very funny.
DeNiro even invoked some Friars Roast humor. Of his own career, the two time Oscar winner joked: “There are lots of bad movies left to make.” He also congratulated Larry King for making it through the night and wished him well til “he gets back into his coffin.” Rim shot!