A true Hollywood Gentleman and a bonafide musical genius, the legendary composer 84 year old John Williams, was honored with the American Film Institute, the AFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award last night at the Dolby theater. Williams has composed some of the most iconic countless movie scores, the theme for the Olympics, Sunday Night Football, NBC Nightly news and too many more to mention.
Star studded as usual, the event also reflected the genteel and classy energy of the man himself. Flanked by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on the dais, Williams took the evening in with grace and humor. Spielberg, who has made 27 films with him over a 43 year period said, “Without John Williams, bikes don’t fly and neither do brooms in Quidditch matches nor do men in red capes. There is no Force, dinosaurs do not walk the earth. We do not wonder, we do not weep, we do not believe. John breathes belief in every film he does.” Spielberg also talked about the iconic “Jaws” theme. “When he first played it for me on the piano, he had a big grin on his face and I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.”
Many celebrities spoke or had taped tributes. Will Ferrell, who didn’t speak but conducted the acapella orchestra including Idina Menzel. “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane said of his friend, “John’s greatness is along with Beethoven and Gershwin.” Drew Barrymore, only seven when she was in “ET,” said, “His music reminds us of our sense of wonder and transports us to a time when we would look at something and say, ‘Holy shit! That was amazing!”
Kobe Bryant, who forged a friendship with John in 2009 and credits him for helping him on the basketball court by copying Johns style of “putting all the pieces together,” paid tribute to his ‘muse,’ as well as “Jurassic World’s” Bryce Dallas Howard.
Harrison Ford got the biggest laugh of the night, as he went on stage with a full beard. (He later told me it was for his upcoming “Blade Runner” sequel.) Ford quipped to the audience of the Star Wars theme: “that damn music follows me everywhere. It was playing in the operating room when I went in for my colonoscopy.”
Taped tributes included Steve Martin playing the “Harry Potter” theme on his banjo, The Force Awakens’ Daisy Ridley, Morgan Freeman, Tom Cruise and director Chris Columbus.
JJ Abrams worked with Williams on “The Force Awakens” and noted, “This 50 time Oscar nominee seems not to have read his own resume. He’s simply one of the most humble people. And he calls everyone angel or baby.” He added: “Among the impossible number of things that George Lucas did so brilliantly and so right in 1977 was hiring John Williams, who would create a score so sublime and iconic and impactful for a film called “Star Wars.”
Lucas then spoke, “Star Wars” was meant to be a simple hero’s journey, a fantasy for young people. But then John’s music raised the film to an art that would stand the test of time.” He added, “I had so many ideas for other movies, but I never got to them because you ensured that “Star Wars” would live forever.”
Tom Hanks introduced the youth orchestra who performed the score from “Schindler’s List,” while being conducted by the noted LA Philharmonic’s Gustavo Dudamel. Spielberg returned to present Williams his award. The composer told the crowd that, “Once I get over being stunned, I will treasure this night always.” John later told me that, “I still think I’m too young for this award. When I wake up tomorrow, I’ll pinch myself to know that it really happened. Then I’ll back to work.”
Bravo John. And kudos to AFI, it’s president and CEO Bob Gazzale for awarding their prestigious award to this most worthy gentlemanly genius.
The televised special, AFI Life Achievement Award: A tribute to John Williams, will air on TNT on June 15 (10 p.m. ET/ PT).