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Al Pacino receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Actor Al Pacino poses with his AFI award

Story by Jack Foley

SCREEN legend Al Pacino has received the American Film Institute’s (AFI) lifetime achievement award, the highest honour it can bestow.

A host of Hollywood heavyweights, including screen veterans Sean Connery and Kirk Douglas, as well as director Oliver Stone, paid tribute to the actor at a lavish gala reception held in Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre on Thursday, June 7.

And the 67-year-old star was clearly humbled by the experience, stating: “It means so many things to be honoured like this. It feels great.”

Accepting his prize from Sean Penn, Pacino recalled that he discovered acting while growing up in New York.

“By age three, I was doing Al Jolson,” he said. “I found, in the theatre, this place I could go to. I found this peace.”

Indeed, it was in the theatre that Pacino first began to develop his reputation as one of the most talented and exciting actors of his generation.

And it was where Kirk Douglas first laid eyes upon him, as he revealed in his tribute.

“Forty-five years ago I was in a theatre and I thought, ‘Who is that guy?’” recalled the 91-year-old. “I look at my little programme and it said Al Pacino. I said to him: “You’re going to be a star.” But I didn’t expect 45 years later to be here.”

Other actors to pay tribute included Andy Garcia, who starred alongside him in The Godfather: Part III and, most recently, in Ocean’s 13.

He said: “The depth of your artistry is only more overwhelmed by the generosity of your spirit and your warmth. You’re Van Gogh. You’re Modigliani. That’s who you are.”

And Oliver Stone, who wrote 1983’s Scarface and reunited with him for Any Given Sunday, lauded the actor’s “wicked sense of humour”, stating: “It’s with great love and respect that I say goodnight to the bad guy [in reference to one of Pacino’s famous lines from the gangster movie].”

His Any Given Sunday co-star Jamie Foxx – also an Oscar winner – joked about getting a “taste” of Pacino when they appeared together.

Paying tribute to the actor’s high-energy performances that can result in saliva escaping from the Oscar winner’s mouth, Foxx said Pacino’s “juiciness flew off his mouth and landed on my lips”.

“I took that DNA inside me and the next thing you know I won an Oscar,” he laughed.

And Robin Williams, Pacino’s co-star in Insomnia, poked fun at his own sobriety issues by concluding: “I would like to raise a glass to you, but that would be 11 months out the window.”

After hearing the tributes and reflecting on his career, Pacino himself admitted: “Seeing my life in the movies, I have one question. Why aren’t I in rehab?”

But he did say that he had lost none of his hunger for acting and was looking forward to taking on new projects, including a reunion with Robert De Niro and a biopic of Salvador Dali.

The actor remains best known for playing Michael Corleone in the Godfather movies, but actually won the best actor Oscar for 1993’s Scent Of A Woman. Both of that film’s co-stars, Chris O’Donnell and Gabrielle Anwar – with whom he shared a memorable dance – were on hand to pay tribute.

Pacino was also nominated for best supporting actor for his role in Glengarry Glen Ross in 1993.

And he has won numerous acting accolades during his 40-year career, having been nominated for an Academy Award eight times. He was also the recipient of the Golden Globes’ prestigious Cecil B DeMille career achievement award in 2001.

Other memorable film hits include Donnie Brasko, Carlito’s Way, Dog Day Afternoon and Heat.

Previous recipients of the AFI lifetime achievement award, now in its 35th year, include Sir Sean Connery, Martin Scorcese, Dame Elizabeth Taylor and Steven Spielberg.

In announcing their decision to honour Pacino, Sir Howard Stringer, chairman of the AFI Board of Trustees, said: “Al Pacino is an icon of American film. He has created some of the great characters in the movies – from Michael Corleone to Tony Montana to Roy Cohn.

“His career inspires audiences and artists alike, with each new performance a master class for a generation of actors to follow. AFI is proud to present him with its 35th Life Achievement Award.”

Check out photos from the memorable occasion