America salutes living legends

Pop legend Elton John, opera diva Dame Joan Sutherland and conductor John Williams – along with actors Warren Beatty, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee – were honoured with a star-studded tribute in Washington.

Pop legend Elton John, opera diva Dame Joan Sutherland and conductor John Williams – along with actors Warren Beatty, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee – were honoured with a star-studded tribute in Washington.

The six recipients of yesterday’s 27th annual Kennedy Centre Honours were saluted for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.

President George Bush and his wife Laura greeted them at a reception at the White House. At the Kennedy Centre, they were seated in a balcony near the Bushes, vice president Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, secretary of state Colin Powell and his successor, Condoleezza Rice. Hollywood stars in the audience included Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino.

Elton John, 57, has sold more than 60 million albums in three decades with hits such as Rocket Man and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Winning the honour “is about the icing on the cake”, he said as he walked into the White House reception.

”It’s incredible for someone who’s British to be given such an accolade from America, which has given me so much already in my career.”

Australian-born soprano Dame Joan, 78, was saluted by fellow opera singers Sherrill Milnes and Marilyn Horne, a previous honouree. Milnes called Dame Joan “an avalanche of sound”, adding: “She’s become the standard by which all others are measured.”

Composer and conductor Williams, 72, has won five Academy Awards, 17 Grammys and two Emmys and is best known for his film scores for Star Wars, Jaws, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and ET.

Director Steven Spielberg called him “a national treasure, as American as apple pie and President Bush’s mom”, and noted, “John Williams’ scores are guaranteed to make you use a whole box of Kleenex.”

Husband-and-wife acting team Davis, 86, and Dee, 80, were feted for their long careers on stage and screen as well as their political activism. Sean “P Diddy” Combs, who appeared in a recent Broadway revival of A Raisin In The Sun, said he was inspired by Dee, who starred in the original production.

Veteran Hollywood heart-throb Beatty, 67, has been nominated for Academy Awards 15 times, and won an Oscar in 1982 as best director for Reds.

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