(CBS/AP) CULVER CITY, Calif. - Oscar-winner Morgan Freeman was honored with American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award on Thursday, and a bevy of stars including Clint Eastwood, Helen Mirren, Tim Robbins and Forest Whitaker were on hand to celebrate the actor and his career.
Eastwood presented the 74-year-old with the honor, calling him "the greatest actor."
"He is the most effortless person to be around and to act," Eastwood said. "I don't know if it's proper to love another man, but this is as close as I'm going to get to it."
Freeman appeared humbled when he accepted the honor.
"This is easy to take but hard to believe. Where I come from in Mississippi, they call this walking in high cotton," he said. "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."
Betty White, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle and Sidney Poitier also feted Freeman during a private ceremony at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif.
Whitaker described him as "an adviser, a beacon, a confidant, a shoulder to lean on, protector and friend."
Jackson told the actor he was inspired by both Freeman's work and his words.
"In a world of too much cubic zirconium, you are the real thing," he said.
The celebration included clips of Freeman's legendary films and early performances - including him singing and dancing on TV's "The Electric Company" in the early 1970s - interspersed with recorded segments of Freeman and other actors and filmmakers reflecting on his career.
There were clips of Freeman the soldier, as in 1989's "Glory"; Freeman the detective, as in "Se7en"; Freeman the loyal friend, as in "Driving Miss Daisy"; and Freeman as God, as in "Bruce Almighty" and "Evan Almighty."
"I should be ashamed to say that sooner or later, I knew that someone was going to call on me to play God," Freeman said. "I just had to be sure that when I said OK, that it was a comedy."
There was also a musical tribute: Garth Brooks and a chorus performed "Lean on Me," the title of a 1989 film featuring Freeman in the leading role.
Freeman is the 39th recipient of the AFI honor, which recognizes those whose talent helps advance the art of film. Previous recipients include Poitier, Eastwood, Elizabeth Taylor, Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg.
The AFI ceremony will air as a special on TV Land on June 19.