Their contributions to American culture won them a visit Sunday to the White House and recognition by President Bush, followed by an evening of celebration at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. For their career achievements, the five were named in September as members of the 30th class of Kennedy Center honorees.
Robert De Niro, who starred in Scorsese's "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," told the director: "You still have the same passion, drive and intensity you had when we were starting out together. And as for me, well, I'm doing comedy. But don't worry, Marty - I still have enough misery in me for us to do a few more pictures together."
He also remarked, to loud laughter from the audience, "If you were directing me tonight in the Kennedy Center Honors, I would've already wacked Steve Martin!"
Steve Carell, star of NBC's "The Office," said: "I am in awe of Steve Martin. I admire his career. I respect him more than anyone, with the possible exception of Martin Scorsese."
Martin told CBS News, "To receive this is just the biggest thrill of my -- ego!"
During the tribute to Ross, Ciara sang "I'm Coming Out," Yolanda Adams sang "Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" and Vanessa Williams sang "Touch Me in the Morning."
Ross told CBS News backstage the honor is "really the top, actually."
Art Garfunkel described Beach Boys founder Wilson's music as "this unique crazy creation, a mix of rock 'n' roll and heartfelt prayer." Lyle Lovett sang the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" and Hootie and the Blowfish performed "I Get Around."
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma told a story about hearing a recording, when he was in college, of Fleisher performing Brahms' first piano concerto. "That music is still seared in my memory," Ma said, adding, "Leon's work became the gold standard of his generation." Jonathan Biss, a one-time student of Fleisher's, joined the Peabody Conservatory Orchestra for a performance of Beethoven's Choral Fantasy.
Fleisher, 79, lost the use of his right hand for much of his career because of a rare neurological disease but fought to return to two-handed playing.
Recipients are cited for their excellence in the performing arts - dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television - and selected by the center's board of trustees.
As he stood for photos in the White House East Wing, Fleisher told reporters he had gotten a classic dose of Martin's humor. The two saw each other as they left their hotel, and Martin joked to Fleisher, "I hope you win." Fortunately, unlike at the Academy Awards, the Kennedy Center honorees have no such worries.
Still, actor and comedian Martin Short gave his pal some ribbing. Asked what he thought about the Kennedy Center honor for Steve Martin, Short said: "It's fantastic. It's amazing what bribery will do."
The entire Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS.