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Kennedy Center Honors Five

Five outstanding entertainers were honored this weekend by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington: dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, musician Chuck Berry, singer and conductor Plácido Domingo, actor and director Clint Eastwood, and actress Angela Lansbury.

The five attended a reception at the White House Sunday, and then the annual gala at the Kennedy Center. They actually received their awards Saturday night at a State Department dinner.

In a statement, Kennedy Center chairman James A. Johnson characterized the five as "an artist whose name is synonymous with dance at its most sublime, a musician who revolutionized American popular music, one of the greatest and most popular singers that the world of opera has ever produced, a film icon equally brilliant in front and behind the camera, and a beloved actress who has conquered the worlds of film, theater, and television."

The Honors recipients are bestowed for lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts. This was the 23rd group so honored.

"Each in their own way, tonight's honorees have brought to a venerable art form a spark of the new and unexpected and each has left it more modern, more brilliant and forever changed for the better," said President Clinton as he led the applause for the 2000 Kennedy Center Honors recipients at the White House.

At the two-hour gala that followed in the Kennedy Center's Opera House, the tributes and the show moved seamlessly from the movies and Broadway to opera, the ballet and vintage rock and roll.

At the end when Little Richard and an all-star ensemble paid musical homage to Berry, they brought the whole hall to their feet, including the president.

Standing from left to right: Domingo, Lansbury and Eastwood.
Seated: Baryshnikov, Berry (Reuters photo)

Although perhaps best known in recent years for her long-running CBS Television series, Murder, She Wrote, Angela Lansbury has had a long and distinguished career in movies and the stage, as well. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress Academy Awards for two of her first three films (Gaslight, The Picture of Dorian Gray). On Broadway, she won four Tonys in 16 years, including as the title character in Mame. She was described Sunday night by President Clinton as "American royalty."

Clint Eastwood first came to public attention as the taciturn cowboy Rowdy Yates in the television series Rawhide in 1959. After starring in a series of "Spaghetti Westerns" in the 1960s, he returned to the U.S., playing featured and then starring roles in a number of westerns and war movies. He created the character of "Dirty Harry" Callahan in Dirty Harry in 1971, the first of three movies featuring that hard-boiled police detective. He began directing some of his own movies in 1971 wit Play Misty For Me, and in 1992, won Best Director for his Unforgiven, which also won Best Picture.

He was described Sunday night described by Mr. Clinton as "a star for the ages."

Born in Latvia, Mikhail Baryshnikov was the preeminent male classical dancer in the world in the 1970s and 1980s. While on tour in Toronto in 1974 with the Kirov ballet, he defected to the West.

At the White House reception, President Clinton thanked Baryshnikov "for the heights to which you have lifted modern dance and the heights to which you have lifted all of us."

In fleeing to the west, he said Baryshnikov "soared out of the Soviet Union into our hearts."

Singer and conductor Placido Domingo was born in Madrid, but grew up in Mexico City, where he made his opera debut in 1959 in Rigoletto; his first major role was in La Traviata two years later. While continuing to sing, he first conducted an opera orchestra in 1973 with La Traviata at the New York City Opera. He is presently also the artistic director of the Washington and Los Angeles Operas.

Making a political pun, President Clinton said of Domingo, one of opera's best known tenors, that "these days a lot of people are talking about the need to change the tenor of Washington — but they are not talking about Placido Domingo."'

The president drew another laugh as he said of the opera star, "he has always been more than a voice: As a young man he prepared for later life in Washington as an amateur bullfighter."

Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry first hit national stardom as a rock 'n roller in 1955, when his recording of Maybellene was played for two hours straight by legendary disk jockey Alan Freed on WINS-AM in New York, now a CBS Infinity station. The record sold over a million copies, reaching the top of Billboard's R & B chart and No. 5 on the Hot 100.

President Clinton called Berry, who wore a black brimmed cap with gold braid, "quite simply one of the 20th century's most influential musicians" and thanked him for "making us laugh, making us dance and making us happy."

Sunday evening's gala will be broadcast by CBS-TV on December 27.

Among the guests in the well-dressed crowd were Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, relaxed and smiling despite the continued uncertainty of last month's election. Other political and administration headliners in the audience were House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Former television anchor Walter Cronkite served as master of ceremonies, heading a long list of introducers, celebrity roasters and performers that included Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, comedian Don Rickles, opera singer Beverly Sills, ballerina Maria Tallchief and actress Goldie Hawn who led the tribute to Berry.

The audience roared when the big screen on the Opera House stge showed a picture of Eastwood as a smiling baby as his movie gunslinger's voice growled the actor's trademark line: "Go ahead, make my day!"

In the show's final minutes flashback film clips showed Mr. Clinton reacting to acts and gags in the seven other Kennedy Center Honor galas he has attended as president and a massed chorus sang Auld Lang Syne.

©2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report