Hollywood’s finest joined politicos including President Joe Biden for a rare night of Washington glitz on Dec. 4, celebrating the newest Kennedy Center honorees, including George Clooney and U2.
Soul legend Gladys Knight, along with Cuban-born American composer Tania Leon and contemporary Christian pop artist Amy Grant rounded out the 45th annual class receiving the highest U.S. arts honor, after the elite group of stars enjoyed a special weekend in the American capital honoring their illustrious careers.
During the glamorous main event at the Kennedy Center, Washington’s performing arts complex that serves as a living monument to slain President John F. Kennedy, the inductees were honored with seats in the opera house’s presidential box.
They joined the president and first lady as well as the vice president and second gentleman, along with other politicians.
Clooney, accompanied by his human rights lawyer wife Amal Clooney, who stunned in a glittering silver gown, told journalists on the red carpet that the event, which he had grown up watching on television in small-town Kentucky, was “exciting.”
Speaking at the traditional State Department dinner one night prior, Clooney, 61, joked that during his extensive travel, both as an artist and as a humanitarian, he was told one universal truth: “You sucked at Batman.”
The self-deprecating celebrity has an impressive list of films to his name, as an actor and as director and producer, “Michael Clayton,” “Syriana” and “Ocean’s Eleven” among them.
“You must be someone pretty special in the arts, Mr. Clooney,” joked Sesame Street children’s TV icon Big Bird, a fellow Kennedy Center inductee.
Julia Roberts donned a ballroom gown adorned with images of Clooney, her longtime friend and frequent collaborator, whom she called “the best combination of a gentleman and playmate.” “Not only is he handsome, and talented in all mediums he chooses to tackle, he is profoundly present and attentive to the world around him,” Roberts said of the actor.
Roberts, along with Matt Damon, Richard Kind and Don Cheadle both razzed and praised Clooney before the beloved actor’s father Nick delivered a touching speech of his own.
Eddie Vedder of rock band Pearl Jam led a rollicking tribute to U2’s vast songbook, singing the hit “Elevation” in his signature power warble, later bringing down the house with the ballad “One.”
And Ukrainian singer Jamala joined Brandi Carlile and Hozier for a rendition of the U2 track “Walk On,” in support of Ukraine’s ongoing fight against Russia.
Sacha Baron Cohen, in character as his darkly humorous Borat, delivered a comedic tribute to the band that drew laughs, raised eyebrows and had actor Roberts cracking up as he twistedly speared Kanye West’s recent outbursts of anti-Semitism and pretended to mistake Biden to ex-president Donald Trump.
“Your pretty orange skin has become pale,” he said to Biden, as First Lady Jill burst into laughter.
Empress of Soul Knight earned heartfelt accolades including from LL Cool J, who praised her as foundational across genres including gospel, country, rock and hip hop.
Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy-award winning Leon, 79, has already won numerous recognitions for her pioneering, sweeping compositions and chamber works that followed her immigration to the United States from Cuba as a refugee at age 24.
And stars including Sheryl Crow and the country supergroup the Highwomen, comprised of Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires, turned out to honor Grant.
The 62-year-old Grammy winner is the first contemporary Christian star the Kennedy Center has ever inducted, and said “never in my wildest dreams” did she envision receiving the honor.