Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington is continuing to leave a lasting imprint on the film industry. Recently, Washington was honored with the American Film Institute’s 47th Lifetime Achievement Award, making him just the third African-American in history to receive the honor.
According to Deadline, Sidney Poitier received the award in 1992 and Morgan Freeman received one in 2011.
At Thursday’s tribute event, Washington’s work was praised by several of his peers including Spike Lee who presented him with the award.
“There’ve been several references tonight to the G.O.A.T. We’re talking about Michael Jordan. We’re talking about Frank Sinatra. We’re talking about Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Miles Davis,” Variety reports Lee saying. “That’s the rarefied air that Denzel Washington lives and breathe in. And Denzel, for me, represents our manhood. What you did in ‘Malcolm X’ has never been done before. I may be biased [but…] that’s the greatest performance ever on celluloid.”
Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan also took the stage to praise Washington for his impact on the generation behind him, with Boseman even telling the story of how Washington paid for him and “This Is Us” star Susan Kelechi Watson to study acting at Oxford.
“There is no ‘Black Panther’ without Denzel Washington. And not just because of me, my whole cast – that generation – stands on your shoulders,” Boseman said in his speech. “In the mind-numbing world we all live in, we need heroes, we need superheroes like Denzel to remind us that the world, that we’re all one people. That’s your gift, sir. You unite us, you inspire us, and I want to thank you for leading the way.”
Washington, who is undoubtedly one of the biggest icons in Hollywood today, thanked his fans and family for supporting his long-standing career and concluded his acceptance speech with a special thanks to his wife, Pauletta Washington.
“The most important person in my life,” he said. “40 years, 40 years of sacrifice, 40 years of forgiveness. She taught me about faith, spirituality, love — real love, unwavering love — in spite of myself. I would not be alive without Pauletta Washington. I wouldn’t be alive. I wouldn’t have survived.”