They're talkin' to him -- AFI honors Robert De Niro

Sunday, June 15, 2003

LOS ANGELES -- You ... you've got a gift, Robert De Niro.

That finger-wagging, slightly menacing compliment the actor paid to his skittish psychiatrist in the mob comedy "Analyze This" was echoed by The American Film Institute as it honored De Niro with its 31st Life Achievement Award.

The 59-year-old star of "Taxi Driver" and "GoodFellas" accepted the honor Thursday evening at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, site of the annual Academy Awards.

"I don't want to take anything for granted and I'm glad I have this opportunity to let you know how honored I am to work with you and be included in this wonderful tradition," De Niro said, halting frequently during his speech. "I know I'm getting sentimental, but that's what this is all about."

Many of his colleagues -- from Jodie Foster, who was only 12 when she played a prostitute in "Taxi Driver," to filmmaker Martin Scorsese -- described him as an intensely quiet man who has remained humble and generous.

De Niro won a supporting-actor Oscar in 1975 for playing young gangster Vito Corleone in "The Godfather: Part II" and a best-actor Oscar in 1981 for his portrayal of a broken-down boxer in "Raging Bull."

He's best known for playing men with fiery tempers who try to bury their explosive instincts beneath hardened, controlled facades.

But in recent years, he's softened his image with comedic roles in "Meet the Parents" and "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle." In "Analyze This" and the sequel, "Analyze That," he played an emotionally damaged gangster in therapy opposite Billy Crystal.

The De Niro tribute is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. June 23 on USA Network.

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