Bill Murray receives Mark Twain Prize, in Bill Murray fashion

Comedian Bill Murray was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at a star-studded Kennedy Center ceremony on Sunday in Washington, D.C., with friends and fellow actors praising him for the joy he has brought to audiences worldwide.

Murray, the 65-year-old star of such movies as Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters and Rushmore, said his success was grounded in love from his family and the talented people he had worked with for more than four decades.

“There’s love, that’s what we came with, that’s what we go with. I love you, let’s try to repeat that to each other,” Murray said after accepting the award named for the 19th century American author and humorist.

The comedian, known for his spontaneity and irreverence, handed the award, a bust of Twain, down into the audience to be passed around.

“When I can’t see it any longer, that’s when I’m coming down the steps,” said Murray, an Illinois native, before closing the show by singing a version of Sweet Home Chicago.


Actor and comedian Bill Murray greets his former Ghostbusters co-star Sigourney Weaver during the 19th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Murray was awarded the 19th Mark Twain Prize for making an impact on U.S. society similar to Twain’s. Previous winners include Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Neil Simon, Jay Leno and Eddie Murphy.

Murray is among the best-known stars to emerge from NBC’s Saturday Night Live. He performed on the groundbreaking television comedy show from 1977 to 1980 and honed his skills portraying lovably smarmy characters.

Murray was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of a jet-lagged movie star in Lost in Translation. He has won two Emmy Awards.

Letterman gives touching tribute

Appearing in a video clip, Steve Martin, himself a Mark Twain Prize winner, said, “I’d like to say to you, welcome to the club. And to the Kennedy Center, I’d like to say – really?”

ABC late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel called Murray both a genius and fearless extrovert who can get away with stealing French fries off diners’ plates and crashing a White House press conference.


Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, seen before the ceremony, was one of the speakers to pay tribute to Murray. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“Bill Murray could shove you off the side of the Hoover Dam and you’d be like, ‘Hey, Bill Murray,’ all the way down,” Kimmel said.

Others at the ceremony included Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, singer Miley Cyrus and former talk host David Letterman, who had Murray on his NBC and CBS shows 44 times.

After an appearance in 2003, Letterman told Murray that his then-infant son would be christened that weekend. An hour later, Letterman said, a package was delivered to his office containing a handmade Irish linen christening gown.

“That Saturday, my son, in Bill Murray’s christening gown, was christened at St. Ignatius in Manhattan, and we have this memory, we have this gift, we have this gesture for the rest of our lives,” Letterman said.

He said he would have been happy to skip the festivities surrounding the prize, especially if his beloved Chicago Cubs hadn’t already advanced to the World Series.

“If this could all have been done in a letter that I received, that would have been enough,” Murray told The Associated Press on the red carpet. “It’s hard to stand still for this. It’s a squirm-a-thon for me.”

This weekend, he got to meet President Barack Obama. And what did the two men talk about? “Putting,” Murray said before the show.

The prize was first awarded in 1998 and goes to those who influence society in the tradition of Samuel Clemens, the writer and satirist better known as Mark Twain.

The ceremony was recorded for broadcast on PBS television on Friday.

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