George Clooney’s Hollywood career spans more than three decades, with memorable roles including fighting vampires, playing Batman and drifting through space in “Gravity.” But Clooney’s other accomplishments, including directing, screenwriting and activism, led to him becoming the latest recipient of the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award.
Clooney, 57, was honored at a star-studded tribute gala earlier this month at the Dolby Theatre, where he has been a frequent guest because of the Academy Awards, including in 2006 when Clooney won for best supporting actor. TNT will air the tribute on Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific.
The star was all smiles during the tribute, where he was honored by stars from Jennifer Aniston to Bill Murray, along with his parents and his wife Amal. Photos of him playing his most memorable roles overlooked the stage as the celebration unfolded, and Clooney told his own story through video vignettes.
Here are some of the highlights of the gala:
The Early Years
During his acceptance speech, Clooney spoke about when he was new to Hollywood.
“When I was a young, broke unemployed actor, not only did I not have a job, I didn’t have an agent, I couldn’t get auditions,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be able to do a few short films for some up-and-coming young directors at the AFI.”
Laura Dern was the first to mention one of Clooney’s early films, “Grizzly 2,” which was never officially released. Dern and Clooney both had a short sequence in the film in which they climb a mountain and get eaten by a bear. Dern reminisced about how the two were stranded in Hungary after the film ran out of funding.
Clooney accrued more TV and film gigs with shows such as “ER” and “The Facts of Life” which eventually led to his major film roles in “From Dusk ‘Till Dawn” and “Batman & Robin.”
Amal Clooney, a distinguished human rights lawyer, noted her husband’s Kentucky manners and tendency to stick up for the most vulnerable, even on the film set.
The actor’s social justice work was cited even early on in his Hollywood career.
Actor Richard Kind said Clooney once convinced him to help clean up East Los Angeles after the LA riots in 1992. He also joined in the fight for same-sex marriage and more recently, helped raise money for victims of Hurricane Harvey and mentored survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
When Clooney tried to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan in 2012, he was arrested for crossing a police line with his father, a moment he said he’s proud of. He was also the U.N. designated Messenger of Peace from 2008 to 2014.
“Look, if the cameras are going to follow me where I go, then I’m going to where the cameras should be,” he said in one of his vignettes.
“A Celebration of Life”
Apart from his activism, Clooney is also known far and wide for his eternal trickster spirit.
Jimmy Kimmel called Clooney “the world’s most diabolical prankster” and told of the actor’s biggest pranks. He once filled Bill Murray’s luggage with gravel and Chris O’Donnell’s car with popcorn. He also ended his film “Monuments Men” with a memorial dedication to his father, who is still alive.
But the actor himself wasn’t immune to the comic relief. Murray quipped about how Clooney was receiving the award at such a young age.
“I know that all of you thought the same thing that I thought: George is dying,” said Murray. “So, this isn’t really a lifetime achievement award. It’s a celebration of life.”
When the time finally came to receive his award, Shirley MacLaine gave Clooney a tongue-in-cheek lecture, encouraging Clooney to keep preserving his talent and ethics against time.
“Please mix your comedy, your humanity, your serious need to help us understand who we are,” said MacLaine. “Please direct more.”