Wednesday, October 26, 2016
  • Friday, Jun. 10, 2016
Spielberg, Lucas salute composer John Williams at AFI gala 
Composer John Williams, left, mingles with filmmaker Steven Spielberg on the red carpet at the 2016 AFI Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to Williams at the Dolby Theatre on Thursday, June 9, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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Kobe Bryant considers him a muse. Harrison Ford says he elevates entertainment to art. Seth MacFarlane calls him "the single greatest talent working in Hollywood."

John Williams, creator of the iconic music from "Superman," ''Star Wars," ''Jaws," ''E.T." and "Jurassic Park," is also the first composer to receive the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award. He accepted the honor Thursday at a black-tie dinner at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre that's set to air as a TV special Wednesday night on TNT. Bryant, Ford and MacFarlane were among the stars celebrating Williams' contributions to cinema.

Steven Spielberg presented his longtime friend and collaborator with the award.

"Without John Williams, bikes don't really fly," Spielberg said. "Nor do brooms in Quidditch matches; nor do men in red capes. There is no Force. Dinosaurs don't walk the Earth... You take our movies, many of them about our most impossible dreams, and through your musical genius, you make them real and everlasting for billions and billions of people."

Williams has scored more than 100 films and received an astounding 50 Oscar nominations. He also composed the theme songs for Sunday Night Football, NBC's "Nightly News" and the Olympics.

George Lucas said it was Williams' soaring score that "ensured that 'Star Wars' would live forever."

"And you did it again with 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,'" he said.

Bryant said he asked to meet with Williams in 2009 to learn how he approaches his work.

"I'm a passionate believer that everybody needs a muse, and John Williams is one of mine," said the recently retired Lakers star. "John's music achieved a level of perfection I wanted to reach on the basketball court."

Other stars feting the composer from the stage included Drew Barrymore, Tom Hanks, JJ Abrams, Bryce Dallas Howard and Will Ferrell, who wordlessly attempted to conduct the audience in song. Broadway star Idina Menzel was among the guests, and she stood and sang a few notes.

The 84-year-old Williams said that when he first learned he would be receiving AFI's highest honor, he thought, "I'm really much too young for a thing like this."

His career began in the 1950s as a paid pianist for Hollywood studios and thrives to this day. His latest composing credit is Spielberg's "The BFG," opening in July, and the next "Star Wars" installment.

"I am enormously grateful, as all composers are, to film, for giving us the broadest possible audience worldwide that any composer has ever enjoyed," Williams said, thanking his mentors, musicians and director collaborators.

"Tomorrow morning when I'm back at work," he said, "I'll try to deserve all this."