Malibu Seen

Director Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro at AFI's 31st Life Achievement Awards dinner


By Kim Devore/Entertainment Writer

Just how many Robert De Niros can there possibly be wandering out there in movieland? There must be more than one because let’s face it, how can a single guy be a gazillion places at once?

Commenting on the fact that De Niro is currently working on “Chaos,” “The Good Shepherd,” “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” “Sharkslayer” and “Godsend,” pal Billy Crystal didn’t seem off the mark when he quipped, “What can you say about a man who has made 60 films-20 of them this year?”

Perhaps that’s why this year’s AFI tribute to the iconic actor was no ordinary event. In fact, there were so many legendary and larger-than-life folk in attendance that even the stars were gasping like groupies.

But there we were, face to face with the man who is considered to be the greatest living actor of our generation. De Niro was given a standing ovation as he entered the Kodak Theater, which on this occasion actually seemed quite cozy. The regular seats were cleared and set up with elegant dinner tables.

De Niro was at the center of it all, seated with his son on one side, mega-director Martin Scorsese on the other and surrounded by more flowers than you’d find at a Sicilian wake.

Crystal set the reverent tone, whispering these weighty words: “We have all gathered here today for one reason… fear.”

The assembled VIPs were taken on a compelling journey thorough Di Nero’s celebrated celluloid career. From “Taxi Driver” to “Raging Bull,” “Mean Streets” to “The King of Comedy,” it was a riveting retrospective of work from a man who has portrayed alienated loners, cut throat-avengers, cops, criminals, heavyweights, tough guys and wise guys with the skill of a master craftsman.

With the AFI award, De Niro joins an impressive little roster, which includes the likes of Billy Wilder, Steven Spielberg, Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson and Gregory Peck.

Just a few of the high profile players paying their respects and pouring on praise were Leonardo DiCaprio, Edward Norton, Joe Pesci, Chazz Palminteri, Juliette Lewis, Jodie Foster, Robin Williams and James Woods.

Many spoke of the painstaking preparation De Niro puts into a part, like learning a dozen Sicilian dialects for “Godfather II” or studying dozens of Parkinson’s patients for his role in “Awakenings.”

Though clearly uncomfortable amid the hoopla and hullabaloo, De Niro seemed genuinely touched by the tribute-and a racy performance by leggy songbird Beyonce didn’t seem to hurt. From Foster to DiCaprio, they thanked the actor for being a constant source of inspiration.

“What Brando was to Bob’s generation,” Norton said, “Bob’s been to mine.”

So while some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them, there ain’t much to analyze when it comes to R.D.-this amazing actor was simply born great.