At a celebratory dinner at the Kodak Theatre, the 31st recipient of the award, the usually taciturn De Niro, braved the spotlight to accept the honor from Martin Scorsese, the Hollywood Reporter says.
De Niro acted in eight films for Scorsese, including his Oscar-winning role in "Raging Bull."
"This isn't easy for me, but it isn't so bad as I look back on my life and all these movies," De Niro said.
Summing up De Niro's career, Scorsese said: "He has an extraordinary genius to be able transform himself ... to simply be, just be the person he is playing, not act, but become and command and inhabit the character."
In turn, De Niro paid tribute to Scorsese, saying, "Marty, you are so special to me."