Among those who turned out to honor Cosby at Monday night's event were Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad, Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis and Carl Reiner. Cosby's former co-stars from "The Cosby Show" -- Phylicia Rashad and Malcolm-Jamal Warner -- also reportedly attended the ceremony, which is to air on PBS Nov. 4.
CNN said Cosby had previously twice declined the award because he was offended by language used at the first Mark Twain Prize ceremony in 1998, honoring the late comedian Richard Pryor.
"I made it clear that there were certain people who misunderstood what Richard was about and how they were using words," CNN quoted Cosby as saying. "And I was not about to have that celebrating Mark Twain and Bill Cosby."
Cosby said he agreed to be presented with the accolade this year after the Kennedy Center vowed not to repeat "the foolishness at Richard Pryor's celebration."