WASHINGTON, July 30 (UPI) -- The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Tuesday that actor James Earl Jones, conductor James Levine, singer-songwriter Paul McCartney, entertainer Chita Rivera and actress Elizabeth Taylor have been selected to receive this year's Kennedy Center Honors.
The 25th annual awards will be presented at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State Colin Powell on Dec. 7 in Washington. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will host the annual Honors Gala the following night at the Kennedy Center Opera House.
The event will be taped for telecast later in December as a two-hour special on CBS.
"For the unique and extremely valuable contributions they have made to the cultural life of our nation," said Kennedy Center Chairman James A. Johnson, "we honor an actor whose extraordinary range and power have made him an American institution, a brilliant musician who for three decades has led one of the world's foremost opera companies to unsurpassed artistic excellence, one of the most prolific and influential songwriters of our era, a musical theater star of the highest magnitude, and a luminous film actress who for nearly 60 years has been a Hollywood icon treasured by millions throughout the world."
The 71-year-old Jones, who attended the Honors in 1995 as a presenter for Sidney Poitier's tribute, called the honor "overwhelming" and joked that he is too young to receive it.
"It has been more than a thrill being a participant and audience member in these awards," said Jones in a statement issued through a publicist, "but to be an honoree is profound and overwhelming, especially considering my career is just beginning."
Jones was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe in 1970 for his performance as heavyweight boxing champion Jack Jefferson in "The Great White Hope." He was nominated for a SAG Award for best actor in "Cry the Beloved Country" in 1995, the same year he was recognized with a lifetime achievement award by the National Board of Review.
His movie hits include "The Lion King" (1994), "Field of Dreams" (1989) and the first "Star Wars" trilogy, in which he provided the voice of Darth Vader.
He is a two-time Tony-winner for "The Great White Hope" and "Fences."
Levine, 59, who led the Metropolitan Opera for three decades beginning in 1971, was recently appointed director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He will assume the post in 2004.
He has conducted more than 2,000 performances of 75 different operas since his Met debut, and is credited with returning the institution to preeminence in the opera world.
McCartney, 60, one of the most successful songwriters in history, revolutionized pop music as a founding member of The Beatles. His song "Yesterday" has been played more than six million times on U.S. radio stations and been covered by more artists than any other pop standard.
In 1997, McCartney was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
Rivera, 69, who performed on the Kennedy Center Honors telecast in 1998 and 1994, scored her breakthrough performance as Anita in the 1957 Broadway hit "West Side Story." She followed that with another memorable turn on Broadway opposite Dick Van Dyke in "Bye Bye Birdie."
She co-starred with Shirley MacLaine in the movie version of the Broadway hit "Sweet Charity" and went on to appear in such pictures as "Born Yesterday," "The Rose Tattoo" and "Kiss Me Kate." Rivera has been nominated seven times the Tony Award, winning twice -- for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" in 1993 and "The Rink" in 1984.
"It is a great honor to be amongst such talented and prestigious company," said Taylor in a statement issued through a publicist. "I am thrilled and thank all of you who made it possible."
Taylor, 70, became a star before she was a teenager in pictures such as "Lassie Come Home" (1943) and "National Velvet" (1944), and went on to become one of Hollywood's most respected actresses in the 1950's.
She was nominated for the best actress Oscar in four consecutive years -- for "Raintree County" (1957), "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), "Suddenly Last Summer" (1959) and "Butterfield 8" (1960) -- winning in '60 for her performance as a high-priced hooker who decides to go straight when she falls for a man.
She won her second Oscar in 1966 for her portrayal of Martha, the burned-out wife of a burned-out history professor in the movie version of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" She was also named best actress by the National Board of Review for the performance.
In 1992, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored Taylor with its prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. She received lifetime achievement awards from the American Film Institute (1993) and the Screen Actors Guild (1997). The Hollywood Foreign Press Association honored her with its top honor, the Cecil B. DeMille Award, in 1984.
The queen named Taylor a Dame of the British Empire in 2000.
Jones, Levine, McCartney, Rivera and Taylor join a list of Kennedy Center honorees that includes Julie Andrews, Chuck Berry, Sean Connery, Bill Cosby, Bob Dylan, Clint Eastwood, Quincy Jones, Willie Nelson, Jack Nicholson, Luciano Pavarotti and Stevie Wonder.
George Stevens Jr. -- who created the show in 1978 with Nick Vanoff ("The Sonny & Cher Show," "The Hollywood Palace") -- will produce and co-write the show for the 25th consecutive year. Don Mischer, a 13-time Emmy Award-winner, will produce the show with Stevens.
The telecast has won 10 Emmys -- including three for outstanding variety, music or comedy program -- and a Peabody Award in 1986.