LOS ANGELES, June 13 (UPI) -- Robert De Niro received one of Hollywood's top honors in Los Angeles Thursday when the American Film Institute presented the two-time Oscar-winning actor with its Lifetime Achievement Award.
In ceremonies at the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, De Niro collaborators including Billy Crystal, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jodie Foster, Sean Penn and Robin Williams offered testimonials to the man that DiCaprio called "the consummate actor of our time." The all-star lineup introduced clips from some of De Niro's most memorable films -- including "GoodFellas" (1990), "The Untouchables" (1987), "Raging Bull" (1980), "Taxi Driver" (1976), "The Godfather Part II" (1974) and "Mean Streets" (1973).
The evening began with AFI Board of Trustees Chairman Sir Howard Stringer paying tribute to De Niro's contribution to the Tribeca section of New York City -- and the city as a whole -- through the creation, with his producing partner Jane Rosenthal, of the Tribeca Film Festival following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"He is the czar of Tribeca," said Stringer, "the prince of The City."
Crystal, who co-starred with De Niro in "Analyze This" (1999) and last year's sequel "Analyze That," also paid tribute to De Niro for the impact that the Tribeca festival has had on New York in just two years.
"Tonight, my friend, is not only about you, but also about New York City, where you have lived your whole life," said Crystal. "Out of the ashes and doubt that surrounded us ... he created a cultural institution."
Edward Norton, who co-starred with De Niro and Marlon Brando in "The Score" (2001), said De Niro revolutionized movie acting in much the same way that others who came before him reinvigorated movie acting technique. He said De Niro was to Norton's generation what Brando had been to De Niro's generation.
"He set a standard that we've all aspired to," said Norton.
"He taught me how to build a character," said Foster, who was just 12 when she co-starred with De Niro in "Taxi Driver" as a pre-pubescent prostitute.
"Robert De Niro is the reason I became an actor," said Penn, who co-starred with De Niro in "We're No Angels" (1989).
Meryl Streep -- who co-starred with De Niro in "The Deer Hunter" (1978) and "Falling in Love" (1984) -- was unable to attend due to the illness of her father. Carrie Fisher read a statement from Streep, paying tribute to De Niro's abilities.
"You are possessed of a demon talent and an angel's heart," the prepared statement said.
Several speakers joshed De Niro for being a man of few words, and he lived up to the billing with a brief acceptance speech.
"I'm glad to have this opportunity to let you know how honored I am to be part of this wonderful community," he said.
De Niro acknowledged that he was being sentimental, but he said the award ceremony was "a sentimental occasion."
The award was presented by Scorsese, who said he is still mystified at De Niro's power as an actor.
"I never knew where he pulled it from," said Scorsese. "I guess I still don't."
De Niro's first significant role came in 1968 when he starred in "Greetings" for director Brian De Palma. De Niro and De Palma went on to make three more pictures together -- including "The Untouchables."
De Niro earned the New York Film Critics' Award for best supporting actor in 1973 for his performance as a slow-witted baseball player in "Bang the Drum Slowly" and for his work as a small-time hood in "Mean Streets" -- the first of eight collaborations with director Scorsese.
In 1974, De Niro won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the young Vito Corleone in "The Godfather, Part II." He won the Best Actor Oscar in 1980 for his performance as hard-luck boxer Jake La Motta in Scorsese's "Raging Bull."
De Niro has been nominated on four other occasions for the Oscar -- as psycho cab driver Travis Bickle in Scorsese's "Taxi Driver"; as a Vietnam veteran in "The Deer Hunter"; as a catatonic patient in "Awakenings" and as ex-con Max Cady in Scorsese's 1991 remake of "Cape Fear."
AFI Director and CEO Jean Picker Firstenberg took a moment to remember a screen legend of an earlier era -- Gregory Peck, who died at 87 at his home in Los Angeles earlier Thursday.
"Let us come together as movie lovers with our heads low and our hearts heavy," said Firstenberg.
Peck -- the founding chairman of the AFI in 1968 -- received the institute's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989.
De Niro also recalled Peck at the end of his acceptance speech.
"Good night," he said. "And good night Gregory Peck."
The 59-year-old De Niro joins a list of AFI Lifetime Achievement Award winners that includes Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Alfred Hitchcock, Jack Nicholson, Sidney Poitier, Steven Spielberg, James Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles. The ceremony will be televised on June 23 over the USA cable network.