Robert Downey Jr.'s rambling tribute to Elton John falls flat

Monday, December 6th 2004, 8:35 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ On a night when Washington honored Elton John, Joan Sutherland, Warren Beatty and other legends of the arts, it was actor Robert Downey Jr. who offered to perform at the White House.

John, Beatty, opera diva Sutherland, composer-conductor John Williams and actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee were honored Sunday with a star-studded tribute at the Kennedy Center.

The six recipients of the 27th annual Kennedy Center Honors were saluted for their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.

Downey referred to his own well-publicized drug arrests in a rambling tribute to John. He mimed being placed in handcuffs and said John taught him something ``about the principle of surrender.'' The actor then told President Bush, who was in the audience, that he would be available ``if you need me to play any, like, Christmas parties or stuff or weddings or all that.''

John has been a vocal critic of the president. In November, he told the British magazine Time Out, ``Bush and this administration are the worst thing that has ever happened to America.''

But the rock legend was more diplomatic at a reception at the White House on Sunday afternoon. John said winning the Kennedy Center Honor ``is about the icing on the cake. ... It's incredible for someone who's British to be given such an accolade from America, which has given me so much already in my career.''

The political gags were left to Downey, who said he _ like losing presidential candidate John Kerry _ was suffering ``from acute symptoms of another dual-diagnosis disease of mine: the ADD, of course, the altruistic Democrat disorder.''

That drew nervous laughter from the audience, which included Sen. Kerry as well as the president, first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, Secretary of State Colin Powell and the woman nominated to replace him, Condoleezza Rice.

Jack Nicholson directed a less stinging political barb at fellow actor Beatty. ``For years, Warren has dreamed of attending these awards,'' Nicholson said. ``Unfortunately, not as a Kennedy honoree but as president of the United States.''

The 78-year-old Sutherland, an Australian-born soprano, was saluted by fellow opera stars Sherrill Milnes and Marilyn Horne, a previous honoree. Milnes called Sutherland ``an avalanche of sound. She's become the standard by which all others are measured.''

Williams, 72, is best known for his film scores for ``Star Wars,'' ``Jaws,'' ``Raiders of the Lost Ark'' and ``E.T.'' Director Steven Spielberg called him ``a national treasure, as American as apple pie and President Bush's mom.''

Davis, 86, and Dee, 80, a husband-and-wife acting team, were feted for their long careers on stage and screen as well as their political activism. Sean ``P. Diddy'' Combs, who appeared in a recent Broadway revival of ``A Raisin in the Sun,'' said he was inspired by Dee, who starred in the original production. ``Ruby wanted me to understand how high the stakes were, that failure was not an option,'' Combs said.

The Kennedy Center Honors will be broadcast Dec. 21 on CBS-TV.