“You didn’t think you were going to completely get away without a ‘f– Trump’ moment,” De Niro said midway through his speech at the Beverly Wilshire hotel on Sunday, as the actor’s pivot to politics was met with a mix of cheers, laughter and boos.
De Niro then praised the other luminaries receiving awards at the event. “The champ Evander Holyfield, my friend Quincy Jones and my lifelong compatriot Al Pacino don’t lead America. Maybe they should,” the 75-year-old actor said. “They’ve earned our respect and admiration and they deserve this tribute. On the other hand, the individual who currently purports to lead this country is not worthy of any tribute, unless you think of his impeachment and imprisonment as a sort of tribute. And that’s how you can make America great again.”
The “Taxi Driver” actor has made a habit of hurling the f-bomb at the president at award ceremonies, most notably at the 2018 Tony Awards, where he put it bluntly: “I’m going to say one thing. F– Trump.” The Tonys crowd gave the outspoken actor a standing ovation, which was a much warmer reception than Sunday night’s audience. At points during the presentation, De Niro excoriated Trump over loud boos.
Upon accepting the award, Pacino opted for apolitical remarks. In fact, he gave more of a performance than a speech, spending most of his time on stage reciting Shakespeare and E.E. Cummings.
Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, who performed a stand-up set at the event, told Variety on the red carpet that De Niro and Pacino are “like Italian superheroes.” Maniscalco, an Italian-American himself, will appear in the upcoming “The Irishman” with the legendary actors.
“[Pacino] is an icon for giving back,” boxing legend Holyfield told Variety on the red carpet before accepting his own American Icon Award. The boxer recalled the importance of others giving back when he was growing up. “I wouldn’t have made it out without the Boys Club,” Holyfield said of the the after-school program where he spent his afternoons.
Other Icon Award recipients included NFL veteran Devon Still and philanthropists Jonathan D. Fisher and Christine Avanti-Fisher, while “Orange Is the New Black” star Jackie Cruz and Robin Thicke performed musical numbers at the event.