Bill Murray accepts humor prize

WASHINGTON — In an evening filled with jokes about Bill Murray’s elusiveness and quirky personality, it was David Letterman who provided the most touching moment as Murray was honored with the nation’s top prize for comedy.

Murray, 66, received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Sunday night at the Kennedy Center, joining several other “Saturday Night Live” alumni to win the annual award. After he was presented with a bust of Mark Twain, Murray handed it to a man in the first row of the audience and urged the crowd to pass it around.

Known for living outside the Hollywood bubble, Murray admitted he was uncomfortable sitting in a box with his family while more than a dozen of his co-stars and collaborators spoke warmly about his body of work.

“It’s really hard to listen to all those people be nice to you for two days,” Murray said. “You just get real suspicious.”

His acceptance speech followed a heartfelt tribute by the bearded Letterman, who made a rare public appearance since his late-night show ended last June. Murray was a guest on Letterman’s shows 44 times over the years, and the two grew close, even spending time together at Letterman’s vacation home in Montana.

After an appearance in 2003, Letterman told Murray that his then-infant son would be christened that weekend. An hour later, Letterman said, a package was delivered to his office containing a handmade Irish linen christening gown.

“That Saturday, my son, in Bill Murray’s christening gown, was christened at St. Ignatius in Manhattan, and we have this memory, we have this gift, we have this gesture for the rest of our lives,” Letterman said.

There were plenty of laughs at Murray’s expense in evening that took on the tone of a gentle roast. Jimmy Kimmel, Aziz Ansari, Sigourney Weaver and Steve Martin were among those who ribbed Murray for being aloof, unpredictable and difficult to reach — and somehow still lovable.

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