LOS ANGELES – Michael J. Fox was praised for his work seeking a Parkinson's disease cure and Cher presented songwriter Diane Warren with a long overdue Oscar at the Governors Awards Saturday night.
Directors Peter Weir and Euzhan Palcy were also given honorary Oscars at the awards ceremony presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Awards contenders including Jennifer Lawrence, Florence Pugh, Angela Bassett, Eddie Redmayne, Michelle Williams, Cate Blanchett, Brendan Fraser, Tom Hanks, Glen Powell and Janelle Monáe attended the black-tie event seen as the official start of Hollywood's movie awards season.
Fox, 61, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at age 29 in 1991, used the Bruce Springsteen song "No Surrender" to describe his battle to find a cure for the degenerative disorder of the brain.
"That is sort of a personal anthem of mine," said Fox, quoting the song's words from the podium: "No retreat, no surrender."
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Presenting the award, longtime friend Woody Harrelson said Fox "turned a chilling diagnosis into a courageous mission" by founding the Michael J. Fox Foundation to seek a cure. The foundation has raised more than $1 billion for research.
"He never asked for the role of Parkinson’s advocate, but it is his best performance," said Harrelson. "Michael J. Fox sets the ultimate example of how to fight and how to live."
After receiving a lengthy standing ovation on his way to the podium, Fox quipped to the audience. "You guys are going to make me shake."
"This is so cool," he said, looking at the Oscar statuette.
The star of "Family Ties" and "Back to the Future" gave emotional thanks to Tracy Pollan, his wife of 34 years, for her support from the time he was diagnosed. He struggled for words saying, "Tracy made it clear she was with me for the duration."
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Through all the difficulties and health setbacks caused by Parkinson's disease, Fox says the experience, the advocacy and the work for a cure have ultimately been rewarding.
"Parkinson's disease is the gift that keeps on taking," said Fox. "But it truly has been a gift."
Following his speech, Fox called Pollan to the podium.
"I cannot believe I have been standing here for this long, it's a miracle," said Fox, eying the heavy trophy. "I cannot walk and carry this thing. But I ask Tracy to once again carry the weight."
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Cher gives Diane Warren her first Oscar at Governors Awards
Cher, 76, joked "I'm the oldest person here" after receiving applause for her appearance on the awards podium. The legendary performer of the hit "If I Could Turn Back Time" gave plaudits to the songwriter and new honorary Oscar winner.
Warren, 66, set an Oscar record for most nominations (13) for one category (best original song) without a win before clutching the honorary award.
Cher called Warren the "most prolific writer of my generation, of any generation."
"I'm so thrilled to present this to you," Cher said, handing Warren the Oscar. "You have waited so (expletive) long for this."
Warren attempted to hold back from "ugly crying," giving thanks from the podium.
"I've waited 43 years to say this, but I'd like to thank the Academy," Warren said. "I get to say a speech. I have a lot of acceptance speeches I've written that I've had to crumple up in my pocket."
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Jeff Bridges presented Weir, 78, with the honorary Oscar. Bridges, 72, thanked the late actor Robin Williams for urging him to work with the Australian director for the first time on 1993's "Fearless."
"Robin, you were right, man," said Bridges about Weir. "Everything you said was right."
Weir praised Williams, his star in 1989's "Dead Poets Society," who died in 2014.
"Robin Williams, if only I could have him back here for five minutes," said Weir.
Weir said that filmmaking was "like a journey. My crew knew it wasn’t about my ego, or their egos, it was about the film’s ego."
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Palcy, 64, born in Martinique, French West Indies, was the first Black female filmmaker to direct a major Hollywood studio film, 1989's "A Dry White Season," which earned Marlon Brando his final Oscar nomination.
The groundbreaking director said she had taken a long break from filmmaking because she was tired of convincing studios that "Black is bankable, female is bankable" at the movie box office. But seeing the success of films like "The Woman King" has shown Palcy that times have changed. She gestured to Viola Davis, who starred in the box office hit and presented her with the honorary Oscar award.
"Come on, guys, look at my sister standing with me. Black is bankable, female is bankable. Black and female is bankable," said Palcy. "My stories are not Black. My stories are not white. They are universal. They are poetry."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Michael J. Fox lauded by Academy; Cher gives Diane Warren first Oscar