By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Comedian Bill Murray was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at a star-studded Kennedy Center ceremony on Sunday, with friends and fellow actors praising him for the joy he has brought to audiences worldwide.
Murray, the 65-year-old star of such movies as "Groundhog Day," "Ghostbusters" and "Rushmore", said his success was grounded in love from his family and the talented people he had worked with for more than four decades.
"There's love, that's what we came with, that's what we go with. I love you, let's try to repeat that to each other," Murray said after accepting the award named for the 19th century American author and humorist.
The comedian, known for his spontaneity and irreverence, handed the award, a bust of Twain, down into the audience to be passed around.
"When I can't see it any longer, that's when I'm coming down the steps," said Murray, an Illinois native, before closing the show by singing a version of "Sweet Home Chicago."
Murray was awarded the 19th Mark Twain Prize for making an impact on U.S. society similar to Twain's. Previous winners include Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Neil Simon and Eddie Murphy.
Murray is among the best-known stars to emerge from NBC's "Saturday Night Live." He performed on the groundbreaking television comedy show from 1977 to 1980 and honed his skills portraying lovably smarmy characters.
Murray was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award for his portrayal of a jet-lagged movie star in "Lost in Translation." He has won two Emmy Awards.
Appearing in a video clip, Steve Martin, himself a Mark Twain Prize winner, said, "I'd like to say to you, welcome to the club. And to the Kennedy Center, I'd like to say - really?"
ABC late night TV host Jimmy Kimmel called Murray both a genius and fearless extrovert who can get away with stealing French fries off diners' plates and crashing a White House press conference.
"Bill Murray could shove you off the side of the Hoover Dam and you'd be like, 'Hey, Bill Murray,' all the way down," Kimmel said.
Others at the ceremony included "Ghostbusters" director Ivan Reitman, singer Miley Cyrus and former NBC "Late Night" host David Letterman, who had Murray on his shows 44 times.
The ceremony was recorded for broadcast on PBS television on Friday.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Tom Brown)