Diane Warren has famously gone 0-13 at the Academy Awards in the best original song category, but on Saturday Nov. 19, she finally won an Oscar, albeit an honorary one, at the 13th Governors Awards put on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. The event, which also honored directors Peter Weir and Euzhan Palcy and film and TV star Michael J. Fox, was held at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles.
“I’ve waited 34 years to say this: ‘I’d like to thank the Academy’,” Warren said in her acceptance speech. She also joked, “Mom, I finally found a man.” Gazing at the Oscar statue, she added, “I know you wanted him to be a nice Jewish boy, but it’s really hard to tell.”
Cher presented Warren with the award and stayed close during Warren’s acceptance speech. Warren expressed her appreciation, but in a humorous way: “Cher doesn’t go east of the 405 for anybody.” (Warren wrote Cher’s biggest and best hit of the 1980s, “If I Could Turn Back Time,” as well as her showcase song in the 2010 film Burlesque, “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.”)
Warren has been called the Susan Lucci of the Oscars because she has lost so many times. But on Saturday, Warren framed it differently. “13 times my songs have been chosen. That’s a pretty big f—ing win.”
Warren, 66, is one of only nine songwriters in Oscar history to amass 13 or more nominations for best original song. And she is the first person primarily known as a songwriter to receive an honorary Oscar. Previous honorary Oscars have been awarded to three famed film composers — Alex North, Lalo Schifrin and Ennio Morricone. These awards date back to 1950.
Warren remembered seeing Born Free, with John Barry’s Oscar-winning song and score, in 1966 (when she was 10). “It wrecked me,” she said. “It showed me the beauty of music in the movies.”
Warren’s speech was preceded by a tribute film (produced by Bess Kargman) that included insightful comments from Toni Braxton, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, Clive Davis, Quincy Jones and more.
Many praised Warren’s fierce work ethnic. David Foster, who produced Dion’s recording of “Because You Loved Me,” said “Work is all she knows. Work is all she cares about. She writes this stuff by herself in this miserable room of hers.” The visual was of a cluttered room that was indeed less grand than you might expect for such a successful songwriter.
In the film, Cher noted with amusement that Warren always tells her, for every song she writes, “This is the best song I have ever written.”
Jennifer Hudson marveled, “I’ve never met or seen anyone that passionate about what they do.”
Jones simply said “She’s a mother f—er. My kind of girl.”
Warren has a ways to go to become the female with the most Oscar nominations. Legendary fashion designer Edith Head amassed 35. But you wouldn’t want to bet against the tireless Warren.
Woody Harrelson presented the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 29. In 2000, Fox launched the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, which is the leading Parkinson’s organization in the world. Fox, 61, thanked, among others, Bruce Springsteen for his 1984 song “No Surrender,” which, Fox said, has been “a personal anthem” for him.
Jeff Bridges presented an honorary award to Weir, the director of such films as The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, Dead Poets Society, The Truman Show and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. Like Warren, Weir has been a perennial Oscar bridesmaid. He has gone 0-6 at the awards, despite four nominations for directing, one for writing and one for best picture. Weir is 78 and retired.
Viola Davis presented an honorary award to Palcy, who was hailed as the first Black woman to direct a major Hollywood film. Palcy, 64, directed Sugar Cane Alley and A Dry White Season. (Mindy Kaling, who opened the show with some witty remarks, said of A Dry White Season: “Until recently that’s what I called awards season.”)
The four honorees reflect the Academy’s stepped-up global outlook. Weir was born in Australia; Palcy in the French West Indies, Fox in Canada and Warren in the U.S.
The honorary award is given “to honor extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy.”
The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award is given “to an individual in the motion picture arts and sciences whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”
Jennifer Fox produced the event for the fourth year. Rob Paine was supervising producer. The show was directed by Jonathan X and written by Jon Macks. Rickey Minor served as music director.