1981 Fred Astaire Tribute

The Trustees of The American Film Institute voted the ninth Life Achievement Award in Motion Pictures and Television to Fred Astaire.

In a professional career which began in his childhood more than 75 years ago and is still flourishing today, Astaire has displayed and perfected his unique artistry as a dancer, singer, musician, actor, and choreographer. He has reached the pinnacles of success both critically and with the mass audience in every medium he has touched with his genius — first vaudeville and the musical stage, then film, radio, and television.

Astaire is one of that handful of figures who have changed the course of film history through the sheer force of their talent: in the same way that Charles Chaplin transformed motion picture comedy from crude slapstick into a popular art form, Astaire revolutionized the musical film and turned it into a means of artistic expression which captivated the public. His series of classic Depression Era musicals with Ginger Rogers made them the most popular romantic team in movie history. Astaire's later work took his restless imagination to new heights as he continued to experiment with the possibilities of dance on film.

With his stage and film musicals, Astaire also introduced to the public many great songs by the finest American lyricists and composers of his day, including Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, and the Gershwins. They, in turn, paid tribute to the creative influence on their work of Astaire's technical sophistication, his tasteful expression of emotion, and his personal elegance.

The standards of excellence Astaire imposed on himself, his dancing partners and his other collaborators ensured that his films are as fresh and exciting today as when they were made. In the words of critic Arlene Croce, "An Astaire dance was usually the kind of dance that one could imagine seeing on a real stage, but the experience was so dazzling that the only sane response was gratitude to film for having brought it into existence.

The Life Achievement Award is given to an individual who has, in a fundamental way, advanced the art of film. For that reason we are proud to honor Fred Astaire and his incalculable contribution to the motion picture musical.

NOTE: Due to licensing restrictions, the telecasts of the AFI Life Achievement Award Tribute are currently not available for distribution or purchase.