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14 Nov 2011

Actor James Earl Jones has received an honorary Oscar on the London stage, to the surprise of his matinee audience.

Jones, currently starring opposite Vanessa Redgrave in Driving Miss Daisy - said he was "plain gobsmacked" as he accepted the award.

The 80-year-old was presented with his Oscar on stage by Sir Ben Kingsley.

Jones, whose film credits include Patriot Games and The Hunt for Red October, remains best known as the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars.

The honour formed part of the 3rd annual Governors Awards, which also saw chat show queen Oprah Winfrey and make-up artist Dick Smith receive honorary awards.

Jones was due to receive his Oscar in person but decided he did not want to interrupt his run in the London play. Instead, he accepted it via video link.

In Los Angeles, Winfrey received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her charity work, including the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and a Leadership Academy for Girls, which opened in South Africa in 2007.

Oprah, 57, credited producer Quincy Jones who spotted her on a talk show in Chicago and went on to cast her in The Color Purple - for which she won an Oscar nomination - saying he was "the only reason I am here tonight".

"I never imagined myself receiving an Oscar, certainly not for doing what I believe is a part of my calling, a part of my being."

Smith, known in the industry as "the godfather of make-up", was also given an honorary Oscar.

Smith won an Oscar in 1984 for his work on Amadeus, and also worked on The Exorcist, Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter.

Actress Linda Blair, whom he transformed into a head-spinning demon in The Exorcist, paid tribute to Smith, but added: "For me, it was not as much fun as I think it was for Dick."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said the honorary awards were given to individuals for "extraordinary distinction in lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences, or for outstanding service to the Academy".

Opening the ceremony, Academy president Tom Sherak made only a passing reference to what has been a troubled week at the Academy, asking: "How was your week?" to a ripple of laughter.

Earlier this week, Eddie Murphy stepped down as host from the 2012 Academy Awards ceremony, following the resignation of producer Brett Ratner.

On Thursday, it was announced that Billy Crystal would replace Murphy, with Brian Grazer taking over as producer.


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