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Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press
Actor Morgan Freeman, center, poses backstage with the Cecil B. Demille Award with Helen Mirren, left, and Sidney Poitier, right, during the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012, in Los Angeles.

In accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award Sunday night, Morgan Freeman showed all the characteristics with which he's long graced the movies.

He was sharp, honed and sure. He was dignified, certainly, but also mischievous, as when he interrupted his speech to take notice of a famed musician in the front of the crowd at the 69th annual Golden Globes.

"Hi, Elton," Freeman said with a glint in his eye.

The 74-year-old Freeman has been on the lifetime achievement circuit lately. In the past year, he's received American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award and the People's Choice Awards' first-ever movie icon award. The Cecil B. DeMille award follows five Oscar nominations (and one win for his supporting performance in "Million Dollar Baby") and five Golden Globe nominations, including a win for his lead performance in "Driving Miss Daisy."

But Freeman, whose earring has long been a feature of his stately visage, has never been one for self-indulgent flattery, always wary of the calcifying effect of being labeled a legend. So he kept it brief and to the point Sunday, noting that the clip reel of his still quite busy career made him appreciate the people with whom he had worked and "how much fun I've been having."

"If you do what you love, you'll never have to work a day in your life," he said.

Freeman was, naturally, not speaking in the past tense. He is currently shooting the third season of his Science Channel series "Through the Wormhole" and later this year will reprise his role in the highly anticipated Batman blockbuster "The Dark Knight Rises."

Freeman — who has played God in the films "Bruce Almighty" and "Evan Almighty" — has sometimes chafed at being pigeonholed as "Mr. Gravitas," his catchall name for his more grandiose roles. His deep, melodious voice has made him a popular narrator, most famously in the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins."

Few have matched Freeman's dignified screen presence, but one of them helped introduce the actor Sunday night: Sidney Poitier.

"In my humble opinion, sir, you are indeed a prince in the profession you have chosen," said Poitier, a previous DeMille honoree, who himself received a standing ovation. "We thank you, Mr. Freeman, for raising the level of excellence yet another notch."

Helen Mirren followed Poitier's serious tribute with a more relaxed introduction: "I'm going to lower the tone," she warned.

"He's made over 50 films and I've only been in one of them," said Mirren, who co-starred in the 2010 action film "Red" with Freeman. She then did a brief, waddling audition for "March of the Penguins" and pleaded, "I could have been a penguin."

Freeman warmly responded to Mirren, but it was clear Poitier's words were deeply meaningful.

"Being up here receiving this award, this tribute that you yourself received, makes it clear to me that though they call this the Cecil B. DeMille Award, in my house, it will also be called the Sidney Poitier Award."

Freeman made his big-screen debut as an extra in 1965's "The Pawnbroker," and his film work remained modest over the next two decades.

His big successes early on came in theater, which brought him a Tony Award nomination for 1978's "The Mighty Gents," and television, where he was a regular for six years on the children's show "The Electric Company."

A clip from "The Electric Company" that amused the audience and likely viewers as well was included in Freeman's tribute reel. There was a young Freeman as Count Dracula, singing "I Love to Take a Bath in a Casket," a YouTube video of which quickly went viral while the Globes carried on.

Freeman's big-screen career took off with 1987's crime drama "Street Smart," which earned him his first Oscar nomination. His lengthy career has included a number of beloved performances, including "Glory," ''Unforgiven," ''The Shawshank Redemption" and "Lean on Me." He co-starred in this year's family film "Dolphin Tale."

When Clint Eastwood — who has directed Freeman in several of his best performances, including "Unforgiven," ''Invictus" and "Million Dollar Baby" — presented Freeman with his AFI honor, he called him "the greatest actor."

"He is the most effortless person to be around and to act," Eastwood said. "I don't know if it's proper to love another man, but this is as close as I'm going to get to it."

Poitier ended his tribute to Freeman with a nod to the future.

He said, "May your journey be long and your characters continue to multiply."