Samuel L. Jackson was recognized for his more than 40 years of big-screen badass-ery at the BET Awards on Sunday night. The legendary actor was presented with the ceremony’s Lifetime Achievement Award by director Spike Lee, who called Jackson “one of the greatest actors on this god’s planet” and “the hardest-working man in show business.”
When Jackson first arrived on stage to accept his award, he thanked God, noting, “A young man who grew up in segregated Tennessee that nobody ever told I could be this. So, here I am and who you are, and thank God for that.”
He then went on to thank all the people who’ve helped him along the way, even including his accountants, his publicist, and his Aunt Edna, who first put him in a costume and “lit the fire that started all this.” Jackson then moved on to his daughter Zoe and wife LaTanya, “the two women that actually found me passed out on the floor after I left somebody’s bachelor party put my ass in rehab the next day, and supported me and pushed me and give me a reason to get up and go and chase it day after day after day.”
The 67-year-old star concluded with an important message, and a major pat on the back for Jesse Williams, who gave an impressive speech on race in America upon receiving the Humanitarian Award earlier in the evening. “Remember, what everybody’s been saying tonight is true,” he said. “What Jesse said — I mean, Jesse’s the closest thing I’ve heard to a 1960s activist. That brother is right and he’s true and when you hear what he’s saying, make sure you vote and take eight more people to vote so we can fix this. Don’t get tricked like they got tricked in London.”
The choice to honor Jackson with the Lifetime Achievement Award is notable for BET, as the award is most often given to musicians rather than actors. In fact, this marks the first time in the award’s 15-year history that it’s been given to somebody not primarily associated with music. Past winners have included Prince, Diana Ross, and Whitney Houston. Last year, Smokey Robinson was honored with the award.
Jackson’s film career began in 1972, when he starred in the independent film Together for Days. Afterwards, he acted consistently in minor roles before gaining critical attention in the 1991 romance Jungle Fever, and then exploding into fame as hitman Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). Since then, Jackson has become well-known for his frequent collaborations with Tarantino, including most recently Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, as well as taking on major roles in hit action franchises, such as Nick Fury in the Marvel cinematic universe and antagonist Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service.