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Steve Martin, noted immortal, to get AFI lifetime achievement award

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Steve Martin
Joe McNally/Getty Images

Steve Martin sure seems to be collecting a lot of lifetime achievement awards for a guy who has only lived one lifetime.

Last year, he collected an honorary Oscar for his groundbreaking career in motion pictures. A decade ago, he collected trophies from the Kennedy Center Honors and the American Cinematheque. And today, the American Film Institute selected him as the 43rd recipient of their Life Achievement Award for screen work.

Maybe his many honors are due to the fact that he has mastered so many different talents: stand-up, comedic acting, dramatic acting, writing screenplays, writing stage plays, writing novels, picking the banjo… Or maybe the prematurely white hair makes him seem somehow eternal. It’s hard to say.

Or maybe he is eternal.

Maybe Steve Martin is one of those gods who passes from the infinite realm into our world of mortals because he just wants to feel what it’s like to exist among the puny ones, these sad, soulful mammals scraping out a meager existence upon their damp pebble floating in the cosmos. Perhaps he can bring them some joy as he studies their humility? His first job, after all, was magician at Disneyland, which probably looked to him like our capital city.

Perhaps The Jerk, his first starring role in 1979, was an attempt to mimic a species he couldn’t help but view as pitiful and lost, a well-meaning but hopeless organism, charming in their dim naiveté, yet doomed. Navin Johnson is to the god Steve Martin what Clark Kent is to Superman, a bumbling mask worn by a being who is overcompensating while trying to blend in.

That’s why he had to eventually make his physical body completely devoid of color. Vibrant Steve Martin was just too obvious.

Egads, it all makes sense now. Steve Martin didn’t start to go serious on us with films like Roxanne and L.A. Story; this otherworldly genius was merely getting better at observing and reflecting our subtle nuances and emotions. And of course, he can still chuckle mordantly at our innate sadness and foibles.

The man is regarded as a connoisseur and collector of fine art, but to Steve Martin, maybe these masterworks by our greatest painters are regarded with the same patient affection a kindergarten teacher has for the clumsy crayon scribbles her children present for the bulletin board.

Will he return to his home planet, dimension, or nether-realm someday, content with having imbued us with some of his grace? Will he hold out a banjo to his fellow gods and explain that it’s the only instrument he could play fast enough to keep from losing interest? Will they nod appreciatively as he favors them with some of our rollicking tribal melodies?

Will they nod silently as they watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles while he explains somberly, “This is was a joint research project by myself and Mr. Candy, whom you all know …”

The American Film Institute award will be presented to Martin at a black-tie gala in Los Angeles on June 4. Maybe he will reveal his true self to us then.

Or perhaps Steve Martin will remain undercover here in our world indefinitely, ageless and ever curious, collecting lifetime achievement award after lifetime achievement award until all other organic existence on our planet has gone to dust… and his is the only lifetime that still exists.