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A Night of Laughs, Love for Bill Cosby

WASHINGTON - It was a mini-"Cosby Show" reunion Monday night as stars from the sitcom joined friends and family at the Kennedy Center to honor Bill Cosby with the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Phylicia Rashad and Malcolm-Jamal Warner were among a bevy of stars - including Jerry Seinfeld, Sinbad, Chris Rock and Willie Nelson - who gathered to celebrate the life and achievements of the beloved comedian.

"I'm happy," Cosby, 72, said before the show, his mind more focused on his attire. "Do you like my tie? Usually I like to wear one that drives the girls wild, but this one ... Mrs. Cosby picked it out." At Cosby's request, Rashad flew in from London, where she is performing "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

"We were just so happy to be together," Rashad said of working on "The Cosby Show." ''It was so much fun. It really was golden."

Warner said he remains close with his TV dad.

"He's been a very integral part of my life," Warner said, calling the long-running sitcom a "testament to his (Cosby's) genius. He always said he wanted the show to be relevant and timeless, and it is."

"He's a force of nature," noted Carl Reiner, a previous Mark Twain Prize recipient who said it was his son who brought Cosby to his attention. "I saw him and said we have got to get him on Dick Van Dyke (show)."

The evening's program included a retrospective of Cosby's career, along with personal anecdotes from the star-studded lineup.

While Cosby himself was there to be celebrated, not perform, his unmistakable voice could be heard in the minute of darkened silence before the start of the show. "Hello?" he said aloud from his balcony seat, garnering laughs from the audience.

Seinfeld and Rock opened the show, and they joked about having performance anxiety because of Cosby's presence in the audience. "We're not funny," Seinfeld said. "Not compared to Bill Cosby," Rock added.

Nelson and Wynton Marsalis performed a duet for the music-loving comedian. "We've been friends for 40 years," Nelson said before the show.

The program, "Bill Cosby: The Mark Twain Prize," airs Nov. 4 on PBS (check local listings).

Previous Mark Twain Prize recipients include Lily Tomlin, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and George Carlin.

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