Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, Motown singer Diana Ross and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson have collected awards for contributions to US culture.
The stars were honoured at a Washington ceremony
The trio were among five stars from the entertainment world to receive the annual Kennedy Centre honour.
Actor Steve Martin and pianist Leon Fleisher also received the award at a ceremony in Washington, attended by President Bush.
The stars were treated to special surprise performances in their tribute.
Diana Ross blew kisses as singers Vanessa Williams, Jordin Sparks and Ciara performed the songs that made her famous.
'Dreams come true'
Actor Steve Carell paid comic tribute to Steve Martin: "His act was that of an idiot savant, minus the savant. He's a national treasure in the loosest sense of the term."
Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola and Cameron Diaz took to the stage to honour Martin Scorsese, who won an Oscar earlier this year for The Departed.
"Marty made his dreams come true, and he has made dreams come true for all of us who came before his camera," Diaz said.
US band Hootie and the Blowfish paid tribute to Brian Wilson with a medley of some of the Beach Boys' best-known songs.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma paid homage to Leon Fleisher.
The honours, now in their 30th year, are awarded to recipients for their lifetime contribution to American culture through the performing arts - whether in dance, music, theatre, opera, film or television.