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Scene in D.C.: Led Zeppelin, Letterman at Kennedy Center Honors

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Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images via Bloomberg

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend the Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center.

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Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images via Bloomberg

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend the Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center. Close

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attend the Kennedy Center Honors at the Kennedy Center.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

2012 honoree David Letterman and Barbara Sandler Friedman, a fan and Kennedy Center patron. Close

2012 honoree David Letterman and Barbara Sandler Friedman, a fan and Kennedy Center patron.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, a 2012 honoree. Close

Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, a 2012 honoree.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Singer Bonnie Raitt and 2012 honoree blues musician Buddy Guy. Close

Singer Bonnie Raitt and 2012 honoree blues musician Buddy Guy.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Actor Alec Baldwin and 2012 honoree Dustin Hoffman. Close

Actor Alec Baldwin and 2012 honoree Dustin Hoffman.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

2012 honoree Natalia Makarova. Close

2012 honoree Natalia Makarova.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, a 2012 honoree, with musician Kid Rock. Close

John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, a 2012 honoree, with musician Kid Rock.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Joseph Shepard, Senator Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, Annette Shelby, and Senator Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican. Close

Joseph Shepard, Senator Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, Annette Shelby, and Senator Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Senator Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, and his wife, Jane. Close

Senator Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, and his wife, Jane.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod. Close

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Actor Liev Schreiber and actress Naomi Watts. Close

Actor Liev Schreiber and actress Naomi Watts.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Musician Lenny Kravitz. Close

Musician Lenny Kravitz.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Actress Glenn Close. Close

Actress Glenn Close.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Edwin Schlossberg and Caroline Kennedy. Close

Edwin Schlossberg and Caroline Kennedy.

Photographer: Stephanie Green/Bloomberg

Sydney McNiff Johnson and Jay Johnson, the CEO of General Dynamics. Close

Sydney McNiff Johnson and Jay Johnson, the CEO of General Dynamics.

Robert De Niro opened last night’s Kennedy Center Honors by calling honoree Dustin Hoffman a “colossal pain.”

De Niro joked about his “Wag the Dog” co-star’s penchant for perfectionism while Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts offered more traditional praise.

“I heart Dustin Hoffman,” said Watts, playing off their 2004 collaboration, “I Heart Huckabees.”

Barack and Michelle Obama sat in the presidential box for the 35th annual event, which toasts artists who have made extraordinary contributions in various disciplines. The ceremony will be broadcast Dec. 26 on CBS.

The other honorees were David Letterman, Buddy Guy, Natalia Makarova and Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones.

Bonnie Raitt got the crowd to their feet with “Sweet Home Chicago” in her tribute to bluesman Guy. Actor Morgan Freeman and musician Tracy Chapman expressed their affection for the guitarist and singer.

Judith Jamison, a 1999 honoree, introduced a video about fellow dancer Natalia Makarova. A string of ballerinas from the American Ballet Theatre saluted the Russian prima donna by performing some of her more famous roles.

Tina Fey

Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Jimmy Kimmel lauded Letterman. Referencing his habit of embarrassing the guests on his couch, Fey called Letterman “professor emeritus of the ‘Here’s Some More Rope Institute.”’

The program concluded with Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz and Kid Rock belting out Led Zeppelin hits in honor of the British band. ActorJack Black suggested holding a “Zepathon,” a nonstop playing of all the Led Zeppelin albums in a row. Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart performed the group’s classic “Stairway to Heaven.”

Before the program started, I asked various guests about their favorite honorees. Obama adviser David Axelrod, in a rakish red tie, said he was a fan of Guy, a fellow Chicagoan. Senator Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, said he loved Hoffman’s film “Rain Man” because the film is set in Cincinnati.

Senator Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said she enjoyed Letterman’s late-night laughs.

After the tributes, guests dined in the Grand Foyer where a giant bust of President John F. Kennedy looms.

Caroline Kennedy

His daughter, Caroline, wearing her mother’s diamond starburst pin at the waist of her gown, held court nearby welcoming guests.

The dinner consisted of free-range chicken with sweet- potato puree and spinach, served with William Hill Chardonnay 2011.

W. James McNerney, Jr., chief executive of the evening’s underwriter, the Boeing Co., was present, as was Kennedy Center Chairman and Carlyle Group Co-Founder David Rubenstein.

Others in attendance included film director Rob Marshall, actress Glenn Close, Senator Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and Representative Darrell Issa, California Republican.

(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Muse highlights include Katya Kazakina on art and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

To contact the writer on this story: Stephanie Green in Washington at sgreen57@bloomberg.net or on Twitter @stephlgreen.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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