The five 2007 honorees — Fleisher, actor-comedian-author Steve Martin, pop diva Diana Ross, filmmaker Martin Scorcese and songwriter Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys — will receive their awards at a dinner hosted by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday, December 1. The following evening, the five artists will be saluted in a gala performance at the Kennedy Center Opera House. CBS-TV will record the event for telecast in prime-time on December 26.
"My heart stopped" upon hearing the news of his award, Fleisher told The Washington Post. "I have received honors from the French government and many doctorates, but to be honored by your own country and your peers is special."
Now 79, Fleisher made his Carnegie Hall debut at age 16 with the New York Philharmonic and won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 1952. He quickly became one of the world's most admired pianists, developing a major performing and recording career through the 1950s and early '60s. He then developed a mysterious and painful paralysis in his right hand, whose use he lost completely by 1965, before he was 40 years old. He made more than one attempt at a two-handed comeback, though those were ultimately unsuccessful, and through the rest of the 20th century Fleisher was the leading exponent of the left-hand repertoire as well as a renowned teacher.
Finally, in the early 2000s, Fleisher was diagnosed with focal dystonia, a neurological disorder; regular Botox treatments and Rolfing treatments have enabled him to return to playing with two hands. His career and life have been hailed by critics and admired worldwide as a triumph over adversity. A 17-minute documentary on Fleisher's recovery, Two Hands, was nominated for an Academy Award last year.
Established in 1978, the Kennedy Center Honors recognize awardees for "their lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts — whether in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television." Recipients are chosen by the Center's Board of Trustees; excellence is the primary criterion in the selection process; honorees are not designated or chosen by art form and are not limited to Unites States citizens.
For more information about the Kennedy Center Honorees or the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, visit www.kennedy-center.org.