California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), accepting a public service award Tuesday, credited former President George Bush with helping to spark the former actor's political career.

"George Bush helped make me a public servant and now I am having the greatest time of my life," Schwarzenegger said at Texas A&M University (search), home of Bush's presidential library. "George Bush opened my eyes. He threw me in and gave me a platform."

Schwarzenegger served as Bush's chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (search) from 1990 to 1993.

"George Bush always said he wanted me to motivate others, but I think he was helping to motivate me," Schwarzenegger said.

Bush said Schwarzenegger deserved the 2004 George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service (search), joking his "rock star" status often eclipsed that of the president.

"Try walking into a room with Arnold Schwarzenegger," Bush said. "I might as well have been the local dog catcher. All eyes were on him. All the cheers were for him."

Bush told 2,500 people at the presentation the award was not about Schwarzenegger's celebrity. "He has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of others," he said.

Schwarzenegger joined former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (search) and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (search) as an award recipient. Last year it went to Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, the uncle of Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver.

"You all are wondering, 'How did Arnold end up winning the same award as Teddy Kennedy?'" Schwarzenegger asked. "I guess I take this as a presidential pardon for my bad movies."