"I had no idea this was such a big deal," the 75-year-old actor said as he was presented with the organization's 34th Life Achievement Award Thursday night.
Connery was as cool and composed as James Bond as he thanked the celebrity-studded crowd, but at times during the two-hour praisefest, he looked almost misty-eyed.
Directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and actors Andy Garcia, Harrison Ford and Mike Myers were among those who feted the Scottish star.
Garcia called Connery "one of my greatest inspirations."
"Shake and stir that, baby," he said, invoking one of the actor's most famous 007 lines. The two shared the screen in 1987's "The Untouchables," for which Connery won the Oscar for best supporting actor.
Connery became an international icon as the big-screen embodiment of Ian Fleming's suave secret agent, "Bond, James Bond." He played the martini-drinking ladies' man in seven films.
"I've walked in your cinematic footsteps," said Bond successor Pierce Brosnan. "My dreams have come true in large part thanks to you."
Myers, wearing a kilt and a tuxedo jacket, lauded Connery for inspiring the popular Austin Powers character.
"Of all the iconic, superstar Scottish actors of the last 50 years, Connery is definitely in the top five," Myers joked. "Women want to be with you and men want to be you. I'll admit it, I have a man crush."
Both Myers and singer Tom Jones called Connery "a man's man."
"That's why women love him," said Jones, who, flanked by go-go dancers, performed the theme from the 1965 Bond film, "Thunderball." "He's a very natural man and I think that's what comes across in everything he does."
Actress Tippi Hedren, who costarred with Connery in the 1964 film, "Marnie," called him "the sexiest man you could ever, ever, ever lay eyes on."
He "took sexy to a whole new stratosphere," said actress Julia Ormond, who played Guinevere to his King Arthur in 1995's "First Knight."
She also celebrated the actor's sense of humor, describing him as "closer to Clouseau than 007."
Lucas, who cast Connery in 1989's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," said he "nearly had a heart attack" when he learned of the actor's retirement. He said he is dreaming up ways to kill off Connery's character in the franchise's fourth installment.
"You're one of a kind," Lucas said.
Past AFI honoree Ford, presented Connery -- his screen dad in "Last Crusade" -- with this year's award.
"John Wayne gave us the old West. Jimmy Stewart gave us our town," he said. "You gave us the world."
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Connery came into acting through bodybuilding. After he placed third in the 1950 Mr. Universe contest, he recalled in a video segment Thursday, he was invited to join the English soccer team Manchester United but opted to act instead. A friend told him it would be easy: "All you have to do is look like you're an American."
An ardent supporter of Scotland, Connery was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000.
The ceremony, which also included a videotaped tribute from the newest Bond, Daniel Craig, will be broadcast on the USA Network on June 21.
Previous honorees include Lucas, Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor.