PARIS – The "Sundance Kid" was a hit in Paris.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy inducted Robert Redford into France's elite Legion of Honor in an intimate ceremony Thursday, congratulating the 74-year-old American actor/director on his decades-long film career and his work to protect the environment.
Pinning a red-ribboned medal to Redford's blue suit, Sarkozy made him a knight in the Legion of Honor.
"I know 65 million French people who would like to be in my shoes right now," Sarkozy joked during a speech in French, which Redford followed in translation through an earpiece.
Sarkozy told Redford — "you are the incarnation of the United States and all that that country represents." He said Redford's roles in films like 1969's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1985's "Out of Africa" and "The Great Gatsby," from 1974, continue to delight viewers.
"Those who love cinema long remember ... (your) films, which we watch and re-watch with the same emotion each time," Sarkozy said.
He also praised Redford's long commitment to environmental causes.
"We need friends like you have the courage to try to wake up people's consciousness" about the environment, Sarkozy said.
Redford thanked the French people, recalling the time he spent in France after dropping out of college.
"I didn't know anything about my own country, I was naive and narrow-minded and it was the French students ... who opened my eyes and gave me a real education," said Redford, who was flanked at the ceremony at Paris' Elysee presidential palace by his wife, painter Sibylle Szaggers.
"I will continue with my commitment to make cinema that opens people's spirits and goes beyond borders, and this prize will help me do that," said Redford, who also directed the 1992 hit "A River Runs Through It" and the 2007 political drama "Lions for Lambs."
Redford also founded the popular Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, which focuses on independent cinema.
Napoleon Bonaparte created the legion in 1802. It recognizes military, cultural, scientific or social contributions to France, including by people who are not French citizens. Previous inductees include Clint Eastwood, another actor-turned-director, and Canadian director David Cronenberg.