“I’m honored to send the old man off in this way, and all I have to do is not cry as profusely as I know I’m going to,” he told The Times shortly before the ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
“He was into the glitz and glamour, so he would’ve loved this,” continued Smith. “It wasn’t about fame for the guy, but mainstream acceptance for what he did, because for years, decades, he didn’t think what he was making was good enough. This is what he’s waited for his whole life, and mercifully, he got it.”
Smith did have to hold back his tears when he recalled how he first met Lee by pitching his idol a role in the 1995 film “Mallrats,” and how he still couldn’t believe that they became true friends for the 25 years to follow.
“There was never a moment when I was disappointed by the humanity of Stan Lee,” Smith told fans while standing near Lee’s signature in concrete at the Hollywood landmark. “By inventing Spider-Man, the Avengers, so on and so forth, he helped us all build our morality, he helped us tell right from wrong while entertaining us.”
Throughout the three-hour tribute — which included reels of Lee’s crowd-pleasing cameos in each of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies — Clark Gregg, Felicia Day, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Davidson, RZA and more shared their favorite memories of Lee, complete with their best impressions of his distinct voice.
“He clearly loved what he was doing,” said “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill, “and he had such a personality that came across the pages.”
Laurence Fishburne — who also performed a reading of Lee’s favorite poem, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” — confessed that, as a child, he resorted to stealing Marvel comics when the company raised the prices from 12 cents to 15 cents.
“I had become an actor by the time they were 25 cents!” the “Ant-Man and the Wasp” actor said, laughing. “I was able to thank him for what he did for my life. It just opened my mind to the possibility that you could be more than what your surroundings said you were supposed to be.”
Dwayne Johnson, William Shatner, George Takei, Mike Colter, David Tennant, Doug Jones and Ming-Na Wen also shared their thoughts via video messages. Said Wen, “Thank you for helping all of us to find the hero within ourselves.”
Additionally, the evening included remarks from a slew of collaborators such as “Blade” creator Marc Wolfman, “Fantastic Four” creator George Perez, former Marvel executive Avi Arad, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and Nikki Frakes, who co-directed a 2011 documentary on Lee.
While many of the recollections were heartfelt and complimentary, not all of them were strictly flattering. Gill Champion, the co-founder of Lee’s production company, POW! Entertainment, revealed that “even though he loved driving, he was the worst driver in the world.”
And “Spider-Man: Homecoming” producer Amy Pascal recalled his grouchier side throughout her days at Sony. “I think there were some of these movies he didn’t like so much,” she said with a laugh. “He was pretty honest!”
The event also included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s posthumous presentation of a key to the city, as well as a wreath-laying ceremony by the Veterans in Media & Entertainment and American Legion Hollywood Post 43, both of which counted Lee, a veteran, as a member.
All proceeds from the tribute — for which tickets ran upward of $150 a pop — benefited the Hero Initiative, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping comic-book creators, writers and artists in need.
Nearly three months since Lee died at age 95, the event was nearly sold out, packed with fans dressed in character tees and elaborate cosplay outfits.
Smith said he hopes that Hollywood’s gratitude toward Lee continues — particularly at the upcoming Oscars. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” nabbed an animated film nomination, “Avengers: Infinity War” is up for visual effects, and “Black Panther” is the first superhero movie ever included in the coveted best picture category.
Said Smith to Lord, Miller and Pascal, “I can’t think of a better send-off than you guys going up there and picking up some tin.”
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