The actor and filmmaker was the honouree at the museum's 30th Annual Salute, which celebrated his award-winning career.

The 79-year-old's career began in the 1950s but he made his breakthrough in 1967 as lead actor and producer of iconic gangster film Bonnie and Clyde, considered to be a milestone in American movie history thanks to its groundbreaking graphic depiction of violence.

Fourteen-time Oscar-nominee Beatty attended the event with his wife of 25 years Annette Bening, and paid tribute to The Grifters actress.

"This is the luckiest thing that has ever happened to me," he gushed to Reuters, pointing to Annette. "Then we had four kids, so that's better than any 50 movies, each kid is better than 100 movies."

Beatty, who also counts Heaven Can Wait, Reds, DICk Tracy and Bulworth among his movie roles, was honoured for good reason. He is the first and only person to have been twice nominated for acting in, directing, writing, and producing the same film – first with Heaven Can Wait in 1978 and again with Reds, which he co-wrote with Trevor Griffiths.

In 1999, he was awarded the Academy's highest honour, the Irving G. Thalberg Award and has won six Golden Globes, including the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

His re-emergence in the spotlight comes following a 15-year break from filmmaking, as the father of four prepares to return in a romantic drama called Rules Don't Apply, which he also wrote and produced.

Explaining his hiatus from the movie business, he said: "I had some time - you know this little thing called life."

The Hollywood icon was joined at the event by stars including Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick.