Bette’s Kennedy Honors Speech
By Mister D
November 5, 2023
“I’m no fool—I brought a hanky ’cause I knew it was going to get very, very emotional. Because this is something that, you know it’s a kind of, you sort of sit at home and you watch these shows. And you think ‘Well, what about me?’ You know? (laughing) And you can’t help it! You’re a human being.
I want to say that there’s this David Byrne song—you all know it! …Most of you know it. (speaking lower) Maybe a few of you know it. ‘You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. And you say to yourself “This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife. How did I get here?”’ How did I get here? I have absolutely no earthly idea how I got here. I really don’t.
I came from nothing. I came from the most isolated place in the United States: Hawaii. And I spent most of my time reading books in libraries. And I had a mediocre education. But somehow or another I was mesmerized by the idea that someone would get up in a pool of light and be completely and utterly transformed. And transfigured. And beautiful. And that, when the light hit them, they had something not just to say—but something to reveal.
And I remember when I was a kid I saw Édith Piaf on television, and I saw her… I think it was the first time I’d ever seen a human being do what she did. Which was to completely unzip her skin and show her soul. And I… I never really recovered from it. I really felt that I understood what that was. And that I could do it.
And subsequently, in my life, I saw many people do it. People that I learned to love. I saw Tina Turner, I saw Aretha, I saw Janis Joplin. I saw so many people, so many men, so many women. And I fell in love with them, and I fell in love with the idea of what they did.
And I have to say, when I say ‘How did I get here?’ I say it because I… I… I never looked up. I had my nose to the grindstone every moment of my life. I worked like a f—- animal. I did. I worked like an animal. I couldn’t help myself. I was compelled to work. I was simply compelled. And now that I’m older, sometimes I think ‘Was it the hormones? Was it a dream? Was I just swept up in some vast illusion? What was it?’ Because now I’ve slowed down and I look back.
But I have to say that it was—talk about “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”—it was a hell of a ride. I had a blast. Even though it was work, it was work that I loved with all my heart. And it was work that brought me into contact with the most brilliant minds and the most wonderful wits and the most brilliant music. Things that made my heart soar and my heart sing. So even though I had my nose down, I heard it all, I saw it all, and I loved it all. And I have to say thank you so much to the Kennedy Center for validating this insane dream that I had when I was just a kid. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”—#BetteMidler, 44th #KCHonors recipient