Leonardo DiCaprio presented the award to Robert De Niro at the 26th annual awards on Sunday evening

Robert De Niro received a standing ovation as he was honored with the highest tribute at this year’s SAG Awards.

At the 26th Annual Screen Actor’s Guild Awards on Sunday evening, De Niro, 76, was the 26th recipient of the SAG Life Achievement Award, which is awarded annually to an actor who fosters the “finest ideals of the acting profession,” SAG previously announced.

Upon taking the stage, De Niro — who stars in The Irishman, which is nominated for the outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture SAG Award — had to wait a moment to start his speech after a lengthy standing ovation.

After thanking his fellow actors, De Niro turned toward the union that brought them together that night and thanked the SAG-AFTRA for all their work.

“I thank SAG-AFTRA for tirelessly fighting on our behalf for workplace and economic gains and respect, and that especially bears remembering these days when there’s so much hostility towards unions,” he said. “Political leaders who support unions are more likely to support the Affordable Care Act, equitable taxes, humane immigration regulations, a safe environment, a diverse citizenry, reproductive rights, sensible gun control and fair wages and benefits. We owe them our support and we owe them our vote.”

Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro
| Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty

“I can imagine some of you are saying, ‘Alright, let’s not get into the politics,’ ” De Niro continues. “But we’re in such a dire situation and it’s so deeply concerning to me and so many others, I have to say something. There’s right and there’s wrong, and there’s common sense and there’s abuse of power. And as a citizen, I have as much right as anybody — an actor, an athlete, a musician — anybody else to voice my opinion. And if I have a bigger voice because of my situation, I’m gonna use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power.”

The actor then thanks his son Julian, 24, who’s also an actor and was sitting in the audience, as well his other kids watching at home.

Before presenting the award to De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio reflected on his This Boy’s Life costar’s lifetime of achievements, which includes two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, the Cecil B. DeMille Award, a Silver Berlin Bear, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, among others.

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2018 Tribeca Film Festival Awards Ceremony
Robert De Niro

In November, the SAG Awards announced that the Oscar-winning actor, producer and director would be receiving the top accolade.

“I have been a member of this union for over 50 years. It’s an honor to receive this award from SAG-AFTRA,” De Niro said in a statement.

Said Gabrielle Carteris, President of SAG-AFTRA, in a statement: “Robert De Niro is an actor of extraordinary depth and ability. The characters he creates captivate our imaginations. From the smoldering inferno of young Vito Corleone to the raging bull Jake Lamotta and everybody’s grandpa Ben Whittaker, he continues to touch our hearts and open our minds to new and exciting worlds of understanding and emotion. It is my great privilege to announce that SAG-AFTRA’s highest honor will be presented to one of the most singular talents of our generation, Robert De Niro.”

The 26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards are airing live Sunday starting at 8 p.m. ET on TNT and TBS.