Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Kennedy Center Honors, 37th Kennedy Center Honors, Tom and Rita,

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Since his early sitcom beginnings, Tom Hanks has amassed a critically-acclaimed, award-winning body of work that arguably marks him as one of the most talented and versatile figures in cinematic history. In addition to his many professional accolades, the charismatic actor-director-writer-producer’s distinguished reputation as being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood makes him a perfect selection among this year’s 2014 Kennedy Center honorees.

Frequently dubbed a Hollywood “everyman,” Tom Hanks’ engaging portrayals have often presented a mirror that casted self-reflective questions back at us like, “What would I do in that situation?” and “Am I doing the right thing?” More simply put, we see ourselves in the roles he plays.

Hanks rose to film fame playing ordinary guys in extraordinary circumstances. Consider Allen Bauer in “Splash,” Jimmy Dugan in “A League of Their Own,” Sam Baldwin in “Sleepless in Seattle” and his breakout Oscar-nominated role as Josh Baskin in “Big.”

There’s a certain amount of irony in his iconic career being launched with Penny Marshall’s indelible 1988 fantasy comedy. A shy, awkward boy makes a wish to become “big” and suddenly, his wish is granted. Despite his incredible amount of charisma and A-list Hollywood stature, Tom Hanks has described himself as “a geek,” who was “painfully, terribly shy” while growing up. Two Oscars, four Golden Globes and six Primetime Emmy Awards later, it’s amazing to see how far he’s come.

Early Years and “Bosom Buddies”

Tom Hanks was born in 1956 in Concord, California. After high school he studied acting at Chabot College and California State University. However, an internship with Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Cleveland, Ohio is what fueled his love of the craft.

He moved to New York in 1980, where his work Off-Off-Broadway helped Hanks land an agent and eventually snag his breakout TV role as Kip Wilson, one-half of the drag-dressing duo on “Bosom Buddies.” He met seasoned actor Ron Howard on a “Happy Days” guest spot, which prompted Howard, as director, to cast Hanks in his first lead film role in “Splash.”

“Big” and Beyond

While Tom Hanks admittedly wore himself out in rehearsals hopping on those piano keys in one of “Big’s” most memorable scenes, his hard work paid off in the form of his first Academy Award nomination. A riveting dramatic transformation in “Philadelphia” as a gay attorney with AIDS demonstrated Hanks’ versatility. The raw and honest performance earned extensive critical acclaim and his first Best Actor Oscar win in 1993.

Tom Hanks, Emmy Award, Philadelphia,

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His captivating work in “Forrest Gump” brought Hanks his second consecutive Best Actor Oscar win the next year. In 1995, he starred in box office giants “Apollo 13” and “Toy Story.” In the latter (and its subsequent sequels), Hanks enraptured millions of children voicing one of the most beloved animated characters in history, Sheriff Woody.

Behind-the-Scenes Brilliance

Hanks nurtured his personal interest in space and war from behind-the-scenes across several spectacular projects. He wrote, produced, directed and starred in the Emmy-winning HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon.” He also teamed up with renowned director Steven Spielberg on multiple award-winning projects including “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.” In 2002, Hanks became the youngest recipient of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2008, his HBO miniseries “John Adams” won a record-setting 13 Emmy Awards.

Hanks’ prolific career came full circle in 2013 when he stepped back onto the live theater stage in the lead role of his late friend Nora Ephron’s Broadway play, “Lucky Guy,” for which he earned his first Tony Award nomination. At this point, would we expect anything less?

Tom Hanks has evolved from the quintessential guy-next-door actor into a filmmaking tour de force whose creative endeavors will undoubtedly remain some of the most savored chocolates in the cinematic box for many years to come.

Tom Hanks is one of five honorees at the “37th Annual Kennedy Center Honors” which airs on Tuesday, Dec. 30 (9:00-11:00 PM ET/PT) on CBS.

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Lori Melton is a freelance writer. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.

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