The award is given every year by the HFPA for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment.
The calm and authoritative Morgan Freeman, 74, had already had a long and venerable career by the time he became famous.
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, he made his acting debut at the age of nine in a school play, won a state-wide drama competition when he was 12, performed on a Nashville radio show while still in high school, danced at the 1964 World's Fair and first appeared on screen in 1965 as an extra in The Pawnbroker.
He worked in small basement stage productions in New York City and for six years was a staple of children's television in PBS's The Electric Company.
After more than 20 years as a working actor he was finally catapulted into national prominence with the role of the volatile pimp Fast Black in 1987's Street Smart, that earned him Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
He has portrayed former Wayne Enterprises board member Lucius Fox in all three of Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, played an assassin in the comedy-thriller Red, co-starred in this year's family drama Dolphin Tale and will soon begin filming the thriller Now You See Me.
The Cecil B. DeMille was first given in 1952 to the filmmaker whose name it bears and other recipients have included Walt Disney, Joan Crawford, Robert Mitchum and, more recently, Warren Beatty, Anthony Hopkins, Steven Spielberg and Robert De Niro among others.