Impressionist Rich Little channeled his inner John Wayne as he became a U.S. citizen in a naturalization ceremony Friday.
The famed comedian from Canada can impersonate every president from Kennedy to the Bushes but chose to accept his new citizenship as the cowboy icon and U.S. legend.
“America, I like the sound of the word,” Little said in a slow Wayne-like drawl. “It makes a man tight in the throat — makes him choked up. As I travel the world, I run into many Americans. I know they’re Americans because they’re wearing Italian shoes, eating Chinese food and drinking French wine.”
What is usually a solemn occasion in a federal courtroom turned into a comedic roast of sorts as Little’s longtime friends and colleagues Steve Rossi, Nelson Sardelli and Kathy Walker joked about his new life as a U.S. citizen.
“When I asked Rich what the first thing he was going to do when he was an American was, he said, ‘Collect unemployment,’ ” Rossi said.
Walker let fly impressions of Cher, Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller in the courtroom.
U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., also was present to speak to the handful of military members being naturalized along with Little at the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse.
“This is truly the greatest country in the history of the world,” Ensign said. “If any of us move to China, we will never be Chinese. … Yet, you move from Canada and you become an American.
“It’s because we are a country of ideas founded on some of the most extraordinary ideas in the history of civilization.”
Little, 71, who has made Las Vegas his home since 1999, has been a headliner at many Las Vegas casinos and has spent more than four decades touring the country and making television appearances as George Burns, Jack Nicholson and Humphrey Bogart.
“Well, I’ve been illegally in this country for 50 years,” joked Little, who wore a U.S. flag tie. “I just thought it was high time to become a citizen. It’s a lot easier to poke fun at the politicians when you’re an American.
“This country has been awfully good to me, and I can’t complain. It’s just a big thrill to become an American citizen.”
Chief Judge Roger Hunt presided over the ceremony and openly cried at the event as he discussed the history behind the National Anthem, the flag and what both mean to Americans.
Other countries represented at the ceremony were El Salvador, Kenya, Mexico and the Philippines.
To become a citizen, applicants must be at least 18 years old, be lawfully admitted for permanent residency, have good moral character, speak English, have a general knowledge of the government and take the oath of allegiance, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
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