In his first formal public appearance since the September auto accident that fractured his spine, a rehabilitating Kevin Hart on Sunday accepted the 2019 E! People's Choice Award for Comedy Act.
Striding onstage to Kanye West's "Stronger" at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, the 40-year-old Hart thanked presenter Robert Downey Jr. and told the standing-ovation audience, "First and foremost, man, thank God, because I definitely don't have to be here," alive, after the high-speed accident on Sept. 1. "Being that I am, it makes me appreciate life even more," he continued. "It makes me appreciate the things that really matter: family. I want to thank my wife, my kids, who really stepped up to the plate for me."
The stand-up comic and "Jumanji" and "Ride Along" franchise star went on to thank the popular-vote awards' producers — since 2017, the awards have been owned and televised by the E! network — and the public. "You have no idea the effect that you have on us as entertainers," he said. "Your energy, your support, it means the world, and I truly want to thank you guys for being here for me at my difficult time. This is special," assured Hart, who also had been nominated for Comedy Movie Star for "The Upside," and Animated Movie Star for "The Secret Life of Pets 2."
Hart had been a passenger in his 1970 Plymouth Barracuda, which was being driven by Jared Stanton Black in Calabasas, California, when it went down an embankment and struck a tree due to what police determined was reckless driving on Sept. 1. Black's fiancee, trainer Rebecca Broxterman, was another passenger in the vehicle and escaped with minor injuries. Black was taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center severely hurt but has since recovered, and the couple celebrated an engagement party on Oct. 12. Two days earlier, Hart had said in a statement, "I have nothing but love for Jared and wish him and Rebecca a speedy recovery."
Hart's attorney, Andrew Brettler, told NBC News last month that the comedian is "committed to the physical-therapy regimen and is getting stronger every day.” The comic, whose film "Jumanji: The Next Level" opens in theaters on Dec. 13, is not expected to return to live performing until early next year.