Robert Downey Jr. presented the special honor to the artist, who took the stage before accepting his prize.
Sting on Sunday night became the first musician to receive the American Music Award of Merit since 2008, when the title was given to Annie Lennox.
The award is given exclusively to artists "who have made truly exceptional contributions to the music industry." He joins a list of iconic honorees including Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Gloria Estefan, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Prince and Frank Sinatra.
Robert Downey Jr. presented the award to the former Police frontman, with a clip of him singing with Sting preceding his remarks about the musician.
"I want that clip played before I walk onstage anywhere from now until forever," Downey Jr. said when he took the stage. Of Sting, the actor added, "He's one of the most talented and giving human beings ever to walk the face of the earth. He's also a teacher still much as he started out, our planet is his classroom. Should you choose to become a student, you'll be exposed to a wide and varied curriculum. You will learn of sexual obsession and ego. You'll learn of romantic love and devotion, spirituality and introspection, the futility of violence. Later in the semester, you will likely learn to care about the fate of mankind. Whether it's our oceans, the rainforest, Africa, Tibet or Paris, anyone who knows him can feel how deeply he cares. His own amazingly talented family and his music are his legacy and his singular voice remains a rallying cry to action in these uncertain and fragile times."
The AMAs then played a clip package with a voiceover about Sting's career.
The artist performed a medley of songs, including his first single, "I Can't Stop Thinking About You" off his new rock/pop album, 57th & 9th, as well as some of his greatest hits, like "Message in a Bottle" and "Every Breath You Take."
Accepting his award, Sting said, "I'm deeply moved by this extravagant gesture, and it's important for me as a musical migrant to acknowledge the very real debt I already owe to American music because after all American music that lit the musical spark in my mind, this uniquely American experiment by perhaps America's greatest and most influential export, rock and roll."
"A giant musical jam session where the doors are always open, open to all comers, and the spirit of welcome and inclusion, the mixing of culture, rhythm and passion is what made this country the greatest country in the world," he added.
"While I may be an Englishman in New York, I promise you that my musical soul is all American," Sting said, in conclusion.
Also scheduled to perform at the show were Justin Bieber, Niall Horan, Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar, James Bay, Fifth Harmony, Lady Gaga, Green Day, John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Twenty One Pilots, The Weeknd, special duets from The Chainsmokers and Halsey, and Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.
The nominations for the fan-voted awards show, produced by Dick Clark Productions, were revealed earlier this month. Drake leads with a record 13 noms, while Rihanna has seven and Adele and Justin Bieber each have five. Beyonce and The Chainsmokers follow closely behind with four and Bryson Tiller, Twenty One Pilots, Carrie Underwood, Fetty Wap and the Weeknd each have three. Keep up with the latest winners here.
The 2016 American Music Awards show is executive produced by Allen Shapiro and Mike Mahan, with Larry Klein, Barry Adelman and Mark Bracco serving as producers.
(c) Hollywood Reporter by Caitlin Greenho