31 Dec Billy Crystal ~ A Comedian with Heart
William Edward Crystal (born March 14, 1948) is an American actor, comedian, writer, producer, director, and television host. He gained prominence in the 1970s and 80s for television roles as Jodie Dallas on the ABC sitcom Soap and as a cast member and frequent host of Saturday Night Live. He then became a Hollywood film star during the late 1980s and 1990s, appearing in the critical and box office successes The Princess Bride (1987), Throw Momma from the Train (1987), When Harry Met Sally… (1989), City Slickers (1991), Mr. Saturday Night (1992) and Analyze This (1999), and providing the voice of Mike Wazowski in the Monsters, Inc. films, starting in 2001. He will reprise his role in the upcoming Disney series Monsters at Work (2020).
For his work, he received numerous accolades, including six Primetime Emmy Awards, a Tony Award, a Mark Twain Prize and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991. He has hosted the Academy Awards nine times, beginning in 1990 and most recently in 2012.
Crystal is Jewish (his family emigrated from Austria and Russia), and he grew up attending Temple Emanu-El (Long Beach, New York) where he was Bar Mitzvahed. The three young brothers would entertain by reprising comedy routines from the likes of Bob Newhart, Rich Little and Sid Caesar records their father would bring home. Jazz artists such as Arvell Shaw, Pee Wee Russell, Eddie Condon, and Billie Holiday were often guests in the home. With the decline of Dixieland jazz and the rise of discount record stores, in 1963 Crystal’s father lost his business and died later that year at the age of 54 after suffering a heart attack while bowling. His mother, Helen Crystal, died in 2001.
He graduated from NYU in 1970 with a BFA from its School of Fine Arts, not yet named for the Tisch family. One of his instructors was Martin Scorsese, while Oliver Stone and Christopher Guest were among his classmates.
Reiner directed Crystal for a third time in the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally… (1989), in which Crystal starred alongside Meg Ryan and for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. The film has since become an iconic classic for the genre and is Crystal’s most celebrated film. Crystal then starred in the award-winning buddy comedy City Slickers (1991), which proved very successful both commercially and critically and for which Crystal was nominated for his second Golden Globe.
He directed the made-for-television movie 61* (2001) based on Roger Maris’s and Mickey Mantle’s race to break Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961. This earned Crystal an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special.
Crystal later went on to provide the voice of Mike Wazowski in the blockbuster Pixar film Monsters, Inc. (2001), and reprised his voice role in the prequel, Monsters University, which was released in June 2013. Crystal also provided the voice of Calcifer in the English version of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004).
Crystal won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event for 700 Sundays, a two-act, one-man play, which he conceived and wrote about his parents and his childhood growing up on Long Island. He toured throughout the US with the show in 2006 and then Australia in 2007.
Following the initial success of the play, Crystal wrote the book 700 Sundays for Warner Books, which was published on October 31, 2005. In conjunction with the book and the play that also paid tribute to his uncle, Milt Gabler, Crystal produced two CD compilations: Billy Crystal Presents: The Milt Gabler Story, which featured his uncle’s most influential recordings from Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” to “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets; and Billy Remembers Billie featuring Crystal’s favorite Holiday recordings.
In 1986, Crystal started hosting Comic Relief on HBO with Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. Founded by Bob Zmuda, Comic Relief raises money for homeless people in the United States.
Crystal has participated in the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. Crystal’s personal history is featured in the “Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves” exhibit in the genealogy wing of the museum.
On March 12, 2008, Crystal signed a one-day minor league contract to play with the New York Yankees, and was invited to the team’s major league spring training. He wore uniform number 60 in honor of his upcoming 60th birthday. On March 13, in a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Crystal led off as the designated hitter. He managed to make contact, fouling a fastball up the first base line, but was eventually struck out by Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm on six pitches and was later replaced in the batting order by Johnny Damon. He was released on March 14, his 60th birthday.
Although a lifelong Yankee fan, he is a part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, even earning a World Series ring in 2001 when the Diamondbacks beat his beloved Yankees.
In City Slickers, Crystal wears a New York Mets baseball cap. In the 1986 film Running Scared, his character is an avid Chicago Cubs fan, wearing a Cubs’ jersey in several scenes. In the 2012 film Parental Guidance, his character is the announcer for the Fresno Grizzlies, a Minor League Baseball team, and aspires to announce for their Major League affiliate, the San Francisco Giants.
Crystal appeared in Ken Burns’s 1994 documentary Baseball, telling personal stories about his life-long love of baseball, including meeting Casey Stengel as a child and Ted Williams as an adult.
Crystal is also a longtime Los Angeles Clippers fan and season ticketholder.
Crystal and his wife Janice (née Goldfinger) married in June 1970, have two daughters, actress Jennifer and producer Lindsay, and are grandparents. They reside in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Pacific Palisades, California.