Billy Crystal Receives Kennedy Center Honor

The 46th Kennedy Center honorees are Renee Fleming, Billy Crystal, Dionne Warwick (back row) Queen Latifah and Barry Gibb.
Photo: Mary Kouw, CBS

Billy Crystal, Palisades resident and former honorary co-mayor, was recognized by President Joe Biden for being selected as a Kennedy Center Honoree at a reception in the East Room of the White House on December 3.

Crystal was named not only for long-time comedic triumphs on stage, film and television, but also for his philanthropic efforts with Comic Relief, raising $75 million to help supply medical aid. He was the 2007 recipient of the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the author of five books.

Prior to the ceremony on December 3, the Washington Post wrote “Billy Crystal is the last of his kind. The versatile comedian became the ultimate showman. But it was never an act.”

The story tells how Crystal, who was working as a substitute teacher on Long Island, was having anxiety attacks because he felt he couldn’t support his wife, Janice or six-month old daughter Jenny.

Then Janice told him she was going back to work, he would watch the baby during the day, and he could hit the comedy clubs at night.

In that interview, he acknowledges his wife’s guidance and support and said, “All of this is possible because of that one moment.”

After the White House reception Crystal and fellow honorees, opera singer Renee Fleming, music star Barry Gibb, singer Dionne Warwick and rapper and actor Queen Latifah, went to the Kennedy Center for the show.

An ABC News report said that movie director Rob Reiner – who cast Crystal in multiple iconic roles – poked fun at the honoree. “I hope this doesn’t give him a big head, because honestly his head’s already big,” Reiner said.

Reiner narrated a large portion of Crystal’s tribute, and others who spoke were his When Harry Met Sally costar Meg Ryan, Whoopi Goldberg, Bob Costas and 2009 Kennedy Center honoree Robert De Niro. Lin-Manuel Miranda, a 2018 honoree, performed an original song in Crystal’s honor.

Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal’s co-star, fetted him at the ceremony.
Photo: CBS

When he received the award, Crystal gave the following speech:

When Deborah Rutter [President of the Kennedy Center] called me months ago and told me about this [award], I got very emotional, which I still am, and I have been throughout this whole experience.

You start thinking about something my grandparents kept saying to me over and over again, which was, “Enjoy it. It goes by so fast.”

I think about how lucky I’ve been to start my life the way I did. We are the product of our environment, and I was brought home to a house filled with music and the music of American jazz and laughter.

My family owned a little record store in New York City called the Commodore Music Shop. My dad managed the store during the week. He produced these great jazz concerts on weekends, and the predominantly African-American musicians often were in our house.

My family, my ancestors, are all from Rostov and Odessa. So, the combination of my Russian-Jewish relatives and these black jazz musicians was an

intoxicating combination. The house always smelled of brisket and bourbon. And that’s where I started.

When I was 13 years old, President Kennedy was in office, and he had something that no other President had at that time I was aware of–a sense of humor. We would watch his press conferences; he was witty, funny, and charming.

The luckiest thing of all is that in 1966, I met a beautiful girl on the beach. I was eighteen, and she was seventeen. Fifty-seven years later, we’re married. We started dating during the Johnson administration if that helps at all.

We have two beautiful daughters who are with us tonight, who grew up during my career. None of this happens without the partnership I’ve shared with Janice over the years.

And my two girls are here tonight with their wonderful husbands. What I do for a living is joy. But the real work is taking two little infants and watching them become the great women and mothers they are today.

And I know they’re looking at me right now with this beautiful medallion on my neck. You’ve grown up throughout my career, and I know what you’re thinking, “Who’s going to get that when he’s gone?”

Thank you, Kennedy Center, I toast you! This is awesome!

The Kennedy Center Honors ceremony will be broadcast on December 27 on CBS.

The Kennedy Center awardees were honored by President Joe Biden and his wife.
Photo: CBS

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2 Responses to Billy Crystal Receives Kennedy Center Honor

  1. Lee Calveert says:

    =Sue, I loved this story about the Crystals -great honorary mayors. They sat at my table at the Women’s Club 90th (plus) birthday party years ago Really nice people….

  2. M says:

    CONGRATULATIONS!!
    TO ONE HALF OF A FINE PALISADES HONORARY MAYOR TEAM.

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