Comedian Billy Crystal has spent half a century in the entertainment world. Famous as a nine-time Oscar winner and for his roles in classics such as “The Princess Bride”, “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Analyze This”. Crystal was selected to be among the 46th annualalong with Renée Fleming, Barry Gibb, Queen Latifah and .
“I’m on Cloud 12. You can see nine from there,” Crystal told “CBS Mornings.”
The event was not only a professional milestone but also a personal one as he shared the joy of the moment with his family.
“This is what I felt, because I see, I’m wearing the (Kennedy Center Honors) medallion at the dinner. They just put it around your neck. And now, officially as this person, you’re an honoree. And I see out and there are my two beautiful daughters, Jenny and Lindsay,” Crystal said.
“I always wanted them to know that if I had to be gone it was because I was doing what I had to do and something that made me happy and that the lesson of your life is whatever you do , so be happy in what you’re doing,” Crystal said.
His passion for performing began at home when he was the youngest of three boys. Crystal said he learned to improvise at age 5 and would often perform with his brothers.
“I was just fearless. That’s why this Kennedy thing hit me so hard, because it takes you right back to the beginning. And that’s how I got here?” Crystal said.
Starting out in the comedy clubs of New York City in the ’70s, Crystal’s early career suffered a major setback when he was cut from “NBC’s Saturday Night” — now called “Saturday Night Live” — before its premiere.
“It killed me. Because I was a part of like, it all led up to it,” Crystal said.
But his persistence and talent eventually led him back to the SNL stage, and that experience, Crystal said, really turned his entire career around.
“That’s where I wanted to be nine years before,” Crystal said. “I was lucky because I was ready. This time I was ready.”
A major breakthrough came with his role in “Soap,” portraying an openly gay character, a groundbreaking move unheard of in television at the time.
“I did the show because I thought if we could make him real and charming and funny and honest, we’d do something no one had done before, and it took time to get there, and we did,” he said.
He appeared in “Soap” for four seasons. But it was a meeting with director Rob Reiner that would eventually lead to his big break on the big screen in films like “The Princess Bride” and “When Harry Met Sally…”
Crystal called Reiner the “perfect director” because he let Crystal “invent”.
“He let us play. We added so many things as we went along,” Crystal said.
His improvisational skills and chemistry with co-stars like Meg Ryan helped create memorable scenes that continue to resonate with audiences, like the infamous Katz’s Deli scene from “When Harry Met Sally…”
“It’s an amazing phenomenon that this has touched people and this little piece of history here in New York City — you know, the movie was 1989,” Crystal said.
He said that the significance of “When Harry Met Sally…” makes it one of his most memorable films to date.
“It’s actually more important as time goes on because people fall in love every day. People fall out of love every day. People find each other, they lose each other every day. And new generations keep finding ‘When Harry Met Sally.. .’ They keep discovering it, and we’re eternally young in that movie. And we represent them. They relate to us,” Crystal said.
The Kennedy Center will be honored in 2023 broadcast on CBS at 8 PM ET/PT on Wednesday, December 27 and will stream on Paramount+.
Don’t miss profiles of this year’s honorees all this week on “CBS Mornings.”