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The drugs, the sex scandals, the trashed hotel rooms...nahhh. The brilliantly hilarious, astoundingly wholesome, family-centric Billy Crystal riffs about everything from Saturday Night Live to shampooing his daughters' hair ("I used to play a hairdresser called Mr. Phyllis") to the charming children's book he wrote to welcome his new granddaughter.
[Editor’s note: Oprah sat down with Billy Crystal in 2004 after he last hosted the Academy Awards. Now that he’s returning for the 9th time, we’re looking back to see how he became the Designated Host.]
Mention two words—Oscar® host—and one extraordinarily talented comedian pops into mind: Billy Crystal. Married for more than four decades, with two daughters (actress Jenny and Lindsay, a filmmaker), one of our greatest funnymen added a new title last year: Grandpa. The day Jenny gave birth to Ella, he sat down and wrote a children's book. Reading the last page, I held back tears—I can tell you that I Already Know I Love You says more about Billy Crystal than any work he's done.
And he's done plenty. At 4 he was putting on shows for relatives. After his father died when he was 15, Billy worked hard on his comedy to try to make his mother laugh. In his early 20s, he formed an improv group with two friends. In 1970 he married Janice Goldfinger, and three years later he was Mr. Mom, caring for his daughter and even taking her along when he performed at New York's improv club Catch a Rising Star. He made his film debut in 1978's Rabbit Test while on hiatus from Soap—a soap opera spoof in which he played Jodie Dallas, one of the first openly gay characters in a TV series. His most successful movie, 1989's When Harry Met Sally, came his way after he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live for one season in 1984. And in February, he hosted the Oscars for the eighth time.
On the afternoon I dropped in for a visit, Billy's Los Angeles home was filled with the people he loves: his wife, daughters, and grandbaby. The house is rich in mementos. In the study sits a gift presented to him by the Anti-Defamation League in 1991: a seat from Yankee Stadium, inscribed by Mickey Mantle. "Billy," it reads, "wish you was still sittin' here and I was still playin'." On the wall is a framed program from a Yankees game Billy attended when he was 8. A few paces away, the wooden door from his childhood bedroom has been fitted to a closet, with the old baseball decals still on it.
As we talked, I had a few surprising "I need a tissue" moments. But Kleenex aside, Billy did what he does best—he left everyone in his presence feeling a little lighter.
Start reading Oprah's interview with Billy Crystal
We Hear You!