Comedian Billy Crystal has spent half a century in the entertainment world. Renowned as a nine-time Oscars host and for his roles in classics like “The Princess Bride,” “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Analyze This.” Crystal was selected to be among the 46th annual Kennedy Center Honorees, along with Renée Fleming, Barry Gibb, Queen Latifah and Dionne Warwick.

“I’m on Cloud 12. You can see nine from there,” Crystal told “CBS Mornings.”

The event was not just 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 looking, I’m wearing the (Kennedy Center Honors) medallion at the dinner. They just put it around your neck. And now, officially being this person, you’re an honoree. And I look out and there’s my two beautiful daughters, Jenny and Lindsay,” said Crystal.

“I always wanted them to know that if I had to be away it was because I was doing what I had to do, and something that made me happy, and that the lesson for your life is whatever you’re doing, be happy in what you’re doing,” said Crystal.

His passion for performing began at home being the youngest of three boys. Crystal said that he learned to improvise at the age of 5 and would often put on shows 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 it’s, how did I get here?” said Crystal.

Starting in the comedy clubs of New York City in the 70s, Crystal’s early career saw 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 part of the like, the whole thing leading up to it,” said Crystal.

However, his persistence and talent eventually led him back to the SNL stage, and this experience, Crystal said, really turned his whole career around.

“It was where I wanted to be nine years before,” said Crystal. “I was lucky, because I was ready. This time I was ready.” 

A major breakthrough came with his role in “Soap,” where he portrayed an openly gay character, a groundbreaking move that was 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 be doing something no one had done before, and it took time to get there and we did,” he said.

He’d appear on “Soap” for four seasons. But it was an encounter 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 much stuff as we went on,” said Crystal.

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,” said Crystal.

He said the meaning of “When Harry Met Sally …” makes it one of his most memorable movies to date.

“It’s actually more important as time goes by, because people fall in love everyday. People fall out of love everyday. 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 forever young in that movie. And we represent them. They relate to us,” said Crystal.

The 2023 Kennedy Center Honors airs on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Wednesday, Dec. 27, and streams on Paramount+.

Don’t miss profiles of this year’s honorees all this week on “CBS Mornings.”  

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