WASHINGTON – Carl Reiner, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg have all won it. Now, to borrow a famous movie line he wrote, Billy Crystal is having what they're having.
The comedian, actor, Broadway star and Yankees fan's many talents and passions were celebrated Thursday night at the Kennedy Center as he accepted the 10th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
"Does this mean I have to retire now?" Crystal asked as he cradled the award, a bust of Twain. "Usually when someone is given an evening like this, they're way too dead to say thank you."
Rob Reiner, who directed the Crystal movie "When Harry Met Sally," credited him with the lasting success of the famous restaurant scene in which Meg Ryan fakes an orgasm. Afterward, a woman cracks, "I'll have what she's having."
"Billy Crystal wrote that line," said Reiner, thanking his friend for granting cinematic immortality to his mother, Estelle Reiner, who delivered it.
The director was among the parade of Hollywood glitterati who reminisced about working with Crystal, though the honoree appeared particularly moved when New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, looking dapper and relaxed in a gray suit, took the stage.
"Honestly, you and I had pretty good years," said Torre, whose job status is uncertain after the Yankees were eliminated in the first round of baseball's postseason. "Yours is finishing up a little bit better than mine."
Thursday's ceremony was taped for broadcast Nov. 12 on PBS.
Crystal, 59, came to prominence as Jodie Dallas on the comedy series "Soap," as the first openly gay character on network television. He starred on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1984-85 season, when he was best known for his caricature of "Latin lover" Fernando Lamas ("You look mahvelous"). He also impersonated Howard Cosell and Sammy Davis Jr., among many others.
"He's got a great ear and a great eye for people," Robin Williams said.
Success in movies followed, peaking in the late '80s and early '90s with "Sally" and "City Slickers." Later, Crystal helped bring out the lighter side of Robert De Niro in the mob comedies "Analyze This" and "Analyze That."
"He was so generous," De Niro said. "Not many people get Billy Crystal as a straight man."
Williams said Crystal, whose recent successes include the Tony-winning one-man show "700 Sundays," keeps improving with age.
"He's gotten better and better, kind of like a good cheese," Williams said. "Or a Cabernet. But since I've gotten out of rehab, I'll go with cheese."
Crystal's humor rarely shocks or offends — one reason he's been so successful as host of the Oscars. But his friends say he has a darker side.
"He can be edgy," Williams said. "If he wanted to be, he could be really nasty. But he chooses to be kinder, because it's more him. And he loves people."