TV

Robin Williams’ Old Friend Billy Crystal Delivers Heartbreaking Emmys Tribute

'Robin Williams, what a concept.'

The memory of comedian Robin Williams, whose death shocked the world earlier this month, loomed large over the annual fete honoring the best and brightest and most beloved in television, the Emmys.

At the awards ceremony Monday night (August 25), a special segment was set aside after the traditional In Memoriam montage, detailing the greats of the medium who passed since last year’s ceremony, for fellow comedian Billy Crystal to share a tribute to Williams.

As a giant photograph of Williams lit up an otherwise darkened stage, Crystal (whose friendship with his Comic Relief co-host spanned more than three decades) described Williams’ infective energy.

“I mean, the brilliance was astounding,” Crystal said. “The relentless energy was kind of … thrilling. I used to think if I could just put a saddle on him and stay on for eight seconds, I was going to do okay.”

He told of Williams coming to family gatherings and casual get-togethers, places out of the public eye where performers always have to be on. He was as funny off-stage as off, Crystal remembered. “He could be funny anywhere.”

Crystal’s speech was followed by a compilation of several late night appearances and stand up clips from Williams, ending with the image of the comedian waving while walking off-stage.

The full text of Crystal’s tribute is below.

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He made us laugh. Hard. Every time you saw him on television, movies, night clubs, arenas, hospitals, homeless shelters, for our troops overseas, even in a dying girl’s living room for her last wish. He made us laugh, big time.

I spent many happy hours with Robin on stage. I mean, the brilliance was astounding. The relentless energy was kind of … thrilling. I used to think if I could just put a saddle on him and stay on for eight seconds, I was going to do okay.

Robin, Whoopi and I once were in Shea Stadium, in the broadcast booth with the great Tim McCarver. It was Comic Relief Day for the New York Mets. Robin knew nothing about baseball. I asked him who was his favorite team, and he said, “The San Franciscos.” So he was a little lost in the conversation, so I got an idea, and I said, “Tim, we have a great Russian baseball player with us.” I looked over and his eyes got all bright. His ears perked up. It was like he was a little dog who was inside all day, and the master came in and said, “Hey, wanna go for a walk?” So I said, “What’s baseball like in Russia?” Without missing a beat, he said, “Well, we only have one team: The Reds.” The next pitch, the batter fouled one off, came screaming back at us, we ducked down and slammed against the wall, Robin turned around and it bounced into his hands, stood up and screamed, “I love America! I’m gonna defect!”

He could be funny anywhere. We were such close friends. He would come to all of our great family functions — weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, that kind of thing. He would sit with my older, immigrant relatives like he was one of the guys. He would tell them about his journey from his little shtetel in Poland to America. One uncle of mine said, “I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.” Robin said, “I waited until there was a 747 and a Kosher meal.”

As genius as he was on stage, he was the greatest friend you could ever imagine: supportive, protective, loving. It’s very hard to talk about him in the past, because he was so present in all of our lives. For almost 40 years, he was the brightest star in the comedy galaxy. But while some of the brightest of our celestial bodies are actually extinct now, their energy long since cooled, but miraculously, because they float in the heavens so far away from us now, their beautiful light will continue to shine on us forever. The glow will be so bright, it’ll warm your heart, it’ll make your eyes glisten, and you’ll think to yourselves, “Robin Williams, what a concept.”