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Billy Crystal’s return as Oscars host a crowd pleaser

March 25, 1997

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Billy Crystal raced on stage to a thunderous standing ovation after kicking off the Academy Awards with a side-splitting video sequence that inserted the host into Oscar-nominated films.

It was a triumphant return for the comic actor who shied away from the Oscars for three years before agreeing to host the 69th Academy Awards.

``We are coming to you from the Shrine, the only theater in the world not showing one of the `Star Wars’ movies,″ Crystal quipped Monday night after a montage that even featured the George Lucas character Yoda saying, ``You must go.″

It was Crystal’s fifth stint as Oscars host. He won Emmys in 1991 and 1992 for his writing of the Oscar show, and he got Emmy nominations for his performances in 1991, 1992 and 1993. He won the trophy in 1991.

Crystal, in a Giorgio Armani tuxedo, told the hopefuls in the Shrine audience Monday night: ``The only one guaranteed with waking up with a statue is Tipper Gore.″

Crystal declined to host the Oscars in 1994 (``I didn’t want to be the designated host-guy″) and Whoopi Goldberg took over emcee duties. The following year, David Letterman was signed on as Oscar host in what was a less-than-glowing performance.

Goldberg was back again last year.

When he was asked back again this year, Crystal accepted, saying: ``Once (O.J. Simpson criminal attorney) Barry Scheck turned it down, I had a feeling they’d come to me.″

On stage Monday, Crystal scanned the audience this year and saw a familiar face.

``Nice to see you Larry. Glad you’re here,″ he told Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. The remark drew hearty applause.

Flynt was in his gold-plated wheelchair wearing a black sequined jacket, apparently a guest of actor Woody Harrelson, who starred in the movie ``The People vs. Larry Flynt.″ The studio hadn’t given Flynt a ticket.

A few jokes later, Crystal began his traditional best-picture medley, which concluded to raucous applause.

Crystal, who recently turned 49, said earlier he would do 200 sit-ups and 150 push-ups just before going on stage. ``I like to feel pumped up. It’s like a big game,″ he said.

He even solicited jokes from the masses this year: More than 35,000 were sent to the web site at www.whyistheshowsolong.com.

Crystal read what he said were the best three:

_ From R. Lang: ``Why is the show so long? Because there’s just so many little people.″

_ J. Phillips: ``What was Bill Clinton’s favorite movie last year? 101 Donations.″

_ D. Snow: ``You know, I expect to win an Oscar next year. I’m making a movie called, `Price is Very Sexy and Waterhouse is a Genius.″

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