Billy Crystal: The real reason you don't hear from him anymore

Billy Crystal has been making us laugh for over four decades. From City Slickers to When Harry Met Sally, from The Princess Bride to Analyze This, and from Monsters, Inc. to becoming the ultimate Oscars host, this beloved actor's quick wit and soft-edged humor has had something to offer basically everyone. Over the span of his impressive career ruling Hollywood's comedy scene, this multi-hyphenate has boasted a number of accolades, including five Emmy Awardsa Tony Award, and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

And while the comedy giant is still selling out theaters, we have to admit he's been pretty quiet lately. Off-camera, Crystal has kept busy with a full family life, a return to the stage, and book writing. But when he has made the news, it's often been for all the wrong reasons. There's a lot about this funnyman's career that even his most devoted fans may have missed.

So, what's the real reason we don't hear from Billy Crystal anymore? We've got your answers.

Is age a factor?

Crystal made his highly anticipated return to film in 2012, starring opposite Bette Midler in Parental Guidance. But getting studio execs to sign off on the family comedy wasn't as easy as you'd think. Unfortunately, age played a factor.

"When you get to a certain age, they — hmmm — hesitate a bit," Crystal told The New York Times in 2013. "They're not sure there's an audience. I said, 'There's 77 million people wanting a story for them.'"

Admitting that the industry simply may not view him as a dazzling romantic lead anymore, he jokingly added, "It's not easy to go through that when you can't get the girl anymore. You can, but usually you both die."

As Crystal noted, the film marked an end to a "period where I didn't make a movie for 10 years — a lot of it by my choice, and a lot of it by studios' choice."

But the actor was right. With these comedy legends leading the pack, the project was a no-brainer to audiences, and the movie did well at the box office. However, it was panned by critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 17% rating, writing, "Parental Guidance is sweet but milquetoast, an inoffensive trifle that's blandly predictable."

We guess age isn't just a number to some.

He's a doting family man

As a loving husband, father, and grandfather, Crystal has always made sure that his family comes first.

"My family is the most important thing in my life," he told The Guardian in 2013. Crystal and his wife, Janice, are parents to Jennifer and Lindsay, who now have kids of their own. "When we're all together you just stop worrying about things you shouldn't worry about and you go, 'Wow, look what we did!'"

Of becoming a parent and a grandparent, the comedian told Parents, "There's a part of you in there. When you see the years of dedication to your kids come to flower as they start this chapter of their lives, it's profoundly moving."

But finding a balance means that being a family man has sometimes affected Crystal's career choices. "You can't live your life for your kids or grandkids but sometimes I have thought, will they be able to watch this with me? Maybe not today but when they're 15?" the actor admitted to The Guardian. "I think you have to somehow factor that into your work but not let it rule what you do."

That Oscars controversy

Crystal may have become America's favorite go-to awards show host, but his ninth — and we're guessing last — time hosting the Oscars in 2012 was a total disaster.

During the ceremony's opening sequence introducing the best picture nominees, Crystal impersonated Sammy Davis Jr. — while in blackface. Yeah. While it was apparently a nod to one of his oldest Saturday Night Live bits, a number of social media users took the actor to task, deeming his performance questionable at best and downright racist at worst.

The host also made a controversial racial joke after Octavia Spencer won the best supporting actress award for her performance in The Help. "After I saw The Help I just wanted to hug the first black woman I saw, which from Beverly Hills is about a 45-minute drive," he said (via the Daily Mail). In response, comedian Paul Scheer tweeted, "Octavia Spencer's win shows just how far we've come since Billy Crystal performed in Blackface."

To make matters worse, the ceremony as a whole was panned by critics, who overwhelmingly felt the show was boring and unoriginal, with Variety stating, "Oscar unabashedly showed its age."

"I don't know if I need to do it anymore," Crystal later told The New York Times when asked if he'd consider returning. "I used to need to do it, because I loved doing it." 

It sounds like hanging up this particular hat may be for the best.

He returned to the stage

Crystal took a break from Hollywood when he returned to the stage in 2013, bringing his Tony-winning one-man show, 700 Sundays, back to Broadway. The acclaimed autobiographical play's title referred to the number of Sundays the actor spent with his father, who passed away after suffering a heart attack when Crystal was 15 years old. As a retelling of his family history, the show saw Crystal portray a number of family members and friends who had influenced him throughout his life.

"It's the 50th anniversary of his death and I turned 65 this year," he told the New York Post, which had dubbed him "The King of Broadway" for breaking box office records. "So I thought it was a good time to come back to New York with the show."

Of the revival, which was later taped and broadcast on HBO, Crystal told The Guardian, "700 Sundays has, without question, been the most satisfying experience of my career. … I'm gratified to know that the love of family, through joy and pain, is perhaps the most universal story. I've now decided to tell this story one last time in my own backyard, where it all took place. It is a privilege to return to Broadway to say goodbye to one of the greatest thrills of my life."

He may have altered his appearance

It's no secret that Hollywood can be critical of stars' looks, especially as they get older. But the lingering rumors about Crystal's appearance and reported plastic surgery have just been plain harsh and invasive.

In 2016, the Daily Mail ran a piece about "chipmunk chaps," a.k.a. male stars who seemed to have gotten work done to look younger. Noting Crystal's "receding hairline and substantial cheeks," the gossip rag asked plastic surgeon Mark Norfolk to weigh in on the speculation. "His skin tone is more even than it used to be, suggesting he may have had some skin resurfacing work done to even out any areas of age-related pigmentation on his face," the doctor said. "The chubby cheeks may be down to fillers or simply weight gain."

Previously, MakeMeHeal alleged that the actor may have gotten Botox treatments, face fillers, and even a facelift. While "any work that was performed was conservative," the website's medical sources said that if Crystal wanted to "look younger, rather than slightly bloated," he might "consider plastic surgery on the lower half of his face, like a lower facelift or necklift." 

Wow.

He focused on writing

Crystal further distanced himself from the spotlight when he switched focus to write his fifth book, Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?

Part memoir, part stand-up comedy essay, the 2013 book highlighted Crystal's uneasy feelings about getting older as he approached the age of 65. It also recounted his professional life, chronicling his journey from a struggling stand-up comedian to a bonafide movie star, and documented his personal life — from childhood to getting married and starting a family of his own.

"I have more to talk about, and feel secure with myself enough to say, 'I'm just like you,'" Crystal told The New York Times at the time of its release. "I found it very freeing. I'd read the book and go, 'Should I? Yeah, why not.'"

With his refreshing honesty, warmth, and beloved brand of humor, the actor's book became a bestseller and garnered rave reviews. "Crystal ties together his reflections on aging with an engaging account of his childhood, youth and the many adventures of 45-year career as comedian, actor and filmmaker," wrote The LA Times, adding, "In the end, the reader concludes that Crystal isn't just funny: He's a mensch too."

The Comedians totally tanked

Crystal ended his 30-year hiatus on primetime television in 2015, starring opposite Josh Gad as a version of himself on The Comedians.

"This is my 40th year in the business. The best part I've had is playing me," he told the Today show. The show's dynamic centered on himself as a traditional comic legend and Gad as an offbeat up-and-comer, whose styles and egos clash when they begrudgingly join together to do a sketch comedy show. "I'm playing a threatened guy."

Unfortunately, the comedy suffered low ratings and mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a score of 58%, with the critics' general consensus reading, "Though The Comedians' material doesn't break any TV molds, the stars' comic abilities push the show over the median with well-earned laughs."

After one season, the FX show was unceremoniously canceled in 2016. To add insult to injury, the network didn't even release a statement regarding the series getting the ax. Instead, showrunner Ben Wexler made the announcement on Twitter, writing, "#TheComedians is cancelled at FX. I could not be more proud of the work we all did."

He was accused of homophobia

Crystal came under fire again for controversial comments made about LGBTQ characters on television in 2015.

While promoting The Comedians at a panel for the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour, he was asked about his portrayal of Jodie Dallas, one of the first openly gay characters on television, on the groundbreaking series Soap in the 1970s, as well as what he thought about progress made in LGBTQ representation since.

"I've seen some stuff recently on TV in different kinds of shows where the language or the explicit sex is really, you know, sometimes I get it, and sometimes I just feel like, 'Ah, that's too much for me,'" Crystal said (via The Hollywood Reporter). "Sometimes it's just pushed a little too far for my tastes, and I'm not going to get into which ones they are."

He added, "I see it and I just hope people don't abuse it and shove it in our face, well, that sounds terrible to the point of it just feels like an everyday kind of thing." Oh boy. 

After being accused of making homophobic remarks, Crystal eventually released a statement claiming his comments had been taken out of context, adding, "What I meant was that whenever sex or graphic nudity of any kind (gay or straight) is gratuitous to the plot or story it becomes a little too much for my taste."

He hit the road

Between 2016 and 2017, Crystal spent much of his time bringing his acclaimed show Spend the Night with Billy Crystal on tour in Australia and the United States.

But this wasn't your standard stand-up comedy show. "This show is unique," the comedian said in a statement (via BroadwayWorld). "There's stand up, and 'sit down' which gives me great freedom to tell stories, show film clips and talk about my life and career and the world as I see it. It's loose, unpredictable and intimate. The most fun I've had on stage in a long time."

Between stories from his life, classic impressions, and even talk of current events, the sit-down portion of the show included interviews with other famous faces. Bonnie Hunt, for example, joined Crystal at a number of stops in the U.S.   

"It was an amazing experience to bring this idea [to Australia] and travel around the country," the funnyman said of the global tour (via the Orlando Sentinel). "The show developed quickly there. They loved it. It's an informal evening. They felt like they were having dinner with me."

His freak health accident

Crystal was temporarily put out of commission in the summer of 2017 after suffering the weirdest injury ever — from sneezing.

"It's around 9:30, which is already an hour past my bedtime. And out of the blue, Jimmy, I sneeze. But a violent sneeze," he recalled on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, explaining why he'd been forced to postpone his scheduled appearance on the show a month earlier. "Folks, if it was a cartoon my arms are flying off my body, my eyes are coming out of my head, people in the room are now naked because I blew their clothes off. And I went, 'Wow, that hurt a little bit.'"

Crystal eventually fell asleep, but, when he awoke hours later, he had difficulty breathing. "It's like terrible, painful," he told the late-night host, while acting out his gasping breaths. 

"So what I did, I tore a rib muscle from sneezing. And I literally could not breathe," the comedian explained, jokingly adding, "And it's not an injury that you want to brag about. I didn't rescue a woman out of a burning car, I didn't catch an orphan falling out of a burning orphanage … I sneezed."

How awful!

He's turning it around

Billy Crystal may have spent much of the 2010s out of the spotlight, but it looks like his on-screen prospects are finally shifting back into place.

In 2017, he found his way back to the small screen, guest-starring as a version of himself on Modern Family and narrating the "This is Bob Hope" episode of the docuseries American Masters.

In addition to penning, producing, and starring in The Jim Henson Co.'s animated film, Which Witch, Crystal also signed on to star as a once-renowned Broadway composer who's down on his luck in the comedy Revival. He will also star opposite Ben Schwartz as an alcoholic dermatologist in We Are Unsatisfied.

Clearly, Crystal's never been one to stay down for long. "All that time, you go, 'God, am I slipping away here?' And then something great happens, you get a call, and work begets more work," the multi-hyphenate told The New York Times, adding, "At this point, there's so many other things I'd like to get a chance to do."

At the time of this writing, Revival and We Are Unsatisfied seem to be heading toward a 2018 release, so it looks like Crystal's career on the silver screen may finally be back on track!