Miracle Max, the wizened wizard Billy Crystal played in "The Princess Bride," was maybe a thousand years old. And while we'd like Crystal to make it to that age himself, the actor-comedian in his new memoir philosophically faces the chance that he might not.
"Death just means ... no more," he writes in "Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?," which Crystal will be signing at Book Revue in Huntington Sunday at noon. He also offers hope that death may be final but not permanent.
"One day while driving through Joshua Tree National Monument," he writes, "I had the strongest feeling ... that I'd once been a cowboy and had ridden this same territory." Years later, he'd rope a calf while on horseback and then dismount and tie it up, first time out, during stunt rehearsals for his 1991 hit "City Slickers." The instructor said Crystal must have been a cowboy in his first life. "Was I? Had there been a first life? ... Big questions, no answers. ... Maybe I had had a previous life."
"Things change and your experiences change," Crystal, 65, muses by phone from his office in Los Angeles, when asked about such differing ideas of death. "I think life is fluid in that way. I think you have to bend to all possibilities."
And he has, if his multi- hyphenate career is any indication. The Long Beach native has written and directed movies, performed standup from Manhattan to Moscow, helped launch the charity Comic Relief, hosted the Oscars and even got a for-real at bat with the Yankees -- all of which the new book covers movingly and even heartbreakingly, as when he talks about needing to die before Janice, his wife of 43 years, because he couldn't bear missing her.
That said, he also includes a slew of jokes -- originals and such chestnuts as, "I sleep like a baby: I'm up every two hours."
"The challenge was to get the book in my own voice and just be honest about how I was feeling about whatever it was," he says. "Even the funny parts."
There's a little overlap with his 2006 book, "700 Sundays," which grew out of his Tony Award-winning 2004 show; there's probably some with his first memoir, "Absolutely Mahvelous," but that came out in 1986, so who remembers? His career anecdotes here are mostly new -- his tale of Charles Bronson profanely turning down what would become Jack Palance's Oscar-winning role in "City Slickers" reads like David Mamet poetry. He also was hit in the stomach by Joe DiMaggio, but the book counts his blessings more than his bruises.
"In late 1974, I did an evening at The Comedy Store," he says. Producer Norman Lear was there, "and he came out to the parking lot afterward and talked to me. The next week I got a script for 'All in the Family' -- they had created a character for me. So Norman Lear was a great first inspiration for me and took me under his wing. This morning, when I walked into the office, Norman was on the phone. He'd read today and was kind of cheery and teary at the same time about how long we've known each other. And he's writing his memoir. So you know, things come full circle. The people I've met and the people who have been kind to me, I've never forgotten."
WHO Billy Crystal will sign copies of his memoir "Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?"
Book Revue, 313 New York Ave., Huntington
INFO 631-271-1442, bookrevue.com