He credits his wife with helping him through it all. Billy Crystal met the former Janice Goldfinger in college, at a time when he was still reeling from his father's sudden death a few years earlier.
"I was 18. I had been in deep grief from 15. And I think that's one of the first times I really smiled and felt better about life -- 'All right, He owed me one,' you know. 'He owed me one." and He gave me her."
They were married in 1970: 43 years later, they're proud and active grandparents.
At his home in the L.A. hills, he's in training, getting ready for another physically grueling run of "700 Sundays" on Broadway later this fall.
He trains six days a week, and it shows: Billy Crystal is a senior citizen trapped in an adolescent's body.
But despite being a fit and youthful 65, he seems to have eternity on his mind. The final chapter in his book is about . . . the final chapter.
It was tough to write, he says, and nearly impossible for him to read out loud.
"As I sit here writing and look across the room at Janice, I keep thinking of the most heartbreaking question: which of us will go first? I can't bear to think of life without Janice. I want to go first, because I don't want to miss her, because that would be a pain far worse than any death."
Crystal told Smith that when he got to that chapter, "I'm reading off an iPad, I couldn't talk. I just stopped, 'cause I made the mistake of looking at her and I knew she was, you know . . .
"And then it got crazy . . . I was tapping the thing, and then somehow it fell, the iPad. And then when it came back up, all the text was gone and it was that, awful technological Jewish moment, 'How does this work? I can't make this work!' "
This, he said during the reading, "is why I miss paper!"
Crystal told Smith, "I don't know what else to say to you, 'cause I'm still moved by it, you know?"
"It was quite a moment," Smith said.
"It was," he agreed. "And I haven't looked at that!"
Maybe this time, he actually should.
"I'm going to go on just living and laughing and loving. I'd like to think there is a heaven and it starts from the happiest day of your life. I'll be 18 and Janice Goldfinger will walk by me in a bikini, and I will follow her and it will start all over again. I'd really like to think that."
And that may be the true essence of Billy Crystal: a man who writes about death while embracing the beauty of life . . . a lifelong juggling act that is far from over.
For more info:
- "Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?" by Billy Crystal (Henry Holt and Co.); Also available in eBook, Unabridged CD Audio, and Unabridged Audio Download formats