Billy Crystal was strumpeting his new book, “Still Foolin’ Em” on “The Late Show With David Letterman” on Tuesday night, and aside from an unfortunate video skit that featured Regis Philbin in a raccoon costume, the segment was pretty great. That’s because half of it was Crystal’s story about Howard Cosell.
Cosell, says Crystal, was his first guest when Crystal hosted “The Tonight Show” for the first time, filling in for Johnny Carson. Cosell insisted that he didn’t require a pre-show interview, because he and Crystal were friends and “had a shorthand.” So the night of the show arrives.
“OK. I’m in the dressing room, I’m five minutes from hosting The Tonight Show. … Knock on the door, I open it up and it’s Howard. And with all due respect to his family, his friends — he was loaded. He was deeply in the bag. And I see that and I go ‘Howard, how are you?’ And he starts to weep. … And he collapses in my arms. And you know Howard, we was a large man. He was like 6-foot-3, and here I am holding a weeping Howard Cosell, with a Dynel wig in my face.”
Check out the video for Crystal’s account of Cosell’s appearance on the show, which includes a reference to Muhammad Ali and “The Thrilla In Manila”.
Speaking of that, one of my favorite Crystal stories is of when he attended Cosell’s funeral, and was sitting next to Ali. And Ali leans over to Crystal, motioning to the casket, and whispers “Do you think he’s wearing his toupee?”
Crystal (trying not to laugh): “I don’t think so.”
Ali: “Then how will God know it’s him?”
Crystal: “As soon as he starts complaining, he’ll know.”