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photo by Layne Murdoch

Great performers can steal the show without even trying. Billy Crystal did it Monday night.

His opportunity came at the Nancy Lieberman Charities Dream Ball. The event teemed with celebrities from the worlds of sport and entertainment. Hall of Famers like Deion Sanders and Ralph Sampson came. Local media did interviews on the red carpet. ESPN’s Jay Harris hosted.

The show wasn’t about Billy Crystal per se. And the renowned entertainer didn’t make it about him. He made the night in a different way. It wasn’t because of the way he showed his talent. It was because of how he showed his perspective.

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We interviewed him before the event began. When I asked him why it was meaningful for him to be there that night, he didn’t talk about being recognized for the work he’s done (Crystal received the Lifetime Achievement Award). He talked about the cause and about how Nancy Lieberman Charities had helped him rebuild a small part of the area where he grew up.

“When I was in a situation where my hometown had been wiped out by Hurricane Sandy, a little town on Long Island called Long Beach, I was looking for a way to raise money” Crystal said. “In a place that had been ripped apart by seawater, they built these two magnificent basketball courts. “

Crystal did another thing that showed his perspective. He fell. This wasn’t a comedy pratfall. He actually tumbled from his chair as he sat at his table. I don’t think he was injured, but nobody would have blamed him if he had left the venue after that. He didn’t. He stayed until the end of the show and entertained the crowd, in part with a running series of jokes about his mishap. A bruised tailbone didn’t result in a bruised ego. He was going to stay and help the nonprofit show the guests an enjoyable evening.

Crystal took photos of the crowd from the stage. He told Jay Harris fantastic stories of his one-man show and his (and Nancy Lieberman’s) friend Muhammad Ali. And he did receive his award from Bo Derek. Though he had the audience riveted, we probably can’t say he stole the show on the stage. That’s because Trailblazer Award winner Sam Moore (a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer from his work with Sam and Dave) gave a superb musical performance and after Bebe Winans introduced Jan Miller for the Inspirational Award, the noted literary agent gave a stirring speech.

But it was off the stage that Crystal’s work stood out the most. When Derek spoke before presenting him his award, she told of a program he sponsored that brings together Israeli and Palestinian actors and directors to peacefully co-produce creative works. It showed the perspective he has on the world – one that he contributed to an event that grossed $1.2 million for charity. For a man who has hosted award programs and walked away from them with hardware, it showed why he was truly a worthy recipient.

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