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Emmys 2014: Billy Crystal recalls departed friend Robin Williams

TelevisionEntertainmentRobin WilliamsBilly CrystalJonathan WintersEmmy AwardsPhilip Seymour Hoffman
Billy Crystal offered a poignant ode to the late comic and actor Robin Williams
In Memoriam roll call also included James Garner, Ruby Dee, Shirley Temple, Philip Seymour Hoffman

At the 2013 Emmys, Robin Williams paid tribute to his recently departed friend and mentor  Jonathan Winters, lauding Winters for his "comedy at the speed of thought."

At this year's ceremony, Williams was tragically on the other end of such an homage, as Billy Crystal offered a poignant ode to the late comic and actor in what became a kind of sad passing of the torch.

"The brilliance was astounding; the relentless energy was thrilling," Crystal said. "I used to think if I could just put a saddle on him and stay on for eight seconds I'd be all right."

He added, "It's very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all of our lives for almost 40 years. He was the brightest star in the comedy galaxy."

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Like Winters, Williams was known for his tack-sharp comedy, chameleon-like personas and facility with voices. "Robin Williams, what a concept," Crystal noted, alluding to the late comedian's well-known phrase and album.

After an "In Memoriam" section populated with prominent names — including James Garner, Ruby Dee, Shirley Temple and Philip Seymour Hoffman — Crystal offered his remembrances of the actor, who is believed to have committed suicide at his home in Northern California on Aug. 11

Beneath a large image of his former comedy collaborator, Crystal talked about riffing in a baseball broadcast booth with Williams, who improvised the character of a Russian baseball player and ad-libbed that the only team in the then-Soviet Union was "the Reds."

In life, Williams was a frequent presence at the Emmys, having been nominated nine times and winning twice, for individual performance in a variety or music program in 1987 and 1988. He lost his one nomination as a series regular, for lead actor in his breakout comedy series "Mork & Mindy" in 1979.

Backstage on Monday, the tributes continued.

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Emmy winner Kathy Bates told reporters how Williams offered her a quarter to call her mother when she was short on change after she won a Golden Globe in 1991. Williams also consoled her after her Oscar loss to Judi Dench for supporting actress in 1999 — an award he presented, telling Bates that he wished he "could have had your name in an envelope."

"I almost wanted to say [on stage] 'Look, Robin, I won this time," Bates said.

Louis C.K. was similarly eager to nod to Williams, who guest starred on an episode of “Louie” during the show’s third season. C.K. told reporters that Williams always “worked so hard” and that the late actor “was a big influence to me as a person, and comedically.”

At the end of the clip reel, Williams could be seen on stage in a melancholy reenactment of an exchange with his son.

"My son looks at me and says, 'Well, what's it gonna be?'" he said in a boy's voice.

"I don't know, but maybe along the way you take my hand tell a few jokes and have some fun," he answered. "Come on, pal, you're not afraid, are you?"

"No," the boy replied.

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

Yvonne Villarreal contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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TelevisionEntertainmentRobin WilliamsBilly CrystalJonathan WintersEmmy AwardsPhilip Seymour Hoffman
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