Actor and comedian Billy Crystal recalled first seeing the images of Hurricane Sandy ravaging his hometown of Long Beach eight months ago on CNN.
“I was in California, sitting there with my mouth just agape, saying, ‘Oh my God, what can we do?’” Crystal told a crowd of hundreds at Long Beach Boulevard beach last Saturday.
For help, Crystal turned to a longtime friend, former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Crystal had met “the greatest of all time” when he appeared on his first television show in 1974, two years before he left Long Beach, he recalled. “He had just beaten George Forman, I was a substitute teacher at the middle school at the time, and I had the chance to do this special with him, and we became really good friends,” Crystal said. “And that’s continued for all these years.”
Crystal explained that Ali holds an event every March in Phoenix, called Celebrity Fight Night, which raises money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute.
“I called him and his amazing wife, Lonnie, and said, is there any way we can help?” Crystal said. “Through their courtesy, after looking at this footage, they allowed me to come on stage that night and raise money with the help of some other friends — Steve Martin, Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams and an amazing man named Jimmy Walker — and we were able to raise, and it’s our gift to the city today, $888,000.”
Crystal made his announcement on a new section of the boardwalk, which is currently undergoing a $44 million rebuild. He followed it up with more good news: He and his wife, Janice, are personally donating $112,000 to the city, making the total gift to the city’s Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund an even $1 million. Officials said that Crystal would work closely with the city to determine how the donation would be allocated.
“Today we toured different parts of the city that need help, and we’re going to pinpoint exactly what needs the most help to make the city get back up on its feet,” Crystal said. “Janice and I thought that $888,000 is a great amount of money, but $1 million sounds a lot better.”
Crystal asked city officials standing beside him who wanted to accept the check. “Who’s going to receive this? I need two forms of ID,” he said to laughs. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”