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Billy Crystal to be rewarded with Mark Twain humor prize

Billy Crystal will get America's top comedy prize for his 30-year career, that has spanned film, television and theater.

The star of "City Slickers," "When Harry Met Sally" and a dozen other movies, will be the 10th recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, which is given annually by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The award will be presented Oct. 11 at a tribute performance with former colleagues highlighting Crystal's career.

"The work he has created for stage, film and television has made an indelible impression," Kennedy Center Chairman Stephen Schwarzman said Tuesday. "It is the work of not just a humorist but also a humanist."

Last year, Crystal reunited with Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams to host a special "Comic Relief" telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims. Past telethons hosted by the trio have focused on the nation's homeless.

Crystal won the Tony Award for his 2004 autobiographical one-man play "700 Sundays," which broke box office records and became the highest grossing nonmusical in Broadway's history.

At the start of his career, Crystal played one of the first openly gay characters on a network television series as a regular on "Soap." He later won acclaim during the 1984-85 seasons on "Saturday Night Live."

Past recipients of the Mark Twain prize include Goldberg, Neil Simon, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. The first recipient was Richard Pryor in 1998.

"To be given the same award as Richard Pryor, Steve Martin and Neil Simon is a great honor," Crystal said in a statement. "I told my granddaughter, who is 3, that I won the Mark Twain prize, and she said ... 'I have one too."'

A running list of comedic personalities is reviewed each year by Kennedy Center officials and producers of the show, said Marie Mattson, a spokeswoman for the center.

"The thing that really made Billy stand out is his complete command of the comedic genre - stage, standup, movies, a producer, director, writer, everything," she said. "It really is the perfect storm of comedy."

PBS television stations will broadcast "The Kennedy Center Presents: The 2007 Mark Twain Prize" across the country this fall. Tickets for the show go on sale to the public Aug. 10.

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