LOS ANGELES — Oscars veteran Billy Crystal stepped in Thursday to host this year’s Academy Awards show, after actor Eddie Murphy pulled out following a row over a producer’s anti-gay comments.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hailed Crystal — who has hosted the top Hollywood awards eight times before — as an “Oscar icon” who would be “back where he belongs” on stage at the February 26 show.
“Am doing the Oscars so the young woman in the pharmacy will stop asking my name when I pick up my prescriptions,” Crystal wrote in a typically whimsical tweet, beating the Academy to the announcement.
“Some of the best moments of my career have happened on the Oscar stage. I am thrilled to be back there,” said Crystal, quoted by the Academy.
Academy President Tom Sherak hailed Crystal’s agreement to step into the breach at short notice. “I’m thrilled to welcome Billy back to the Oscar stage,” he said.
“He’s a comic legend and Oscar icon, and it feels good to have him back where he belongs,” he added.
Murphy quit as host Wednesday, a day after the show’s producer Brett Ratner — who directed current box office hit “Tower Heist,” in which Murphy stars — resigned for making an anti-gay comment.
Within hours Ratner’s replacement was named as Brian Grazer — coincidentally, a producer on “Tower Heist” — to join veteran producer Don Mischer in putting on the 84th Academy Awards.
Grazer said of Crystal’s appointment Thursday: “Like so many others, I’ve been eager to see Billy host again. It’s very gratifying that he agreed to do it with Don and me at the helm.”
“With Billy, we’re moving forward with one of the greatest hosts in Oscar history. His return to the Oscars is, in a sense, a celebration,” added Mischer.
Only comic Bob Hope has hosted more Academy Awards presentations, with 19 ceremonies between 1940 and 1978. Crystal last hosted the Academy Awards in 2004.
Murphy, named in September to Tinsel Town’s top hosting job, was seen as a safe pair of hands after last year’s Oscars co-hosts Anne Hathaway and the wooden James Franco.
But his withdrawal was not unexpected following that of Ratner — director of current box office hit “Tower Heist,” in which Murphy stars — who has made a series of close-to-the-bone comments in recent days.
Ratner, a prolific director and producer whose work also includes 2006′s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” made the offending anti-gay comment at a discussion about “Tower Heist” last week, in response to a question about how he works.
Then on Monday, he went on shock jock Howard Stern’s show and made a series of remarks about his sex life and relationships with Hollywood actresses, including Lindsay Lohan and Olivia Munn.
“Being asked to help put on the Oscar show was the proudest moment of my career,” Ratner said in his resignation letter Tuesday.
“But as painful as this may be for me, it would be worse if my association with the show were to be a distraction from the Academy and the high ideals it represents.”