Edward “Eddie” Regan Murphy is an American comedian, singer and actor.
Murphy began his comedy career at the young age of 19, as a performer on NBC’s Saturday Night Live television show after graduating from Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School. His characters include a parody of Buckwheat from the Little Rascals and of Fred Rogers. Former SNL writer Margaret Oberman has said Murphy and Bill Murray are the two most talented people in the history of the show. Murphy left the show midway through the 1983-1984 season, appearing in filmed sketches for the remainder of that season. Murphy later starred in many comedies including the Beverly Hills Cop series, for which he was recognised by receiving a Golden Globe nomination for best actor in a comedy for his performance in Beverly Hills Cop, as well as Trading Places, and Coming to America in subsequent years. He is a well-known voice actor and voiced Donkey in the Shrek series and the dragon, Mushu, in Disney’s Mulan. Murphy also has starred in a vast number of sequels including: Beverly Hills Cop II, Another 48 Hrs. , Beverly Hills Cop III, Dr. Dolittle 2 , Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Shrek 2 , and the upcoming Dreamgirls and Shrek 3 . In many of his films, he plays multiple roles in addition to his main character. A perfect example of this is The Nutty Professor, a remake of the Jerry Lewis classic in which Murphy plays several members of the Klump family as well as Sherman Klump’s arrogant alter ego, Buddy Love. Another trademark of Eddie Murphy’s is his deep, infectious, albeit considerably goofy laugh. In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, he was voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. Eddie Murphy’s older brother, Charlie Murphy, is also an actor, best known recently for his appearances on Chappelle’s Show.
Murphy’s biological father died when he was quite young, and he, his brother Charlie, and step-brother Vernon Jr. were raised by his mother Lillian Murphy, a telephone-company employee, and his stepfather Vernon Lynch, a foreman at a Breyers Ice Cream plant. Murphy was a bright child, who spent a great deal of time on impressions and comedy stand-up routines rather than academics. His comic talent was evident from an early age, and by 15 he was writing and performing his own routines at youth centers and local bars, as well as at the Roosevelt High School
auditorium. Eventually, he made it to a Manhattan showcase, The Comic Strip. The club’s co-owners, Robert Wachs and Richard Tienken, were so impressed with Murphy’s ability to make dead-on impressions of celebrities, along with his overall outlooks on life, that they agreed to manage his career. Murphy was voted “Most Popular” while attending Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School in Roosevelt, New York, due to the stand-up comedy routines he would perform in the school’s auditorium, and jokes he would tell classmates during lunch. Murphy then attended Nassau Community College in Uniondale, New York, before beginning his acting career.
Stand-up comedy routines
Murphy did stand-up comedy at the same Bay Area Comedy Club as Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. His early comedy was racy, akin to Richard Pryor, whom Murphy credits as his inspiration to enter comedy. Characterized by frequent swearing and making fun of gays, singers, and others, Murphy became, in a sense, the Pryor of the 1980s, though Pryor wrote in his biography that he always thought Murphy’s comedy was a little too mean. Murphy made vicious comments about gays and AIDS during his 80’s standup routines, so vicious that some years later he apologized for the remarks. At the height of his popularity, Eddie Murphy appeared in the concert films Delirious and Raw. Delirious contained an infamous routine in which he depicted characters Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton from The Honeymooners, as well as other notables such as Mr. T, as homosexuals. In 1983, Murphy won a Grammy for his comedy album Comedian.
Saturday Night Live
In Autumn 1980, the then unknown 19-year-old Murphy badgered and begged talent coordinator Neil Levy to give him a shot on the show. Levy repeatedly rejected him, saying that the show already had a full cast. But Murphy continuing pleading with Levy, saying that he had several siblings banking on him getting a spot on the show. Levy finally conceded and allowed him an audition. The audition performance went so well, that Neil Levy then began advocating to new executive producer Jean Doumanian to let Murphy on the show. Doumanian initially refused, citing that another actor, Robert Townsend, had already been selected as the cast’s “token black guy” and that the show’s shrunken budget could not allow for any more actors. Doumanian’s mind was changed after seeing Murphy’s audition for themselves, then Doumanian too began pleading with the network to allow Murphy on the show. NBC only agreed after it was determined that Townsend had not yet signed a contract, at which point Murphy was cast as a featured player. Murphy made his debut in the second episode of the 1980-1981 season, hosted by Malcolm McDowell, as an extra in a skit called “In Search Of The Negro Republican”. Two weeks later, Murphy had his first speaking role as Raheem Abdul Muhummad on Weekend Update. He made such a positive impression that he was called on for more in later episodes, and was soon raised to the status full cast member. Despite Murphy’s participation, the 1980-1981 season ultimately proved such a disaster that NBC fired Jean Doumanian and everybody in the cast, with the exception of Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Whereas Murphy had rarely been featured during Doumanian’s tenure, he became a break-out star under Doumanian’s replacement, Dick Ebersol. Murphy’s soaring popularity helped restore the show’s ratings. He created some of the period’s best characters, including the empty-headed former child movie star Buckwheat and an irascible, life-size version of the Gumby toy character, complete with life-size star ego. Murphy could also pull off an uncanny impression of Stevie Wonder. SNL was mostly a two-man show from 1981-1984, with Murphy and Piscopo playing a bulk of the lead characters. All other cast members played supporting roles and were treated with very little patience by the producers.
Post SNL career
In 1982, Murphy made his big screen debut in the cop-buddy thriller 48 Hrs. alongside Nick Nolte. The movie was perhaps most notable for a scene involving Murphy terrorizing a redneck bar. 48 Hrs. proved to be a smash hit when it was released in the Christmas season of 1982. Murphy and Nolte’s comedic and antagonistic chemistry, alongside Murphy’s believable performance as a streetwise convict aiding a bitter, aging cop, won over critics and audiences. 48 Hrs. is considered by some to be the originator of the now tried and true mismatched, police, action-adventure formula, which was followed by the likes of Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, and Rush Hour. Nick Nolte was scheduled to host the December 11, 1982 Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live, but he became too ill to host, so Murphy took over as host. He became the only cast member to host while still a regular. Murphy opened the show with the phrase, “Live from New York, It’s the Eddie Murphy Show!” The decision to have Eddie Murphy host was reported to have upset the rest of the cast. The following year, Murphy co-starred with fellow SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places. The movie marked the first of Murphy’s collaborations with director John Landis and proved to be an even greater box office success than 48 Hrs. In 1984, Murphy starred in the mega-hit Beverly Hills Cop. This film was arguably Eddie Murphy’s first full-fledged starring vehicle, as it was originally intended to star Sylvester Stallone. Beverly Hills Cop grossed over $200 million at the box office and when adjusted for inflation, remained in the top 40 highest-grossing movies of all time as of 2005. Also in 1984, Murphy appeared in Best Defense co-starring Dudley Moore. Murphy, who was credited as a “Strategic Guest Star”, was added to the film after an original version was completed but tested poorly with audiences. Best Defense was a major critical and financial disappointment, but Murphy was for the most part left unscathed since the entire weight of the movie wasn’t on his shoulders. Eddie Murphy has also been rumored to be initially a part of hits such as Ghostbusters. The part that was originally written with Murphy in mind ultimately went to Ernie Hudson. Murphy was also rumored to have been offered a part in 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a role that ultimately went to 7th Heaven star Catherine Hicks. Also in 1986, Murphy starred in the supernatural comedy, The Golden Child. The Golden Child was originally intended to be a serious adventure picture starring Mel Gibson. After Gibson turned the role down, the project was offered to Murphy as it was subsequently rewritten as a partial comedy. Although The Golden Child still managed to be a hit, the movie wasn’t as critically acclaimed as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop. The Golden Child was perhaps a radical change of pace for Murphy considering the supernatural setting as opposed to the more gritty and/or “street smart” settings of Murphy’s previous efforts. A year later, Murphy reprised his role Axel Foley in the Tony Scott-directed Beverly Hills Cop II. Although the film wasn’t as critically acclaimed as its 1984 predecessor, it was still a box office smash, grossing over $150 million. Producers reportedly wanted to turn the Beverly Hills Cop franchise into a weekly television series. Murphy declined the TV offer, but was willing to do a film sequel instead. Eddie Murphy was one of the last movie actors to sign an exclusive contract with a studio. In this case, it was Paramount Pictures, which released all of his early films.
Murphy was also a singer, and had two hit singles, “Party All the Time” and “Put Your Mouth on Me” in the 1980s. The former is better known than the other, and is incorrectly considered Murphy’s only hit. Intended as dance music, the song was repetitious and resembled the adolescent-driven bubblegum music of the ’60s and ’70s. As a result, there was a distinct disconnect between “Party” and fans of Murphy’s edgier comedic persona. In 2004, VH-1 and Blender magazine voted “Party” number seven among the “50 Worst Songs of All Time” barely behind such efforts as Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice, Baby” and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy, Breaky Heart”. Murphy also recorded an album in the early 1990s, entitled “Love’s Alright” in which he performed in a video of the single “Whatzupwitu”, alongside Michael Jackson. In 1999, the “Whatzupwitu” video which featured Murphy and Jackson in a technicolor-like dream world was voted as one of the 25 worst music videos in the MTV era. In 1992, Murphy also appeared in Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” video alongside fellow celebrities Magic Johnson and Iman. In 1994, he attempted to strike a deal with British A&R consultant Simon Cowell, who at the time was known for signing up Sinitta, the Power Rangers and Zig and Zag, but eventually backed down. Although uncredited, Murphy also provided vocal work on SNL castmate Joe Piscopo’s hit comedy single, “The Honeymooners Rap”. Piscopo impersonated Jackie Gleason on the single, while Murphy provided an imitation of Art Carney. Murphy’s singing skills were put to good use in the Shrek films. In the first film, he performed a version of “I’m a Believer” in the film’s final scene; in Shrek 2 he performed Ricky Martin’s hit Livin’ La Vida Loca along with co-star Antonio Banderas.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Murphy’s fame was fading via a series of poor sequels, drab comedies, and ego-driven vehicles that the public avoided in droves. His directorial debut, Harlem Nights, was savaged not only by the critics, but also by several of the actors in the film. Richard Pryor had nothing good to say about the film or the star, which stunned Murphy, who had considered Pryor an idol. Murphy was also criticized tremendously by filmmaker Spike Lee for not using his show business stature to help black actors break into film. Perhaps the lowest point for Murphy was when David Spade insulted Murphy on his Hollywood Minute segment on Saturday Night Live. With an image of Murphy on screen, Spade said “Look children, a falling star. Quick, make a wish!” Although Murphy is one of the biggest movie stars ever to come out of Saturday Night Live, he has never attended any cast reunions or anniversary specials. Some believe that it has to do with Murphy feeling that SNL betrayed him with Spade’s comments. Others believe it has to do with Murphy having no allegiance to Lorne Michaels, since Murphy was on SNL when Dick Ebersol was the executive producer, not Michaels.
Comeback and image makeover
Murphy’s career continued to slide until 1996, when he would make his comeback in family-friendly comedies, starting with The Nutty Professor. His record since then has been hit and miss, with several big flops and some hits. The biggest news is that Murphy has been tagged by Quentin Tarantino to star in his World War II epic Inglorious Bastards. Murphy’s rapid fire deliveries are expected to mesh well with Tarantino’s tough dialogue and the role could do wonders for his career. On May 2, 1997, Los Angeles police stopped Murphy’s car and found a transvestite prostitute named Shalimar in the passenger’s seat. Buying and selling of sexual services is illegal in California; however, Murphy claimed that he had just been driving through and the prostitute asked him for a ride home. This incident was later lampooned by Tim Meadows on Saturday Night Live. This particular sketch, along with the aforementioned comments from David Spade, reportedly created an even greater rift between Murphy and SNL. Seiuli wrote and sold the story of his sexual encounter with Murphy to a tabloid. Afterward, he recanted, and ultimately, at the time when Murphy was tied up in big budget G-Rated movies, Seiuli was found dead, having fallen from his apartment building. Not everyone was convinced, opining that the Los Angeles Police didn’t investigate the matter thoroughly. Murphy’s longtime romantic relationship was with Nicole Mitchell, who he met in 1988 at an NAACP Image Awards show. They eventually lived together for a year and a half, before getting married at the Grand Ballroom of The Plaza Hotel in New York City on March 18, 1993. They had five children together, but in August 2005, Mitchell filed for divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences”.
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