On this day in comedy in 1961 Comedian, Actor, Writer, Musical Artist, Edward Regan “Eddie” Murphy was born in Brooklyn, New York.
When his father, Charles, an amateur comedian, died when Murphy was young, Eddie Murphy and his older brother Charlie found themselves in a foster home for a year because their mother had fallen ill. It was that time, Murphy later said, that helped form his sense of humor. His mother, Lillian, later remarried after regaining her health and reunited the family and young Eddie began performing skits he’d written around the age of 15.
Murphy’s writing skills came in handy in 1980 when he landed a featured player spot on Saturday Night Live during the show’s bleak period. It was Murphy’s infusion of signature characters (Buckwheat, Gumby, Mr. Robinson, and James Brown) that admittedly kept the show afloat during the era creator / producer, Lorne Michaels was absent.
During and after his tenure at SNL, Murphy stretched his stand-up muscles. He released his first album, Eddie Murphy in 1982, Delirious in 1983 and Raw in 1987. However, Murphy virtually abandoned stand-up when his film career took off, starting with 1982’s 48 HRS, co-starring, Nick Nolte. It was a hit as were his next two films, Trading Places with Dan Aykroyd and Beverly Hills Cop (Murphy’s first starring vehicle). With a trifecta like that out of the box, Murphy was a certified movie star. So naturally they dug up one of his early duds and tried to capitalize on his success and momentum. The dud was Best Defense, starring Dudley Moore. Murphy had a small part boosted up in the marketing to be a big part (they dubbed him “Strategic Guest Star”). The main part was Murphy himself said it was a terrible flick and went back to making hits and offered hits. Murphy was originally slated to be the 4th Ghostbuster, a part written specifically for him by Dan Aykroyd for the box office hit, Ghostbusters, but when scheduling conflicts occurred the part of Winston Zeddemore went to Ernie Hudson.
Few things slowed Murphy down in the early days. Similar to the way he saved, SNL from financial ruin, he did the same for the dollar strapped Paramount Studios. Thanks to Murphy the studio came back to profitability. He cranked them out for that studio and others: The Golden Child, Beverly Hills Cop II, Boomerang, Another 48 Hrs, Vampire in Brooklyn (co-written with brother, Charlie), Harlem Nights (where he wrote, directed and starred alongside, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx), Life, Mulan, Dr. Dolittle, the Shrek Saga, Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion and Bowfinger (with Steve Martin).
It’s no surprise Murphy was criticized for playing multiple parts in his films (Coming to America, The Nutty Professor, The Klumps, etc), a practice he rightfully defended since it was an homage to one of his comedy idols, Peter Sellers, who did it in many of his films, most notably Dr. Strangelove.
With such massive successes there were statistically bound to be failures; especially in a collaborative field such as film. And when Eddie Murphy had a bad film it was always reported as the end of his career. The list of laugh-stoppers included, Beverly Hills Cop III, Metro, I-Spy, Holy Man and The Adventures of Pluto Nash (rated as one of the worse films ever made with a worldwide box office take of $7 million to prove it).
The film adapted from the Broadway smash hit, Dreamgirls was a turning point in Murphy’s career. He played a dramatic part which required singing and was rewarded for the stretch. He won the Golden Globe, SAG and Broadcast Film Critics Association awards for his performance and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He left the auditorium when he lost the Academy Award to Alan Arkin. They said the shocker of a loss was because of his film Norbit, in which Murphy played multiple parts, one being a fat woman some found offensive. Any excuse.
Eddie Murphy also sang . . . seriously. He did background vocals for songs released by his buddies, The Bus Boys. He released “Boogie in Your Butt” and had hits with “Party All th Time” which was produced by Rick James and “Put Your Mouth on Me”. Murphy recorded, “I Was a King”, a duet with Shabba Ranks and the reggae song, “Red Light” with Snoop Lion in 2013.
Comedy Central ranked Eddie Murphy #10 on its list of the 100 Greatest Stand-ups of All Time. Box-office takes from Murphy’s films make him the 5th-highest grossing actor in the United States. His films have made over $6.6 billion worldwide and he was awarded by the John F. Kennedy Center, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2015.
By Darryl “D’Militant” Littleton
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