Also Credited As:Edward Regan Murphy
|Actor, Director, Producer, Writer, Music, Other|
|Edward Regan Murphy on April 3, 1961 in Brooklyn, New York, USA|
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Born Edward Regan Murphy on April 3, 1961 in Brooklyn, NY, the future comedian was the second born child of New York City police officer, Charles Murphy, and his wife, Lillian. Although Murphy's parents divorced in 1964, Eddie and his older brother, Charles, Jr., remained in contact with their father until his untimely death four years later. In 1970, Lillian Murphy remarried and moved the family to Roosevelt, Long Island, where her new husband, Vernon Lynch, worked as a foreman at the Breyer's ice cream plant. A precocious child growing up, young Eddie spent hours in front of the television set, voraciously watching old movies and cartoons. Not surprisingly, the youngster became a gifted mimic. Exhibiting an early flair for entertaining, Murphy enjoyed putting on performances for his family and friends. As he recalled, a vast majority of his repertoire in those days consisted of celebrity impersonations, scatological raps, and mock church sermons.
Murphy would get his first taste of celebrity while attending Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School. An extremely bright, but academically indifferent pupil, Murphy spent more time telling jokes than studying. Beloved nevertheless by his fellow students and teachers alike - including those who regularly sent him to the principal's office - Murphy's charm and quick wit made a lasting impression and twice won him the superlative of "Most Popular Student." At the age of 15, Murphy began writing and performing his own comedy routines for school talent shows, youth centers, and local comedy clubs. Upon turning professional at 18, Murphy steadily began to make a name for himself by performing at countless comedy clubs and dive bars in and around New York. Though Murphy openly admitted to ripping off the vast majority of his early material from Richard Pryor, by the late seventies, Murphy had begun to find his own voice. A chance booking at New York's famed Comic Strip Live comedy club kicked Murphy's career into overdrive. From there, it was a quick shot to the top; just three years and Murphy would be at the top of his profession.
Murphy's stand-up act continued packing clubs and earned him the respect of his peers. But it was on television where Eddie Murphy became a household name. In the summer of 1980, Murphy's life was forever changed when he was tapped to join the cast of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ). While many young comics might have seen this as a golden opportunity, in truth, the timing of it could not have been worse. By the time Murphy came on board, the six-year-old "SNL" was already in the first of its many death throes. Once considered progressive and cutting-edge, by the time Murphy was cast, "SNL" had grown quite stale. To make matters worse, there was a mass exodus of talent at the end of the show's fifth season - including the last of the original "Not-Ready-for-Primetime-Players," head writer Michael O'Donoghue and, most importantly, creator-executive producer Lorne Michaels.
Despite the mass exodus, NBC renewed "SNL" for another season, with the caveat that the budget be slashed. Hastily reinvented and slapped back together, "SNL" returned in the fall of 1980 with a new executive producer, a new cast, a new writing staff, and even a new band. As the new boss, the recently promoted Jean Doumanian's first and most daunting challenge was to replace the irreplaceable cast. In the most monumental decision of her career, Doumanian chose to replace the legendary Belushi, Aykroyd, Murray, and Radner with a group of unknowns that included Murphy, Charlie Rocket, Denny Dillon, Gilbert Gottfried, and J Piscopo. Incredibly enough, Murphy himself just barely made the cut. As revealed in Tom Shales's 2002 book, Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, Doumanian originally rejected Murphy in favor of comedian Robert Townsend. When Townsend backed out at the last minute, however, a desperate Doumanian grudgingly changed her tune and hired Murphy to be the show's "token black guy," as Garrett Morris had been before him.
Unanimously considered the worst season in "SNL" history, Doumanian's offering was embarrassingly unfunny. With ratings growing more and more anemic with each passing week, NBC finally had enough and decided to pull the plug. Once again, however, the show was saved at the 11th hour when longtime NBC sports producer Dick Ebersol agreed to take the reins for one last stab. With this regime change, of course, came another radical housecleaning. NBC axed Doumanian and virtually everyone else who had been associated with the catastrophic sixth season. The only two cast members spared were, not surprisingly, the funniest of the lot: Murphy and Joe Piscopo.
Under Ebersol's three-season tenure, "SNL" regained some of its former glory. While not as irreverent as it had been in its heyday, the show was at least consistently funny and allowed Murphy to blossom into the star he was destined to become. Between 1981 and 1985, the cast of "SNL" also included Jim Belushi, Brad Hall, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Mary Gross. But for all intents and purposes, the program had largely become the Eddie Murphy Show. Spontaneous, irreverent, and frequently brilliant, Murphy especially shined in sketches that showed off his impersonation skills. Among Murphy's best-known routines were "Mister Robinson's Neighborhood" (a brutally funny inner city take-off of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"), "James Brown Celebrity Hot Tub," and the gut-bustingly funny "Ebony & Ivory" sketch (starring Murphy as Stevie Wonder opposite J Piscopo's Frank Sinatra). Murphy's other memorable characters included the oleaginous pimp, Velvet Jones, and the bitter kiddie TV show icon, Gumby ("I'm Gumby, damn it!"). But Murphy's most celebrated "SNL" character had to be the beloved" Buckwheat" - a parody of the fictional black character from the Depression-era "Our Gang" series. Infused with Murphy's trademark charm and nostalgic voice characterization ("Hiii, Ah'm 'Uckwheat, Ahmembah me?"), Buckwheat became a national sensation. After several appearances, however, Murphy decided to retire the character. Making his swan song farewell in a sketch aptly titled "Buckwheat Dead" - which Murphy also co-wrote - a stunned America watched Buckwheat be gruesomely assassinated on live television by a Lee Harvey Oswald-like gunman. Murphy would go on to leave the show midway through the 1983-84 season, but during his short "SNL" tenure, managed to secure his legend as one of the most talented comics to grace the stages of Studio 8-H.
Naturally, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came knocking on Murphy's door. In 1982, Murphy segued effortlessly to feature stardom as a wisecracking convict teamed with a world-weary cop (Nick Nolte) in Walter Hill's uneven, but commercially successful "48 Hrs." The following year, Murphy teamed with former "SNL" alum Dan Aykroyd in director John Landis' rags-to-riches comedy, "Trading Places" (1983). Though critically derided, the film was a colossal hit when it was released that summer . Made on a budget of $28 million, it went on to gross over $90 million in the U.S. alone. More importantly, "Trading Places" officially cemented Murphy's status as a major movie star. The following year, Murphy hit paydirt yet again with the release of his first starring role in "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984). Originally conceived as a vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, the script underwent a radical rewrite once Murphy came on-board. Another enormous hit, the $15 million comedy grossed a whopping $234 million domestically.
In between hit films, Murphy managed to squeeze in his first live comedy special, the definitive concert film, "Eddie Murphy, Delirious." Taped before a live audience in Washington, D.C., "Delirious" became a breakout hit and officially trumpeted Murphy's arrival as the new face of comedy. His act, however, was not without its detractors. Some critics - among them, one of Murphy's childhood heroes, Bill Cosby - found the young comic's signature usage of sexual innuendo and profanity objectionable. Murphy was also taken to task for being sexist and homophobic, referring to gays as "faggots" and making jokes about AIDS. This early act of political incorrectness, combined with Murphy's unapologetic stance afterwards, ultimately resulted in a boycott call from the gay community - the first of many. Much later in his career, Murphy would come to regret his insensitive remarks and eventually apologized.
Due to his unparalleled box office success, Murphy received a lucrative multi-picture deal with Paramount Pictures. His first project under this new banner, the action-comedy "The Golden Child" (1986), performed well at the box office, but lacked some of the title's signature luster. Murphy also scored big with his next project, the scatological concert film "Eddie Murphy Raw" (1987), and displayed his charisma as a bride-hunting African prince in "Coming to America" (1988). By this point, however, some were starting to suspect that Murphy's ego was beginning to eclipse his comedic sensibilities. Murphy, unfortunately, only proved these naysayers right with his next project called "Harlem Nights" (1989). Making a less-than-auspicious debut as a screenwriter-director, "Nights" signaled the beginning of the end for the first chapter of Murphy's illustrious career. Overdone and unfunny, the film's extravagantly expensive production showed Murphy at the peak of his Hollywood clout, as well as his self-absorption. Nowhere was this growing hubris more evident than in the film's opening credits, wherein Murphy's name prominently appeared no less than five times (a display of narcissism that reportedly elicited unintended laughter at a number of reviewer screenings). Dismissed as little more than a pricey vanity project, "Harlem Nights" wound up earning just $60 million when all was said and done; less than half the take of his previous project, "Coming to America."
Around the same time, Murphy also briefly flirted with a singing career. This short-lived vogue as a recording star led to one hit single - the infectious but cheesy "Party All the Time" - but Murphy's limitations as a musician and songwriter cut short any hopes for a lasting career. Hoping to diversify, Murphy turned to television and oversaw a handful of sitcom pilots via his production company, Eddie Murphy Productions. Among his only successes was a comedy series Murphy created and executive produced as a vehicle for Redd Foxx and Della Reese (both of whom he had cast in "Harlem Nights") titled "The Royal Family" (CBS, 1991-92). A modest ratings hit, the sitcom was eventually felled midway through the first season when star Foxx died of a sudden heart attack.
Murphy's feature career continued its downward freefall in the 1990's, as he starred in a string of inevitable but unnecessary sequels, such as "Another 48 Hrs" (1990) and "Beverly Hills Cop III" (1994). Eager to stay relevant, Murphy opted to reinvent his onscreen persona for the first time, shifting from comedian to more suave leading man roles. The experiment yielded mixed results with some modest hits - most notably the romantic comedy "Boomerang" (1992) and the Capitol Hill farce, "The Distinguished Gentleman" (1992) - but even more memorably, huge stinkers like "A Vampire in Brooklyn " (1995), a light horror-comedy directed by Wes Craven.
Fortunately, by mid-decade, Murphy went back to what he knew best: specifically, broader comedy, starting with the 1996 remake of "The Nutty Professor" (1963). Making brilliant use of Murphy's diverse characterization skills, director Steve derkerk once again had Murphy playing multiple roles as he did in "Coming to America." The results were delightfully refreshing. Taking a less manic approach than progenitor Jerry Lewis, Murphy juggled multiple parts, personalities, prosthetics, and even genders, with dizzying aplomb. Of his myriad roles, the most impressive was that of title character, Professor Sherman Klump. Locating the heart of his character beneath pounds of heavy latex, Murphy simultaneously touched and tickled audiences and managed to strike a deep emotional chord few had expected. Arguably even braver was Murphy's portrayal of Klump's alter ego, the charismatic Buddy Love, a vain, arrogant, and thoroughly obnoxious egomaniac. While many viewed the Buddy Love character as nothing more than an over-the-top villain, those looking deeper saw something more, as though Murphy were issuing a mea culpa in the form of a game self-parody. Whether or not this was Murphy's true intent, the audience seemed to buy it just the same. "Professor" earned $128 million at the box office and resurrected Murphy's ailing career just in the nick of time.
This comeback proved short-lived, however, as evidenced by the disappointing receipts for his follow-up films, "Metro" (1998) and "Holy Man" (1999). Murphy did, however, win critical praise for his dual role as a paranoid action film star and his dim-witted brother in the sharply written, though commercially unsuccessful, Steve Martin comedy "Bowfinger" (1999). Murphy followed up by re-teaming with "Boomerang" co-star Martin Lawrence in the jailhouse comedy, "Life" (1999), but that film fizzled. Murphy continued his box office slide with roles in several less-than-worthy projects including the insipid sci-fi comedy, "The Adventures of Pluto Nash" (2002) - a film which was so bad, it became the defining stinker of his career and the go-to example for late night comics and writers. Losing confidence in Murphy's bankability as a solo act, Hollywood next attempted to sell Murphy as the black half of two separate "salt-and-pepper" buddy comedies released in 2002: the dreadful "I Spy" with Owen Wilson and "Showtime" with Robert De Niro. Both projects tanked. The prognosis once again, did not look good for Murphy.
Strangely enough, just as his appeal was starting to wane again with adult moviegoers, Murphy started to gain momentum with children. Experiencing an unexpected career renaissance as a voice actor in Disney movies, Murphy reinvented himself yet again. This transformation would easily be his most ironic, being that he was originally known for his profane "adults-only" brand of humor. Murphy kicked off this new chapter in his career with a non-musical remake of the talking-with-the-animals romp, "Dr. Dolittle" (1998). He then followed up with a memorable turn as a wisecracking miniature dragon in Disney's "Mulan" (1998). Rediscovering his aptitude for voice work, Murphy played yet another animated character; this time an ornery donkey in the immensely popular CGI tale, "Shrek" (2001). Murphy's hilarious turn as Donkey proved so popular with young viewers that he was invited back for its two sequels, "Shrek 2" (2004) and "Shrek the Third" (2007). Murphy's next undertaking, "Daddy Day Care" (2003), was decried by critics as a transparent "Mr. Mom" rehash, but as evidenced by its $27 million opening, it was clear few remembered the 1982 Michael Keaton film.
Ironically, Murphy's newfound career as America's favorite family-friendly film star was nearly destroyed before it had begun. In 1997, on the eve of his comeback, Murphy became embroiled in a bizarre and salacious scandal that made the comic his own punchline on late night talk shows for weeks. On May 13, during the shooting of "Doctor Dolittle," Murphy was pulled over by West Hollywood police around 4 a.m. for suspicion of soliciting what turned out to be a transsexual prostitute. Though Murphy was never charged with a crime, gossip columnists had a field day when the story broke. Notoriously press-shy since the early nineties, Murphy initially kept mum, but his silence only exacerbated the situation. Deeply humiliated and upset by what he claimed were media distortions of the truth, a shamed Murphy eventually broke his silence to defend himself on national TV, claiming that the only thing he was guilty of was trying to be a good Samaritan; that all he did was offer a young woman (or so he thought) a lift home. As expected, Murphy's explanation was roundly ridiculed. Nevertheless, that was Murphy's story and he was sticking to it. Whether the public believed his story or not, Murphy eventually got a pass, perhaps due in part to his relatively scandal-free past, and the brouhaha soon faded.
Seemingly putting his personal troubles behind him, Murphy's career continued along unabated. Finally, after wrapping his latest project (the misguided Disney offering, "The Haunted Mansion,") in 2003, Murphy announced he was taking a sabbatical from acting to spend more time with his family. Unfortunately, this decision proved to have come too little, too late. By 2005, Murphy's 12-year marriage to former model Nicole Mitchell Murphy had come to an end. The couple officially divorced in early 2006, but agreed to joint custody of their five young children. Once again a single man, Murphy wasted no time playing the field. Soon after his split from Mitchell, Murphy was linked in the tabloids to a bevy of beautiful women, including former "Boomerang" co-star Robin Givens and music producer Tracey Edmonds. In late 2006, another of Murphy's paramours, singer Melanie Brown (a.k.a. Scary Spice" of the '90's band, the Spice Girls) happily broke the news that she was pregnant with Murphy's baby. However, in early December 2006, just weeks after their relationship went public, Murphy reportedly dumped Brown, who was by then four months pregnant. The ugly feud escalated in January of 2007, when Murphy publicly questioned the baby's paternity. At this same tumultuous time, Murphy began dating Tracey Edmonds, ex-wife of music producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. The couple were engaged July 25, 2007 and exchanged vows Jan. 1, 2008 on a private island off Bora Bora in French Polynesia. Thankfully this was not a legal union, due to it taking place in a foreign country, because just two weeks later, the pair split, professing in an official statement that they would "remain friends."
His tumultuous personal life notwithstanding, Murphy's career continued to take off into still more uncharted territory. Well into his fourth decade in show business by 2006, Murphy enjoyed yet another career triumph that would propel him back to the heights he had once enjoyed as a comedic superstar. This time around, Murphy's latest comeback came in the form of more grown-up fare; specifically, the big screen adaptation of the 1981 Tony-winning musical, "Dreamgirls" (2006). In his meatiest role to date, Murphy made an impressive dramatic debut as R&B singer James "Thunder" Early, joining Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, and newcomer Jennifer Hudson. Loosely based of the story of the Motown supergroup The Supremes, the film adaptation of "Dreamgirls" was warmly received. Murphy, along with Hudson (as the tragic Effie White), were specially singled out by critics and fans alike for their show-stopping performances. Showing incredible range comically and dramatically - to say nothing of mastering his incomparable singing and dancing routines - Murphy was honored for his performance in "Dreamgirls" with a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor. The role also won Murphy an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. A few months after Murphy lost that award to veteran actor Alan Arkin for his work in "Little Miss Sunshine," a paternity test concluded that Murphy was, in fact, the father of Melanie "Scary Spice" Brown's daughter.
The eight-time father returned to comedy the same year with "Norbit," a critically reviled film that again found the actor playing multiple roles, as well as donning a fat suit to portray his own suitor. The tastelessness of the role seemed like an odd juxtaposition to his stellar work in "Dreamgirls" and moviegoers stayed away in droves. Murphy's follow-up, "Shrek The Third" (2007) was overwhelmingly more successful with audiences, but was the least acclaimed of the "Shrek" series, mainly for its darker, more ironic tone. He next re-teamed with "Norbit" director Brian Robbins in "Meet Dave" (2008), but the sci-fi comedy about a humanoid alien visiting earth from a doomed planet proved a significant financial failure. In one of Murphy's more toned-down comedic roles, he starred as a failing financial executive whose imaginative daughter boosts his career in the kid-friendly comedy "Imagine That" (2009), but audiences appeared disinterested in seeing Murphy in a suit and tie with a kid for a co-star again. The following year, Murphy rolled out the sequel "Shrek Forever After" (2010) and finally sought to avenge the reputation of the "Beverly Hills Cop" franchise with "Beverly Hills Cop IV," which promised an invigorating re-interpretation of beloved wisecracking cop, Axel Foley. Meanwhile, he was poised for another comeback with the release of the action comedy "Tower Heist" (2011), directed by Brett Ratner, while also being named host of the 2012 Academy Awards in late 2011. Unfortunately, Ratner - who had also been tapped to produce the Oscars - made a homophobic slur during press junkets for "Tower Heist" and consequently resigned, causing Murphy to follow suit in solidarity.
By Phil Kim