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Murphy, Eddie

Murphy, Eddie

1961—

Comedian, actor

Eddie Murphy once told his tenth grade social studies teacher, as reported in Rolling Stone, "I'm going to be bigger than Bob Hope." The enormously popular entertainer was well on his way to turning that youthful boast into a statement of fact after releasing such hit movies as 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop in the early 1980s. In addition to his cinematic success, he starred on late-night television, toured before sell-out audiences, and recorded a couple of best-selling comedy albums. Newsweek called him "the hottest performer in the land," for whom "the sky seems to be the limit." And Time named him "Hollywood's uncontested box-office champ." While some of his movies in the late 1980s and 1990s were less than stellar, and critics talked of Murphy as a star in decline, he rebounded in 2007 to earn his first Academy Award nomination for his dramatic, supporting role in Dreamgirls.

Perfected His Impressions Early

Born on April 3, 1961, Murphy was raised in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York. His father, Charles Murphy, was a New York City policeman and amateur comedian, and his mother, Lillian, a phone operator. When Eddie was three years old, his parents divorced. Later, when his mother was forced to spend an extended period in the hospital, he and his older brother Charles were taken care of by a woman whom Murphy recalled as "a kind of black Nazi." He told Richard Corliss of Time, "Those were baaaad days. Staying with her was probably the reason I became a comedian."

When Murphy was eight years old, his father died, and a year later, his mother married Vernon Lynch, a foreman at a Breyer's ice cream factory and part-time boxing instructor. Shortly thereafter the family moved to the predominantly black middle-class suburb of Roosevelt, Long Island. Growing up, Murphy spent a great deal of time watching television, practicing impressions of such cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. "My mother says I never talked in my own voice—always cartoon characters," he related to Gene Lyons of Newsweek. "Dudley DoRight, Bullwinkle. I used to do Sylvester the Cat ('thufferin' thuccotash') all the time." He also developed impressions of comics like Laurel and Hardy and Jerry Lewis. Film director John Landis later told Corliss that Murphy's unique point of view is rooted in his early perceptions of TV: "I grew up hooked on TV, but Eddie is TV. His world experience comes from the tube."

Before long, Murphy began working on comedy routines after school, and developing his comedy skills became his passion. At Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School, he became an expert at "ranking"—trading witty insults with his classmates. Murphy made his first stage appearance in 1976, when, at the age of 15, he hosted a talent show at the Roosevelt Youth Center. He did an impersonation of soul singer Al Green, and the kids loved it. "Looking out at the audience, l knew that it was show biz for the rest of my life," the performer recalled to Corliss.

Murphy soon started performing stand-up comedy at local clubs. According to Lyons, he was "making between $25 and $50 a week appearing in ‘Gong Shows’ at Long Island nightclubs where he was still too young to buy a drink." He was a less than dedicated student, and schoolwork took a back seat to his evening club dates. "My focus was my comedy," he explained in Time. "You could usually find me in the lunchroom trying out my routines on the kids to perform them in clubs later that night." His inattention to the books, however, caught up with him when he had to repeat the tenth grade. "As vain as I was," he told Corliss, "I don't have to tell you what that did to me. Well, I went to summer school, to night school, I doubled up on classes, and I graduated only a couple of months late." In his yearbook, Murphy declared his career plans: comedian.

Fame Came Quickly

Enrolling at Nassau Community College to please his mother, Murphy pursued his career goal by continuing to appear at area clubs. Just a few months out of high school, he performed at the Comic Strip, a popular Manhattan club. One of the owners, Robert Wachs, noted to Lyons that Murphy's "material wasn't out of this world, but he had great presence." That first appearance led to club dates throughout the East Coast. Wachs and his partner, Richard Tienken, later became Murphy's managers. Like comedian and actor Richard Pryor—one of Murphy's childhood idols—his stand-up act has been described as raunchy, filled with four-letter words. Unlike his predecessor, however, Murphy has always believed in clean living: He doesn't smoke, drink, or use drugs.

When Murphy learned that the producers of NBC-TV's series Saturday Night Live were looking for a black cast member for the 1980-81 season, he jumped at the chance to audition. After six tries, he was finally hired as a featured player, or as he told Richard Rein of People, "an extra." Murphy appeared only occasionally and did not win a spot as a regular until later in the season. Because that year's show was a flop, NBC cleaned house, and most of the cast was fired.

The only performers retained for the next season of Saturday Night Live were Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Murphy emerged as the show's star. As Rein explained, "He did wickedly adept—and less than worshipful—impressions of [boxer] Muhammad Ali, [actor and comedian] Bill Cosby, [musician] Stevie Wonder and Jerry Lewis." He also created some memorable new characters, including Mister Robinson, a ghetto version of TV's Mister Rogers who spewed comments like "Can you say ‘scumbucket,’ boys and girls?," and a grown-up version of the Little Rascals' Buckwheat. Other hilarious characters included an irreverent version of Gumby; Velvet Jones, a pimp and huckster selling a book called "I Wanna Be a Ho," a guide for would-be prostitutes; and Tyrone Green, an illiterate convict-poet penning pieces like "Cill My Lanlord." The New York Times soon proclaimed that "Eddie Murphy has stolen the show."

Capitalized on Rising Star

In 1982 Murphy recorded an album of his stand-up material. It received a Grammy nomination and eventually went gold. In that same year, he landed his first motion picture role in 48 HRS. Director Walter Hill selected Murphy on the basis of some videotapes of Saturday Night Live that he had seen. Murphy played a fast-talking convict who is released from prison for two days to help a policeman, played by Nick Nolte, track down a pair of killers. Once again, Murphy "stole the show," according to People. Newsweek called it "a fast, furious and funny movie debut." Released in December, the film was an instant hit, grossing more than $5 million in its first week.

In mid 1983 Murphy's second movie, Trading Places, was released. Costarring Dan Aykroyd, this film was another hit for the budding megastar. Director John Landis declared in Time, "Eddie is definitely a movie star now." Both 48 HRS. and Trading Places ended up among the top ten grossing films of 1983. Murphy also launched a major concert tour that year. In addition, he recorded his second comedy album, Eddie Murphy: Comedian. This time he won a Grammy, and the album went gold.

The next year Murphy left Saturday Night Live after his fourth season. His next film, however, titled Best Defense and costarring Dudley Moore, was, stated Richard Grenier of Commentary, a "failure," causing some people to wonder if Murphy was a "mere novelty, possibly just a flash in the pan." But Murphy followed Best Defense with a blockbuster hit movie, Beverly Hills Cop, which had a lead role originally slated for actor Sylvester Stallone. It became Murphy's first starring role, and according to Grenier, writing in the New York Times, it broke box-office records: "Beverly Hills Cop has quite stunned Hollywood. Released in early December, it…grossed more than its next five competitors combined."

As a result of Murphy's astounding success, Paramount Pictures signed the 23-year-old to a $25 million, six-picture contract. Added Grenier, "No black actor has ever come anywhere near the position Eddie Murphy holds today. He is quite simply a historic figure." In an attempt to explain Murphy's tremendous appeal, Lyons wrote, "Murphy's most valuable gift as a performer is his saucy charm; he's not wicked, just naughty. He's a good little bad boy who can get away with murder when he smiles." Beverly Hills Cop eventually reached the number nine position on the list of all-time box-office hits.

Murphy was not being universally praised, however. Grenier noted that the Village Voice made a "vitriolic attack" on Murphy for being an expression of "comedy for the 80's," one of "[U.S. President Ronald] Reagan's court jesters." In addition, because of his penchant for doing homosexual jokes, a militant gay group took out full-page ads in Billboard and Rolling Stone to denounce him as a "homophobe."

As an entertainment institution powerful enough to call his own shots, Murphy branched out from movies into the recording industry. His first album, 1984's How Could It Be?, went gold and featured a spin-off hit, "Party All the Time," and his 1989 release, So Happy, displayed his perfectionism and musical gifts. "While most of the songs are as sexually raunchy as anything ever put on vinyl, Murphy's vocal talent and the overall quality of the recording are better than 95 percent of the stuff flooding record stores these days," Charles L. Sanders wrote in Ebony. A third album, Love's Alright, debuted in October of 1992 and featured the single "Yeah!," a collaboration with such pop superstars as Paul McCartney, Janet Jackson, and Hammer. The song's proceeds were to be donated to Yeah!, the charitable foundation that was founded by Murphy.

Weathered Bad Movies and Bad Press

Murphy's next film, released in 1986, was The Golden Child. A number of critics panned the movie: David Ehrenstein of American Film called it "a confused fantasy-adventure," and David Handelman of Rolling Stone labeled it "abysmal." But, despite negative reviews, the movie fared well at the box office. Janet Maslin of the New York Times commented that Paramount "has done a much better job of marketing The Golden Child than making it." She added that it was probably just the popular Murphy's presence that attracted moviegoers.

Early in 1987, Murphy was beset by bad news. In March, Handleman reported, Murphy "made headlines when taken to court by his first manager, a small-time agent named King Broder." Fired in 1980, Broder wanted a cut of all Murphy's earnings since that time. Murphy settled out of court, paying nearly $700,000. Later that same month, an Atlantic City tax-shelter scam into which Murphy had invested $240,000 was uncovered. The following month he was hit with a paternity suit.

Misfortune with his personal finances, however, was offset by the box office success of Murphy's next film, Beverly Hills Cop II, released in 1987. As with The Golden Child, many critics downgraded the film. USA Today called it "a robotic, hard-sell sequel by folks whose Malibu Beach house mortgage payment is due." Maslin quipped, "Lively as it is, Beverly Hills Cop II can't help but suffer from the lack of any originality at all." Handleman exclaimed that Murphy "has ended up producing soulless, self-serving junk."

Some critics, though, liked the sequel. Michael Buckley of Films in Review stated, "Murphy repeats his character's bravado, pushy ways and funny bits—and they work." Fortunately for Paramount, the movie-going public also liked Beverly Hills Cop II. The New York Times reported that the film "proved itself a box-office blockbuster…marking up the biggest single-day earnings in film history," a staggering $9.7 million. At a press conference for Beverly Hills Cop II, Murphy also introduced what he called "The Black Pack," a group of up-and-coming young black comics that included Robert Townsend, Arsenio Hall, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and Paul Mooney.

Murphy's next film, Raw, in which he performs a stand-up comic routine, was released in December of 1987. "This feature-length concert film," stated Maslin in a review, "is hilarious, putting Mr. Murphy on a par with Mr. [Richard] Pryor at his best." She continued, "Even the ushers were laughing." Audiences poured in to see the movie, and it became the biggest-grossing concert film ever.

After Murphy's rise to stardom, some African Americans chided him for not supporting black causes. The truth, according to Walter Leavy of Ebony, is that all along Murphy was working quietly behind the scenes, donating to organizations like the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change. At the 1988 Academy Awards show, however, Murphy went public, calling the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to task for having awarded only three Oscars to black actors in its 60-year history.

Explored Different Roles

In the summer of 1988 Murphy came out with a film that was a change of pace for him. In Coming to America, a lighthearted romantic comedy, Murphy's character is a departure from the brash, swaggering types of his previous films. Peter Travers of People liked the change: "This is Murphy's most heartfelt and hilarious performance. And his riskiest." Other critics knocked it. David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, "Coming to America may be more interesting as a career move than as a movie." Vincent Canby observed in the New York Times that the film has a "screenplay that seems to have escaped its doctors before it was entirely well." The public continued to flock to see Murphy, However, and the movie ended up as the second-biggest Grossing hit of the year.

Unfortunately, Coming to America also brought additional Legal problems for Murphy. Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald and writer Shelby Gregory, reported a People correspondent, alleged that Murphy stole their ideas for the film's screenplay. Buchwald said he did a story treatment that was optioned to Paramount for Murphy; Gregory claimed he did a screenplay that was given to Murphy. Gregory filed a $10 million lawsuit against Murphy and his co-screenwriters. In 1990 a superior court judge in California ruled that Coming to America was indeed based on the treatment that Buchwald had submitted and ordered Paramount to pay the columnist and Alain Bernheim, a producer and co-plaintiff, a lump sum and percentage of the movie's net profits.

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Murphy, a superstar with unrivaled marquee value, continued to make films that critics felt were vapid star vehicles rather than thoughtful showcases for the actor's prodigious comic gifts. In 1989 Murphy made his directorial debut with Harlem Nights, a sprawling 1930s black gangster flick that he also wrote and produced. Although the film made $18 million in its first weekend of release, the premiere was marred by violence in theaters throughout the country, leaving one person dead and many injured.

In the eyes of some critics, the tempest surrounding the opening was in sharp contrast to the film's dullness and obviousness. "The last thing anyone would have expected from the first film directed by Eddie Murphy is this tame, play-it-very-safe variation on The Sting," Ralph Novak wrote in People. "What this film suffers from is lack of fun." Other reviewers called the language of Harlem Nights overly profane and said that Murphy, a brilliant sketch writer, had composed a mechanical, rarely funny, full-length script. But Walter Leavy, writing in Ebony, praised the film for juxtaposing Murphy's comedic talents with those of the legendary Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. "For some, it might be just another movie, but the blending of these three generations of comedy is one of those events that can only be described as ‘historic.’"

Murphy's 1990 effort, Another 48 HRS., directed by Walter Hill, was generally ridiculed as a bland, stale remake of the hugely successful 1982 original. While the first film was praised for the colorful odd-couple interplay between Murphy and Nick Nolte, the sequel, according to Vincent Canby of the New York Times, collapsed under the weight of poor writing, uninteresting direction, and uninspired acting. "Mr. Murphy has two comic moments, which aren't enough for a feature-length film," Canby wrote. "He speaks dialogue as if he hadn't had time to figure out what it meant. When in doubt as to what to do, he adopts an expression of ineffable cool: that is, of heavy-lidded, sexually alert boredom. It's a lazy, unresponsive performance." Some critics, painting broader brush strokes, lamented the death of Murphy's cutting-edge, risk-taking parts and the emergence of safe, forgettable roles that bordered on self parody. But other reviewers, calling the film a harmless bit of fun, saw just the opposite. David Denby wrote in New York, "Eddie Murphy is less funny than before but less slick as well. At times, he's almost human—he's beginning to come down off the incomparable high of being Eddie Murphy. When he comes down a little farther, he may turn into an actor."

In 1991 Murphy, who had criticized his previous contract with Paramount, secured for himself a four-movie deal with the film company, which had recently undergone a management shake-up. Hopes were re-kindled that Murphy would now be surrounded by people who cared not only about money—Murphy's films had grossed more than $1 billion at that point—but also about the quality of the films featuring the star. The first movie made under that contract, Boomerang, confirmed those hopes.

Although the 1992 Boomerang received mixed reviews, the mix was in Murphy's favor to an extent that it had not been in years. The movie, created by the brother team of Warrington and Reginald Hudlin, makers of the critically praised film House Party, featured Murphy as a hot shot cosmetics executive whose woman-chasing lechery is superseded, to his dismay, by the man-hunting zeal of his new female boss, played by actress Robin Givens. Reviewing the comedic tale of sexual role reversal in the black boardroom, Jay Carr wrote in the Boston Globe, "It took him a while, but Eddie Murphy finally got the message that the disarming cockiness of a 19-year-old Saturday Night Live star had bloated into off-putting arrogance 10 years later. So, following the public cooling to Murphy in Harlem Nights and Another 48 HRS, he went back to the drawing board for some image retooling. The result is Boomerang, a smart comedy that sends a few interesting messages, the big one being that Murphy has learned his lesson."

Continued to Amuse

In December of 1992 Murphy appeared in another comedy film, The Distinguished Gentleman. In the role of Thomas Jefferson Johnson, Murphy is a resourceful con man whose ultimate scam is getting elected to the U.S. Congress, where he hopes to get rich on donations from lobbyists. Johnson soon faces a moral dilemma, however, when he learns that the electric companies that pay off his congressional committee are responsible for erecting environmentally unsafe power lines. Detroit Free Press film critic Judy Gerstel noted, "The Distinguished Gentleman provides Murphy with a role that's both more sophisticated and more sympathetic than usual. It does this without sacrificing too much of the popular Murphy screen personality—that patented wink, punch, grin."

Murphy allowed his busy schedule to lull in 1993 while he married 25-year-old model Nicole Mitchell, with whom he already had two children, Bria and Myles. (The couple would have three more children together before divorcing in 2006.) However, 1994 saw his return to the silver screen in Beverly Hills Cop III, which many critics panned as a vacuous attempt to ride the success of the first two movies. Vampire in Brooklyn, released in 1995, fared even worse with audiences. USA Today critic Susan Wloszczyna wrote, "Nothing is scarier than the threat of a new Eddie Murphy vanity production, and Vampire in Brooklyn is more vain—or should that be vein?—than most." In the film, which Murphy also wrote and produced, he plays a vampire who journeys to Brooklyn in search of a mate with whom he can have children in order to maintain his immortality. Though the movie was intended to be a horror comedy, critics found little to laugh at in Murphy's performance, causing Peter Stack of The San Francisco Chronicle to remark, "It's going to take more than fangs, glowing eyes and a Zorro-like charm for Eddie Murphy to restore a movie career that seems to have peaked with his classic Axel Foley of Beverly Hills Cop."

But just when critics were bemoaning the loss of Murphy's comic gifts, he proved that he could be as funny as ever in his remake of the 1963 Jerry Lewis comedy The Nutty Professor. Murphy demonstrated his remarkable talent for physical comedy and his genius for voices by playing seven different characters in the 1996 movie, including the obese, nerdy science professor who is the protagonist, his equally overweight family, and the professor's slim, smooth alter ego. Critics praised Murphy for his comic timing, and renewed the well-worn discussion about whether his career was on the rebound. Leah Rozen of People magazine wrote, "Eddie Murphy has a blast here, something he hasn't had much of while zombie-walking through his last few films. And when Murphy has fun, we have fun." The National Society of Film Critics awarded him its best actor award for his role.

Drew Criticism and Rebounded

The revival was short-lived, however, as Murphy failed to follow up on his success with the 1997 movie, Metro. Described as a "mean, enervated, foulmouthed, and formulaic piece of work" by Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, Metro follows hostage negotiator Scott Roper (played by Murphy), as he tries to track down a cold-blooded killer. Critics renewed complaints about Murphy's lack of effort when it came to acting, accusing him of settling for an "uninspired variation on the Axel Foley character he's done for over a decade now" to real character development. Los Angeles Times reviewer Kevin Thomas wrote "Since ‘Metro’ stars Eddie Murphy and since it opens in a quiet week, this stale action thriller may well attract audiences who can't get enough of Murphy or mindless, bone-crunching violence, no matter how totally uninspired and credibility-defying the circumstances."

Murphy's personal life took a dive as well when police pulled the movie star over in the wee hours of the morning on May 2, 1997, while he was in the company of a male prostitute dressed as a woman. Murphy claimed that he was suffering from insomnia and had gone out to buy a couple magazines when he saw Atisone Seiuli walking in an area known as a haunt for male prostitutes. In what Murphy described as an "act of kindness," he offered Seiuli a ride home without realizing that "she" was actually a "he" until the police pulled them over two miles after the pickup. The police arrested Seiuli on a probation violation, but did not charge Murphy with any crime. In spite of his protestations of innocence, Murphy quickly became the butt of numerous comedians' jokes and the media questioned the truth of his story given the fact that Murphy had already passed Seiuli's place of residence when the police caught up with the pair.

The critical rollercoaster continued when Murphy scored big as the voice of Mushu the Lizard in Disney's 1998 animated picture Mulan. The story revolves around a Chinese girl who disguises herself as a man in order to take her father's place in the army, and Mushu acts as her guardian dragon in her quest to save the empire. Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune wrote, "[Mulan] owes much of its success…to one of its tiniest (if loudest) characters: Mushu the Lizard." Murphy's energy and attitude propelled glowing reviews of the movie. While Mulan was still reaping praise in the theaters, another Murphy film, Doctor Dolittle, hit the screen. In spite of mixed reviews, the remake of a 1967 comedy about a doctor who recovers his long-lost ability to talk to animals did fairly well at the box office. While some critics appreciated the family fare, most faulted Murphy for delivering an insipid performance in which he played the straight man to a host of animals. Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post wrote, "The gifted comic is bound and gagged by a role that has him playing buttoned-down straight man to a nattering Noah's Ark of furred and feathered wise-acres."

If critics were willing to debate the merits of Dolittle, they were universally unhappy with the 1998 release of Holy Man. Playing a character even more bland than Dolittle, Murphy was roundly panned as ‘G,’ a pajama wearing spiritual pilgrim who becomes a hot advertising commodity on infomercials while dispensing New-Age, quasi-religious phrases. Murphy's one-dimensional character left little room for Murphy to act on his comic impulses and audiences expecting his trademark manic hilarity were disappointed.

Enjoyed Success with Family-Friendly Films

But in spite of Murphy's hit-and-miss cinematic record, production companies continued to invest in the comic. He had a sequel to the popular Nutty Professor, called Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, which premiered in July of 2000. Variety called Murphy "mesmerizing" in his multiple role-playing in the film. Among other projects, his voice and production company, Imagine Television, was tapped by Fox in the creation of an animated television show called The PJs. The show, described by one television executive as "a mix of The Simpsons and In Living Color," focused on the character of Thurgood Stubbs, an inner-city project superintendent who often finds himself at odds with the tenants or neighbors, with Murphy providing the voice for Thurgood. The show lasted for 28 episodes from 1999 to 2000.

Early in 2001 Murphy was heard as the voice of Donkey in a disarmingly enchanting animated production—a Mike Meyers vehicle about an ogre—called Shrek. Richard Schickel lauded Murphy's donkey role in Time and commented that, "[N]o one has ever made a funnier jackass of himself than Murphy." Soon afterward came the release of Dr. Dolittle 2 by 20th Century Fox. Joe Leydon acknowledged in Variety that the Dolittle sequel had, "…all the symptoms of a sure-fire smash hit. With Eddie Murphy once again in fine form."

He followed these successes with more, family-friendly fare. Murphy had fully transitioned from his hard-edged comedic persona that brought him fame in the 1980s to a middle-aged, family friendly actor in such films as Daddy Day Care and the many sequels to Shrek. As the voice of the donkey, Murphy endeared himself to legions of children as Shrek became an entertainment force unto its own in the early 2000s. Shrek 2 hit number three on the all-time domestic box-office list, according to the Seattle Times. While more sequels and spin-offs to Shrek followed, Murphy sampled other roles.

He returned to his outrageous antics in 2007's Norbit. In the film, he played three characters: Norbit, a milquetoast married to a dramatic, obese woman named Rasputia, a character he also played, as well as the sage orphanage director named Mr. Wong. Although the film led the box-office sales in its first two weeks, it quickly drew criticism for its deriding characterization of overweight, black women. Activist Najee Ali remarked that Norbit " perpetuates those negative stereotypes that large black women are violent, unattractive, promiscuous and buffoons," according to the Seattle Times. Yet audiences flocked to the film, and one viewer openly praised Murphy's performance in the Los Angeles Times, saying that Murphy deserved an Academy Award. "I haven't seen one movie that Eddie has made yet that I didn't enjoy," said April Andrews of Long Beach to the Los Angeles Times.

To add to his ongoing box-office popularity, Murphy earned his first Academy Award nomination in 2007, for his supporting role in Dreamgirls. The film captured the cusp of change in America, when black music was beginning to influence popular music for whites while the country was still segregated. It follows the struggle of talented musicians trying to capture national exposure. Murphy played the role of James "Thunder" Early, an emerging R&B musician, trying to cross over from the Chitlin' Circuit to mixed race and white urban venues. The role was much more dramatic and serious than anything Murphy had yet portrayed on film. About his character, Murphy noted on the Emmanuel Levy Web site that "Everyone loves him because he's really one of a kind. He just can't seem to break through, but he is an R&B originator, bringing the sound that white kids could dance to—like James Brown, Chuck Berry, Little Richard." Murphy added that "It wasn't until later that these performers realized just how much they accomplished." Nominated for eight Oscars, Dreamgirls captured the essence of their achievements. Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for her supporting role, but Murphy did not. Michigan Chronicle commentator Steve Holsey noted his surprise that Murphy did not win, adding that he was "remarkable" as James "Thunder" Early. Shortly after being passed over for the award, Murphy left the ceremony. Despite his lack of critical acclaim, his star still shone brightly at the box office.

At a Glance …

Born Edward Regan Murphy, April 3, 1961, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Charles (a police officer) and Lillian (a telephone operator) Murphy; stepson of Vernon Lynch (a foreman at an ice cream factory); married Nicole Mitchell, 1993 (divorced 2006); children: Christian (with Tamara Moore); Bria; Myles; Shayne Audra; Zola Ivy; Bella Zahra. Education: Attended Nassau Community College.

Career:

Comedian, 1960s-; actor, 1980-; Yeah! charitable foundation, founder.

Awards:

Emmy Award nomination for outstanding comedy performance and outstanding comedy writing for Saturday Night Live; Grammy Award nomination for best comedy album, 1982, for Eddie Murphy; Golden Globe Award and Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), both 1983, both for Trading Places; Grammy Award for best comedy album, 1984, for Eddie Murphy: Comedian; Star of the Year Award, and People's Choice Award for favorite all-around male entertainer, all 1985, all for Beverly Hills Cop; National Society of Film Critics, Best Actor Award for The Nutty Professor, 1997; Academy Award nomination, 2007; Golden Globe, 2007, for Best Supporting Role in a Motion Picture; Screen Actors Guild Award, 2007, for Best Supporting Role in a Motion Picture.

Selected works

Recordings

Eddie Murphy (comedy), Columbia, 1982.

Eddie Murphy: Comedian (comedy), Columbia, 1983.

How Could It Be?, Columbia, 1985.

So Happy, Columbia, 1989.

Love's Alright, 1992.

Films

48 HRS, 1982.

Trading Places, 1983.

Best Defense, 1984.

Beverly Hills Cop, 1984.

The Golden Child, 1986.

Beverly Hills Cop II, 1987.

Coming to America, 1988.

Harlem Nights, 1989.

Another 48 HRS, 1990.

Boomerang, 1992.

The Distinguished Gentleman, 1992.

Beverly Hills Cop III, 1994.

Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995.

The Nutty Professor, 1996.

Metro, 1997.

Mulan, 1998.

Doctor Dolittle, 1998.

Holy Man, 1998.

Bowfinger, 1999.

Life, 1999.

Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, 2000.

Shrek, 2001.

Dr. Dolittle 2, 2001.

Showtime, 2002.

The Adventures of Pluto Nash, 2002.

I Spy, 2002.

Daddy Day Care, 2003.

Haunted Mansion, 2003.

Shrek 2, 2004.

Dreamgirls, 2006.

Norbit, 2007.

Shrek the Third, 2007.

Television

Saturday Night Live, 1980-84.

The PJs, 1999-2000.

Other

Eddie Murphy (comedy recording), 1983.

Eddie Murphy Raw (comedy recording), 2004.

Saturday Night Live: The Best of Eddie Murphy, 2004

Sources

Books

Samuels, Allison, Off the Record, Amistad/HarperCollins, 2007

Wilburn, Deborah A., Eddie Murphy, Chelsea House, 1993.

Periodicals

American Film, December, 1987; September, 1988.

Boston Globe, July 3, 1992.

Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1998.

Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 1990.

Commentary, March 1985.

Detroit Free Press, July 1, 1992; December 4, 1992.

Ebony, July 1988; November 1989; January 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1992; January 24, 1997; July 10, 1998; October 16, 1998.

Esquire, December 1985.

Films in Review, August-September 1987.

Interview, September 1987.

Jet, October 31, 1994; January 20, 1997.

Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1997; August 3, 1998; February 25, 2007, p. A1.

New Republic, December 18, 1989.

Newsweek, January 7, 1985; July 4, 1988.

New York, June 25, 1990.

New York Times, March 10, 1985; February 15, 1987; May 20, 1987; May 28, 1987; December 19, 1987; June 29, 1988; January 9, 1990; June 8, 1990; September 24, 1991.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI), August 23, 1992

People, January 25, 1982; January 31, 1983; July 4, 1988; August 8, 1988; December 4, 1989; December 18, 1989; July 26, 1993; July 1, 1996; May 19, 1997.

Rolling Stone, July 7, 1983; July 2, 1987.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 27, 1995.

Seattle Times, February 27, 2007, p. E3.

Time, July 11, 1983; January 7, 1985; July 4, 1988; July 6, 1992; June 22, 1998; May 21, 2001.

USA Today, July 10, 1998.

Variety, June 25, 2001.

The Washington Post, June 26, 1998.

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Murphy, Eddie 1961–

Eddie Murphy 1961

Actor, comedian

At a Glance

Became a Saturday Night Live Regular

A Budding Megastar

Paramounts Golden Child

Encountered Legal Trouble

The New Eddie Murphy

Rode Critical Rollercoaster

Selected discography

Sources

Eddie Murphy once told his tenth grade social studies teacher, as reported in Rolling Stone, Im going to be bigger than Bob Hope. The enormously popular entertainer was well on his way to turning that youthful boast into a statement of fact after releasing such hit movies as 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop in the early 1980s. In addition to his cinematic success, he starred on late-night television, toured before sell-out audiences and recorded a couple of best-selling comedy albums. Newsweek called him the hottest performer in the land, for whom the sky seems to be the limit. And Time named him Hollywoods uncontested box-office champ. While some of his movies in the late 1980s and 1990s were less than stellar, and critics talked of Murphy as a star in decline, he has shown fans and detractors alike that his talent is able to weather bad projects.

Born on April 3, 1961, Murphy was raised in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York. His father, Charles Murphy, was a New York City policeman and amateur comedian, and his mother, Lillian, a phone operator. When Eddie was three years old, his parents divorced. Later, when his mother was forced to spend an extended period in the hospital, he and his older brother Charles were taken care of by a woman whom Murphy recalled as a kind of black Nazi. He told Richard Corliss of Time, Those were baaaad days. Staying with her was probably the reason I became a comedian.

When Murphy was eight years old, his father died, and a year later, his mother married Vernon Lynch, a foreman at a Breyers ice cream factory and part-time boxing instructor. Shortly thereafter the family moved to the predominantly black middle-class suburb of Roosevelt, Long Island. Growing up, Murphy spent a great deal of time watching television, practicing impressions of such cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. My mother says I never talked in my own voicealways cartoon characters, he related to Gene Lyons of Newsweek Dudley DoRight, Bullwin-kle. I used to do Sylvester the Cat (thufferin thuccotash) all the time. He also developed impressions of comics like Laurel and Hardy and Jerry Lewis. Film director John Landis later told Corliss that Murphys unique point of view is rooted in his early perceptions of TV: I grew up hooked on TV, but Eddie is TV. His world experience comes from the tube.

At a Glance

Born Edward Regan Murphy, April 3, 1961, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Charles (a police officer) and Lillian (a telephone operator) Murphy; stepson of Vernon Lynch (a foreman at an ice cream factory); married Nicole Mitchell, March 18, 1993; children: Bria, Myles, Shayne Audra. Education: Attended Nassau Community College.

Career: Comedian and actor. Began performing as a stand-up comedian at New York City comedy clubs while in high school; later worked at numerous clubs on the East Coast; regular cast member of television series Saturday Night Live, 198084; actor appearing in films, including 48 HRS., 1982, Trading Places, 1983, Best Defense, 1984, Beverly Hills Cop, 1984, The Golden Child, 1986, Beverly Hills Cop 11, 1987, Coming to America, 1988, Harlem Nights, 1989, Another 48 HRS., 1990, Boomerang, 1992, and The Distinguished Gentleman, 1992, Beverly Hills Cop III, 1994, Vampire in Brooklyn, 1995, The Nutty Professor, 1996, Metro, 1997, Mulan, 1998, Doctor Dotittle, 1998, Holy Man, 1998; appeared as a stand-up comic in concert films, including Delirious (HBO special), 1983, and Raw, 1987; has released comedy and music albums. Founder of charitable foundation Yeah!

Selected awards: Emmy Award nomination for outstanding comedy performance and outstanding comedy writing for Saturday Night Live; Grammy Award nomination for best comedy album, 1982, for Eddie Murphy; Golden Globe Award and Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), both 1983, both for Trading Places; Grammy Award for best comedy album, 1984, for Eddie Murphy: Comedian; Golden Globe Award nomination for best actor, Star of the Year Award, and Peoples Choice Award for favorite all-around male entertainer, all 1985, all for Beverly Hills Cop; National Society of Film Critics, Best Actor Award for The Nutty Professor, 1997.

Addresses: HomeEnglewood, NJ. Agent c/o ICM, 8942 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

Before long, Murphy began working on comedy routines after school, and developing his comedy skills became his passion. At Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School, he became an expert at rankingtrading witty insults with his classmates. Murphy made his first stage appearance in 1976, when, at the age of 15, he hosted a talent show at the Roosevelt Youth Center. He did an impersonation of soul singer Al Green, and the kids loved it. Looking out at the audience, 1 knew that it was show biz for the rest of my life, the performer recalled to Corliss.

Became a Saturday Night Live Regular

Murphy soon started performing stand-up comedy at local clubs. According to Lyons, he was making between $25 and $50 a week appearing in Gong Shows at Long Island nightclubs where he was still too young to buy a drink. He was a less than dedicated student, and schoolwork took a back seat to his evening club dates. My focus was my comedy, he explained in Time You could usually find me in the lunchroom trying out my routines on the kids to perform them in clubs later that night. His inattention to the books, however, caught up with him when he had to repeat the tenth grade. As vain as I was, he told Corliss, I dont have to tell you what that did to me. Well, I went to summer school, to night school, I doubled up on classes, and I graduated only a couple of months late. In his yearbook, Murphy declared his career plans: comedian.

Enrolling at Nassau Community College to please his mother, Murphy pursued his career goal by continuing to appear at area clubs. Just a few months out of high school, he performed at the Comic Strip, a popular Manhattan club. One of the owners, Robert Wachs, noted to Lyons that Murphys material wasnt out of this world, but he had great presence. That first appearance led to club dates throughout the East Coast. Wachs and his partner, Richard Tienken, later became Murphys managers. Like comedian and actor Richard Pryorone of Murphys childhood idolshis stand-up act is raunchy, filled with four-letter words. Unlike his predecessor, however, Murphy has always believed in clean living: He does not smoke, drink, or use drugs.

When Murphy learned that the producers of NBC-TVs series Saturday Night Live were looking for a black cast member for the 198081 season, he jumped at the chance to audition. After six tries, he was finally hired as a featured player, or as he told Richard Rein of People, an extra. Murphy appeared only occasionally and did not win a spot as a regular until later in the season. Because that years show was a flop, NBC cleaned house, and most of the cast was fired.

The only performers retained for the next season of Saturday Night Live were Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Murphy emerged as the shows star. As Rein explained, He did wickedly adeptand less than worshipfulimpressions of [boxer] Muhammad Ali, [actor and comedian] Bill Cosby, [musician] Stevie Wonder and Jerry Lewis. He also created some memorable new characters, including Mister Robinson, a ghetto version of TVs Mister Rogers who spewed comments like Can you say scumbucket, boys and girls?, and a grown-up version of the Little Rascals Buckwheat. Other hilarious characters included an irreverent version of Gumby; Velvet Jones, a pimp and huckster selling a book called I Wanna Be a Ho, a guide for would-be prostitutes; and Tyrone Green, an illiterate convict-poet penning pieces like Cill My Lanlord. The New York Times soon proclaimed that Eddie Murphy has stolen the show.

A Budding Megastar

In 1982 Murphy recorded an album of his stand-up material. It received a Grammy nomination and eventually went gold. In that same year, he landed his first motion picture role in 48 HRS. Director Walter Hill selected Murphy on the basis of some videotapes of Saturday Night Live that he had seen. Murphy played a fast-talking convict who is released from prison for two days to help a policeman, played by Nick Nolte, track down a pair of killers. Once again, Murphy stole the show, according to People. Newsweek called it a fast, furious and funny movie debut. Released in December, the film was an instant hit, grossing more than $5 million in its first week.

In mid-1983 Murphys second movie, Trading Places, was released. Costarring Dan Aykroyd, this film was another hit for the budding megastar. Director John Landis declared in Time, Eddie is definitely a movie star now. Both 48 HRS and Trading Places ended up among the top ten grossing films of 1983. Murphy also launched a major concert tour that year. In addition, he recorded his second comedy album, Eddie Murphy: Comedian. This time he won a Grammy, and the album went gold.

The next year Murphy left Saturday Night Live after his fourth season. His next film, however, titled Best Defense and costarring Dudley Moore, was, stated Richard Grenier of Commentary, a failure, causing some people to wonder if Murphy was a mere novelty, possibly just a flash in the pan. But Murphy followed Best Defense with a blockbuster hit movie, Beverly Hills Cop, which had a lead role originally slated for actor Sylvester Stallone. It became Murphys first starring role, and according to Grenier, writing in the New York Times, it broke box-office records: Beverly Hills Cop has quite stunned Hollywood. Released in early December, it grossed more than its next five competitors combined.

As a result of Murphys astounding success, Paramount Pictures signed the 23-year-old to a $25 million, six-picture contract. Added Grenier, No black actor has ever come anywhere near the position Eddie Murphy holds today. He is quite simply a historic figure. In an attempt to explain Murphys tremendous appeal, Lyons wrote, Murphys most valuable gift as a performer is his saucy charm; hes not wicked, just naughty. Hes a good little bad boy who can get away with murder when he smiles. Beverly Hills Cop eventually reached the number nine position on the list of all-time box-office hits.

Murphy was not being universally praised, however. Grenier noted that the Village Voice made a vitriolic attack on Murphy for being an expression of comedy for the 80s, one of [U.S. President Ronald] Reagans court jesters. In addition, because of his penchant for doing homosexual jokes, a militant gay group took out full-page ads in Billboard and Rolling Stone to denounce him as a homophobe.

As an entertainment institution powerful enough to call his own shots, Murphy branched out from movies into the recording industry. His first album, 1984s How Could It Be?, went gold and featured a spin-off hit, Party All the Time, and his 1989 release, So Happy, displayed his perfectionism and musical gifts. While most of the songs are as sexually raunchy as anything ever put on vinyl, Murphys vocal talent and the overall quality of the recording are better than 95 percent of the stuff flooding record stores these days, Charles L. Sanders wrote in Ebony. A third album, Loves Alright, debuted in October of 1992 and featured the single Yeah!, a collaboration with such pop superstars as Paul McCartney, Janet Jackson, and Hammer. The songs proceeds were to be donated to Yeah!, the charitable foundation that was founded by Murphy.

Paramounts Golden Child

Murphys next film, released in 1986, was The Golden Child. A number of critics panned the movie: David Ehrenstein of American Film called it a confused fantasy-adventure, and David Handelman of Rolling Stone labeled it abysmal. But, despite negative reviews, the movie fared well at the box office. Janet Maslin of the New York Times commented that Paramount has done a much better job of marketing The Golden Child than making it. She added that it was probably just the popular Murphys presence that attracted moviegoers.

Early in 1987, Murphy was beset by bad news. In March, Handleman reported, Murphy made headlines when taken to court by his first manager, a small-time agent named King Broder. Fired in 1980, Broder wanted a cut of all Murphys earnings since that time. Murphy settled out of court, paying nearly $700,000. Later that same month, an Atlantic City tax-shelter scam into which Murphy had invested $240,000 was uncovered. The following month he was hit with a paternity suit.

Misfortune with his personal finances, however, was offset by the box office success of Murphys next film, Beverly Hills Cop II, released in 1987. As with The Golden Child, many critics downgraded the film. USA Today called it a robotic, hard-sell sequel by folks whose Malibu Beach house mortgage payment is due. Maslin quipped, Lively as it is, Beverly Hills Cop II cant help but suffer from the lack of any originality at all. Handleman exclaimed that Murphy has ended up producing soulless, self-serving junk.

Some critics, though, liked the sequel. Michael Buckley of Films in Review stated, Murphy repeats his characters bravado, pushy ways and funny bitsand they work. Fortunately for Paramount, the moviegoing public also liked Beverly Hills Cop II. The New York Times reported that the film proved itself a box-office blockbuster marking up the biggest single-day earnings in film history, a staggering $9.7 million. At a press conference for Beverly Hills Cop II, Murphy also introduced what he called The Black Pack, a group of up-and-coming young black comics that included Robert Townsend, Arsenio Hall, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and Paul Mooney.

Murphys next film, Raw, in which he performs a stand-up comic routine, was released in December of 1987. This feature-length concert film, stated Maslin in a review, is hilarious, putting Mr. Murphy on a par with Mr. [Richard] Pryor at his best. She continued, Even the ushers were laughing. Audiences poured in to see the movie, and it became the biggest-grossing concert film ever.

Encountered Legal Trouble

After Murphys rise to stardom, some African Americans chided him for not supporting black causes. The truth, according to Walter Leavy of Ebony, is that all along Murphy was working quietly behind the scenes, donating to organizations like the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change. At the 1988 Academy Awards show, however, Murphy went public, calling the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to task for having awarded only three Oscars to black actors in its 60-year history.

In the summer of 1988 Murphy came out with a film that was a change of pace for him. In Coming to America, a lighthearted romantic comedy, Murphys character is a departure from the brash, swaggering types of his previous films. Peter Travers of People liked the change: This is Murphys most heartfelt and hilarious performance. And his riskiest. Other critics knocked it. David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, Coming to America may be more interesting as a career move than as a movie. Vincent Canby observed in the New York Times that the film has a screenplay that seems to have escaped its doctors before it was entirely well. The public continued to flock to see Murphy, however, and the movie ended up as the second-biggest grossing hit of the year.

Unfortunately, Coming to America also brought additional legal problems for Murphy. Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald and writer Shelby Gregory, reported a People correspondent, alleged that Murphy stole their ideas for the films screenplay. Buchwald said he did a story treatment that was optioned to Paramount for Murphy; Gregory claimed he did a screenplay that was given to Murphy. Gregory filed a $ 10 million lawsuit against Murphy and his co-screenwriters. In 1990 a superior court judge in California ruled that Coming to America was indeed based on the treatment that Buchwald had submitted and ordered Paramount to pay the columnist and Alain Bernheim, a producer and co-plaintiff, a lump sum and percentage of the movies net profits.

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Murphy, a superstar with unrivaled marquee value, continued to make films that critics felt were vapid star vehicles rather than thoughtful showcases for the actors prodigious comic gifts. In 1989 Murphy made his directorial debut with Harlem Nights a sprawling 1930s black gangster flick that he also wrote and produced. Although the film made $18 million in its first weekend of release, the premiere was marred by violence in theaters throughout the country, leaving one person dead and many injured.

In the eyes of some critics, the tempest surrounding the opening was in sharp contrast to the films dullness and obviousness. The last thing anyone would have expected from the first film directed by Eddie Murphy is this tame, play-it-very-safe variation on The Sting, Ralph Novak wrote in People What this film suffers from is lack of fun. Other reviewers called the language of Harlem Nights overly profane and said that Murphy, a brilliant sketch writer, had composed a mechanical, rarely funny, full-length script. But Walter Leavy, writing in Ebony, praised the film for juxtaposing Murphys comedie talents with those of the legendary Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. For some, it might be just another movie, but the blending of these three generations of comedy is one of those events that can only be described as historic.

Murphys 1990 effort, Another 48 HRS., directed by Walter Hill, was generally ridiculed as a bland, stale remake of the hugely successful 1982 original. While the first film was praised for the colorful odd-couple interplay between Murphy and Nick Nolte, the sequel, according to Vincent Canby of the New York Times, collapsed under the weight of poor writing, uninteresting direction, and uninspired acting. Mr. Murphy has two comic moments, which arent enough for a feature-length film, Canby wrote. He speaks dialogue as if he hadnt had time to figure out what it meant. When in doubt as to what to do, he adopts an expression of ineffable cool: that is, of heavy-lidded, sexually alert boredom. Its a lazy, unresponsive performance, he continued. Some critics, painting broader brush strokes, lamented the death of Murphys cutting-edge, risk-taking parts and the emergence of safe, forgettable roles that bordered on self parody. But other reviewers, calling the film a harmless bit of fun, saw just the opposite. David Denby wrote in New York, Eddie Murphy is less funny than before but less slick as well. At times, hes almost humanhes beginning to come down off the incomparable high of being Eddie Murphy. When he comes down a little farther, he may turn into an actor.

The New Eddie Murphy

In 1991 Murphy, who had criticized his previous contract with Paramount, secured for himself a four-movie deal with the film company, which had recently undergone a management shake-up. Hopes were rekindled that Murphy would now be surrounded by people who cared not only about moneyMurphys films had grossed more than $1 billion at that pointbut also about the quality of the films featuring the star. The first movie made under that contract, Boomerang, confirmed those hopes.

Although the 1992 Boomerang received mixed reviews, the mix was in Murphys favor to an extent that it had not been in years. The movie, created by the brother team of Warrington and Reginald Hudlin, makers of the critically praised film House Party, featured Murphy as a hot shot cosmetics executive whose woman-chasing lechery is superseded, to his dismay, by the man-hunting zeal of his new female boss, played by actress Robin Givens. Reviewing the comedie tale of sexual role reversal in the black boardroom, Jay Carr wrote in the Boston Globe, It took him a while, but Eddie Murphy finally got the message that the disarming cockiness of a 19-year-old Saturday Night Live star had bloated into off-putting arrogance 10 years later. So, following the public cooling to Murphy in Harlem Nights and Another 48 HRS., he went back to the drawing board for some image retooling. The result is Boomerang, a smart comedy that sends a few interesting messages, the big one being that Murphy has learned his lesson.

In December of 1992 Murphy appeared in another comedy film, The Distinguished Gentleman. In the role of Thomas Jefferson Johnson, Murphy is a resourceful con man whose ultimate scam is getting elected to the U.S. Congress, where he hopes to get rich on donations from lobbyists. Johnson soon faces a moral dilemma, however, when he learns that the electric companies that pay off his congressional committee are responsible for erecting environmentally unsafe power lines. Detroit Free Press film critic Judy Gerstel noted, The Distinguished Gentleman provides Murphy with a role thats both more sophisticated and more sympathetic than usual. It does this without sacrificing too much of the popular Murphy screen personalitythat patented wink, punch, grin.

Rode Critical Rollercoaster

Murphy allowed his busy schedule to lull in 1993 while he married 25-year-old model Nicole Mitchell, with whom he already had two children, Bria and Myles. A third child, Shayne Audra, was born to the couple October 10, 1994. However, 1994 saw his return to the silver screen in Beverly Hills Cop III, which many critics panned as a vacuous attempt to ride the success of the first two movies. Vampire in Brooklyn, released in 1995, fared even worse with audiences. USA Today critic Susan Wloszczyna wrote, Nothing is scarier than the threat of a new Eddie Murphy vanity production, and Vampire in Brooklyn is more vainor should that be vein?than most. In the film, which Murphy also wrote and produced, he plays a vampire who journeys to Brooklyn in search of a mate with whom he can have children in order to maintain his immortality. Though the movie was intended to be a horror comedy, critics found little to laugh at in Murphys performance, causing Peter Stack of The San Francisco Chronicle to remark, Its going to take more than fangs, glowing eyes and a Zorro-like charm for Eddie Murphy to restore a movie career that seems to have peaked with his classic Axel Foley of Beverly Hills Cop .

But just when critics were bemoaning the loss of Murphys comic giftings, he proved that he could be as funny as ever in his remake of the 1963 Jerry Lewis comedy The Nutty Professor. Murphy demonstrated his remarkable talent for physical comedy and his genius for voices by playing seven different characters in the 1996 movie, including the obese, nerdy science professor who is the protagonist, his equally overweight family, and the professors slim, smooth alter ego. Critics praised Murphy for his comic timing, and renewed the well-worn discussion about whether his career was on the rebound. Leah Rozen of People magazine wrote, Eddie Murphy has a blast here, something he hasnt had much of while zombie-walking through his last few films. And when Murphy has fun, we have fun. The National Society of Film Critics awarded him its best actor award for his role.

The revival was short-lived, however, as Murphy failed to follow up on his success with the 1997 movie, Metro. Described as a mean, enervated, foul-mouthed, and formulaic piece of work by Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, Metro follows hostage negotiator Scott Roper (played by Murphy), as he tries to track down a cold-blooded killer. Critics renewed complaints about Murphys lack of effort when it came to acting, accusing him of settling for an uninspired variation on the Axel Foley character hes done for over a decade now to real character development. Los Angeles Times reviewer Kevin Thomas wrote Since Metro stars Eddie Murphy and since it opens in a quiet week, this stale action thriller may well attract audiences who cant get enough of Murphy or mindless, bone-crunching violence, no matter how totally uninspired and credibility-defying the circumstances.

Murphys personal life took a dive as well when police pulled the movie star over in the wee hours of the morning on May 2, 1997, while he was in the company of a male prostitute dressed as a woman. Murphy claimed that he was suffering from insomnia and had gone out to buy a couple magazines when he saw Atisone Seiuli walking in an area known as a haunt for male prostitutes. In what Murphy described as an act of kindness, he offered Seiuli a ride home without realizing that she was actually a he until the police pulled them over two miles after the pickup. The police arrested Seiuli on a probation violation, but did not charge Murphy with any crime. In spite of his protestations of innocence, Murphy quickly became the butt of numerous comedians jokes and the media questioned the truth of his story given the fact that Murphy had already passed Seiulis place of residence when the police caught up with the pair.

The critical rollercoaster continued when Murphy scored big as the voice of Mushu the Lizard in Disneys 1998 animated picture Mulan. The story revolves around a Chinese girl who disguises herself as a man in order to take her fathers place in the army, and Mushu acts as her guardian dragon in her quest to save the empire. Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune wrote, [Mulan] owes much of its success to one of its tiniest (if loudest) characters: Mushu the Lizard. Murphys energy and attitude propelled glowing reviews of the movie. While Mulan was still reaping praise in the theaters, another Murphy film, Doctor Dolittle, hit the screen. In spite of mixed reviews, the remake of a 1967 comedy about a doctor who recovers his long-lost ability to talk to animals did fairly well at the box office. While some critics appreciated the family fare, most faulted Murphy for delivering an insipid performance in which he played the straight man to a host of animals. Michael OSullivan of The Washington Post wrote, The gifted comic is bound and gagged by a role that has him playing buttoned-down straight man to a nattering Noahs Ark of furred and feathered wiseacres.

If critics were willing to debate the merits of Dolittle, they were universally unhappy with the 1998 release of Holy Man. Playing a character even more bland than Dolittle, Murphy was roundly panned as G, a pajama-wearing spiritual pilgrim who becomes a hot advertising commodity on infomercials while dispensing New-Age, quasi-religious phrases. Murphys one-dimensional character left little room for Murphy to act on his comic impulses and audiences expecting his trademark manic hilarity were disappointed.

But in spite of Murphys hit-and-miss cinematic record, production companies have demonstrated that they are still willing to invest in the comic. He has several projects lined up before the end of the millennium, including a sequel to the popular Nutty Professor. His voice and production company, Imagine Television, have also been tapped in the creation of an animated show called The PJs, to be aired on Fox. The show, described by one television executive as a mix of The Simpsons and In Living Color, focuses on the character of Thurgood Stubbs, an inner-city project superintendent who often finds himself at odds with the tenants or neighbors. Murphy provides the voice for Thurgood.

These and other offers which continue to flood Murphy prove that he has been able to weather the ups-and-downs of his career, including lows that would have swamped a less-talented actor. His longevity is proof that Murphy is still a strong box-office draw with the potential to put out dazzlingly funny work.

Selected discography

Eddie Murphy (comedy), Columbia, 1982.

Eddie Murphy: Comedian (comedy), Columbia, 1983.

How Could It Be?, Columbia, 1985.

So Happy, Columbia, 1989.

Loves Alright, 1992.

Sources

Periodicals

American Film, December, 1987; September, 1988.

Boston Globe, July 3, 1992.

Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1998.

Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 1990.

Commentary, March 1985.

Detroit Free Press, July 1, 1992; December 4, 1992.

Ebony, July 1988; November 1989; January 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1992; January 24, 1997; July 10, 1998; October 16, 1998.

Esquire, December 1985.

Films in Review, August-September 1987.

Interview, September 1987.

Jet, October 31, 1994; January 20, 1997.

Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1997; August 3, 1998.

New Republic, December 18, 1989.

Newsweek, January 7, 1985; July 4, 1988.

New York, June 25, 1990.

New York Times, March 10, 1985; February 15, 1987; May 20, 1987; May 28, 1987; December 19, 1987; June 29, 1988; January 9, 1990; June 8, 1990; September 24, 1991.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI), August 23, 1992.

People, January 25, 1982; January 31, 1983; July 4, 1988; August 8, 1988; December 4, 1989; December 18, 1989; July 26, 1993; July 1, 1996; May 19, 1997.

Rolling Stone, July 7, 1983; July 2, 1987.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 27, 1995.

Time, July 11, 1983; January 7, 1985; July 4, 1988; July 6, 1992; June 22, 1998.

USA Today, July 10, 1998.

The Washington Post, June 26, 1998.

Greg Mazurkiewicz, Isaac Rosen, and R. Parks

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Murphy, Eddie 1961–

Eddie Murphy 1961

Actor and comedian

At a Glance

A Budding Megastar

Paramounts Golden Child

Panned by Critics, Adored by Fans

An Entertainment Institution

Selected discography

Sources

Eddie Murphy once told his tenth grade social studies teacher, as reported in Rolling Stone, Im going to be bigger than Bob Hope. The enormously popular entertainer is well on his way to turning that youthful boast into a statement of fact. He has starred on late-night television, toured before sell-out audiences, recorded a couple of best-selling comedy albums, and had leading roles in several blockbuster movies. Newsweek called him the hottest performer in the land, for whom the sky seems to be the limit. And Time named him Hollywoods uncontested box-office champ.

Born on April 3, 1961, Murphy was raised in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, New York. His father, Charles Murphy, was a New York City policeman and amateur comedian, and his mother, Lillian, a phone operator. When Eddie was three years old, his parents divorced. Later, when his mother was forced to spend an extended period in the hospital, he and his older brother Charles were taken care of by a woman whom Murphy recalled as a kind of black Nazi. He told Richard Corliss of Time, Those were baaaad days. Staying with her was probably the reason I became a comedian.

When Murphy was eight years old, his father died, and a year later, his mother married Vernon Lynch, a foreman at a Breyers ice cream factory and part-time boxing instructor. Shortly thereafter the family moved to the predominantly black middle-class suburb of Roosevelt, Long Island. Growing up, Murphy spent a great deal of time watching television, practicing impressions of such cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry. My mother says I never talked in my own voicealways cartoon characters, he related to Gene Lyons of Newsweek. Dudley DoRight, Bullwinkle. I used to do Sylvester the Cat (thufferin thuccotash) all the time. He also developed impressions of comics like Laurel and Hardy and Jerry Lewis. Film director John Landis later told Corliss that Murphys unique point of view is rooted in his early perceptions of TV: I grew up hooked on TV, but Eddie is TV. His world experience comes from the tube.

Before long, Murphy began working on comedy routines after school, and developing his comedy skills became his passion. At Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School, he became an expert at rankingtrading witty insults with his classmates. Murphy made his first stage appearance in 1976, when, at the age of 15, he hosted a talent show at

At a Glance

Born Edward Regan Murphy, April 3, 1961, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Charles (a police officer) and Lillian (a telephone operator) Murphy; stepson of Vernon Lynch (a foreman at an ice cream factory); married Nicole Mitchell, March 18, 1993; children: Isabella, Miles Mitchell. Education: Attended Nassau Community College.

Comedian and actor. Began performing as a stand-up comedian at New York City comedy clubs while in high school; later worked at numerous clubs on the East Coast; regular cast member of television series Saturday Night Live, 1980-84; actor appearing in films, including 48 HRS., 1982, Trading Places, 1983, Best Defense, 1984, Beverly Hills Cop, 1984, The Golden Child, 1986, Beverly Hills Cop II, 1987, Coming to America, 1988, Harlem Nights, 1989, Another 48 HRS., 1990, Boomerang, 1992, and The Distinguished Gentleman, 1992; appeared as a stand-up comic in concert films, including Delirious (HBO special), 1983, and Raw, 1987; has released comedy and music albums. Founder of charitable foundation Yeah!

Selected awards: Emmy Award nomination for outstanding comedy performance and outstanding comedy writing for Saturday Night Live; Grammy Award nomination for best comedy album, 1982, for Eddie Murphy; Golden Globe Award and Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), both 1983, both for Trading Places; Grammy Award for best comedy album, 1984, for Eddie Murphy: Comedian; Golden Globe Award nomination for best actor, Star of the Year Award, and Peoples Choice Award for favorite all-around male entertainer, all 1985, all for Beverly Hills Cop.

Addresses: Home Englewood, NJ. Agent c/o Entertainment Management Associates Ltd., 232 East 63rd St., New York, NY 10021.

the Roosevelt Youth Center. He did an impersonation of soul singer Al Green, and the kids loved it. Looking out at the audience, I knew that it was show biz for the rest of my life, the performer recalled to Corliss.

Murphy soon started performing stand-up comedy at local clubs. According to Lyons, he was making between $25 and $50 a week appearing in Gong Shows at Long Island nightclubs where he was still too young to buy a drink. He was a less than dedicated student, and schoolwork took a back seat to his evening club dates. My focus was my comedy, he explained in Time. You could usually find me in the lunchroom trying out my routines on the kids to perform them in clubs later that night. His inattention to the books, however, caught up with him when he had to repeat the tenth grade. As vain as I was, he told Corliss, I dont have to tell you what that did to me. Well, I went to summer school, to night school, I doubled up on classes, and I graduated only a couple of months late. In his yearbook, Murphy declared his career plans: comedian.

Enrolling at Nassau Community College to please his mother, Murphy pursued his career goal by continuing to appear at area clubs. Just a few months out of high school, he performed at the Comic Strip, a popular Manhattan club. One of the owners, Robert Wachs, noted to Lyons that Murphys material wasnt out of this world, but he had great presence. That first appearance led to club dates throughout the East Coast. Wachs and his partner, Richard Tienken, later became Murphys managers. Like comedian and actor Richard Pryorone of Murphys childhood idolshis stand-up act is raunchy, filled with four-letter words. Unlike his protege, however, Murphy has always believed in clean living: he doesnt smoke, drink, or use drugs.

When Murphy learned that the producers of NBC-TVs series Saturday Night Live were looking for a black cast member for the 1980-81 season, he jumped at the chance to audition. After six tries, he was finally hired as a featured player, or as he told Richard Rein of People, an extra. Murphy appeared only occasionally and didnt win a spot as a regular until later in the season. Because that years show was a flop, NBC cleaned house, and most of the cast was fired.

The only performers retained for the next season of Saturday Night Live were Murphy and Joe Piscopo. Murphy emerged as the shows star. As Rein explained, He did wickedly adeptand less than worshipfulimpressions of [boxer] Muhammad Ali, [actor and comedian] Bill Cosby, [musician] Stevie Wonder and Jerry Lewis. He also created some memorable new characters, including Mister Robinson, a ghetto version of TVs Mister Rogers who spewed comments like Can you say scumbucket, boys and girls?, and a grown-up version of the Little Rascals Buckwheat. Other hilarious characters included an irreverent version of Gumby; Velvet Jones, a pimp and huckster selling a book called I Wanna Be a Ho, a guide for would-be prostitutes; and Tyrone Green, an illiterate convict-poet penning pieces like Cill My Lanlord. The New York Times soon proclaimed that Eddie Murphy has stolen the show.

A Budding Megastar

In 1982 Murphy recorded an album of his stand-up material. It received a Grammy nomination and eventually went gold. In that same year, he landed his first motion picture role in 48 HRS. Director Walter Hill selected Murphy on the basis of some videotapes of Saturday Night Live that he had seen. Murphy played a fast-talking convict who is released from prison for two days to help a policeman, played by Nick Nolte, track down a pair of killers. Once again, Murphy stole the show, according to People. Newsweek called it a fast, furious and funny movie debut. Released in December, the film was an instant hit, grossing more than $5 million in its first week.

In mid-1983 Murphys second movie, Trading Places, was released. Costarring Dan Aykroyd, this film was another hit for the budding megastar. Director John Landis declared in Time, Eddie is definitely a movie star now. Both 48 HRS. and Trading Places ended up among the top ten grossing films of 1983. Murphy also launched a major concert tour that year. In addition, he recorded his second comedy album, Eddie Murphy: Comedian. This time he won a Grammy, and the album went gold.

The next year Murphy left Saturday Night Live after his fourth season. His next film, however, titled Best Defense and costarring Dudley Moore, was, stated Richard Grenier of Commentary, a failure, causing some people to wonder if Murphy was a mere novelty, possibly just a flash in the pan. But Murphy followed Best Defense with a blockbuster hit movie, Beverly Hills Cop, which had a lead role originally slated for actor Sylvester Stallone. It became Murphys first starring role, and according to Grenier, writing in the New York Times, it broke box-office records: Beverly Hills Cop has quite stunned Hollywood. Released in early December, it... grossed more than its next five competitors combined.

As a result of Murphys astounding success, Paramount Pictures signed the 23-year-old to a $25 million, six-picture contract. Added Grenier, No black actor has ever come anywhere near the position Eddie Murphy holds today. He is quite simply a historic figure. In an attempt to explain Murphys tremendous appeal, Lyons wrote, Murphys most valuable gift as a performer is his saucy charm; hes not wicked, just naughty. Hes a good little bad boy who can get away with murder when he smiles. Beverly Hills Cop eventually reached the number nine position on the list of all-time box-office hits.

Murphy was not being universally praised, however. Grenier noted that the Village Voice made a vitriolic attack on Murphy for being an expression of comedy for the 80s, one of [U.S. President Ronald] Reagans court jesters. In addition, because of his penchant for doing homosexual jokes, a militant gay group took out full-page ads in Billboard and Rolling Stone to denounce him as a homophobe.

Paramounts Golden Child

Murphys next film, released in 1986, was The Golden Child. A number of critics panned the movie: David Ehrenstein of American Film called it a confused fantasyadventure, and David Handelman of Rolling Stone labeled it abysmal. But, despite negative reviews, the movie fared well at the box office. Janet Maslin of the New York Times commented that Paramount has done a much better job of marketing The Golden Child than making it. She added that it was probably just the popular Murphys presence that attracted moviegoers.

Early in 1987, Murphy was beset by bad news. In March, Handleman reported, Murphy made headlines when taken to court by his first manager, a small-time agent named King Broder. Fired in 1980, Broder wanted a cut of all Murphys earnings since that time. Murphy settled out of court, paying nearly $700,000. Later that same month, an Atlantic City tax-shelter scam into which Murphy had invested $240,000 was uncovered. The following month he was hit with a paternity suit.

Misfortune with his personal finances, however, was offset by the box office success of Murphys next film, Beverly Hills Cop II, released in 1987. As with The Golden Child, many critics downgraded the film. USA Today called it a robotic, hard-sell sequel by folks whose Malibu Beach house mortgage payment is due. Maslin quipped, Lively as it is, Beverly Hills Cop II cant help but suffer from the lack of any originality at all. Handleman exclaimed that Murphy has ended up producing soulless, self-serving junk.

Some critics, though, liked the sequel. Michael Buckley of Films in Review stated, Murphy repeats his characters bravado, pushy ways and funny bitsand they work. Fortunately for Paramount, the moviegoing public also liked Beverly Hills Cop II. The New York Times reported that the film proved itself a box-office blockbuster... marking up the biggest single-day earnings in film history, a staggering $9.7 million. At a press conference for Beverly Hills Cop II, Murphy also introduced what he called The Black Pack, a group of up-and-coming young black comics that included Robert Townsend, Arsenio Hall, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and Paul Mooney.

Murphys next film, Raw, in which he performs a stand-up comic routine, was released in December of 1987. This feature-length concert film, stated Maslin in a review, is hilarious, putting Mr. Murphy on a par with Mr. [Richard] Pryor at his best. She continued, Even the ushers were laughing. Audiences poured in to see the movie, and it became the biggest-grossing concert film ever.

Panned by Critics, Adored by Fans

After Murphys rise to stardom, some African Americans chided him for not supporting black causes. The truth, according to Walter Leavy of Ebony, is that all along Murphy was working quietly behind the scenes, donating to organizations like the Martin Luther King, Jr., Center for Nonviolent Social Change. At the 1988 Academy Awards show, however, Murphy went public, calling the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to task for having awarded only three Oscars to black actors in its 60-year history.

In the summer of 1988 Murphy came out with a film that was a change of pace for him. In Coming to America, a lighthearted romantic comedy, Murphys character is a departure from the brash, swaggering types of his previous films. Peter Travers of People liked the change: This is Murphys most heartfelt and hilarious performance. And his riskiest. Other critics knocked it. David Ansen of Newsweek wrote, Coming to America may be more interesting as a career move than as a movie. Vincent Canby observed in the New York Times that the film has a screenplay that seems to have escaped its doctors before it was entirely well. The public continued to flock to see Murphy, however, and the movie ended up as the second-biggest grossing hit of the year.

Unfortunately, Coming to America also brought additional legal problems for Murphy. Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald and writer Shelby Gregory, reported a People correspondent, alleged that Murphy stole their ideas for the films screenplay. Buchwald said he did a story treatment that was optioned to Paramount for Murphy; Gregory claimed he did a screenplay that was given to Murphy. Gregory filed a $10 million lawsuit against Murphy and his co-screenwriters. In 1990 a superior court judge in California ruled that Coming to America was indeed based on the treatment that Buchwald had submitted and ordered Paramount to pay the columnist and Alain Bernheim, a producer and co-plaintiff, a lump sum and percentage of the movies net profits.

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Murphy, a superstar with unrivaled marquee value, continued to make films that critics felt were vapid star vehicles rather than thoughtful showcases for the actors prodigious comic gifts. In 1989 Murphy made his directorial debut with Harlem Nights a sprawling 1930s black gangster flick that he also wrote and produced. Although the film made $18 million in its first weekend of release, the premiere was marred by violence in theaters throughout the country, leaving one person dead and many injured.

In the eyes of some critics, the tempest surrounding the opening was in sharp contrast to the films dullness and obviousness. The last thing anyone would have expected from the first film directed by Eddie Murphy is this tame, play-it-very-safe variation on The Sting, Ralph Novak wrote in People. What this film suffers from is lack of fun. Other reviewers called the language of Harlem Nights overly profane and said that Murphy, a brilliant sketch writer, had composed a mechanical, rarely funny, full-length script. But Walter Leavy, writing in Ebony, praised the film for juxtaposing Murphys comedic talents with those of the legendary Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. For some, it might be just another movie, but the blending of these three generations of comedy is one of those events that can only be described as historic.

An Entertainment Institution

Murphys 1990 effort, Another 48 HRS., directed by Walter Hill, was generally ridiculed as a bland, stale remake of the hugely successful 1982 original. While the first film was praised for the colorful odd-couple interplay between Murphy and Nick Nolte, the sequel, according to Vincent Canby of the New York Times, collapsed under the weight of poor writing, uninteresting direction, and uninspired acting. Mr. Murphy has two comic moments, which arent enough for a feature-length film, Canby wrote. He speaks dialogue as if he hadnt had time to figure out what it meant. When in doubt as to what to do, he adopts an expression of ineffable cool: that is, of heavy-lidded, sexually alert boredom. Its a lazy, unresponsive performance. Some critics, painting broader brush strokes, lamented the death of Murphys cutting-edge, risk-taking parts and the emergence of safe, forgettable roles that bordered on self parody. But other reviewers, calling the film a harmless bit of fun, saw just the opposite. David Denby wrote in New York, Eddie Murphy is less funny than before but less slick as well. At times, hes almost humanhes beginning to come down off the incomparable high of being Eddie Murphy. When he comes down a little farther, he may turn into an actor.

In 1991 Murphy, who had criticized his previous contract with Paramount, secured for himself a four-movie deal with the film company, which had recently undergone a management shake-up. Hopes were rekindled that Murphy would now be surrounded by people who cared not only about moneyMurphys films had grossed more than $1 billion at that pointbut also about the quality of the films featuring the star. The first movie made under that contract, Boomerang, confirmed those hopes.

Although the 1992 Boomerang received mixed reviews, the mix was in Murphys favor to an extent that it hadnt been in years. The movie, created by the brother team of Warrington and Reginald Hudlin, makers of the critically praised film House Party, featured Murphy as a hot shot cosmetics executive whose woman-chasing lechery is superseded, to his dismay, by the man-hunting zeal of his new female boss, played by actress Robin Givens. Reviewing the comedic tale of sexual role reversal in the black boardroom, Jay Carr wrote in the Boston Globe, It took him a while, but Eddie Murphy finally got the message that the disarming cockiness of a 19-year-old Saturday Night Live star had bloated into off-putting arrogance 10 years later. So, following the public cooling to Murphy in Harlem Nights and Another 48 HRS., he went back to the drawing board for some image retooling. The result is Boomerang, a smart comedy that sends a few interesting messages, the big one being that Murphy has learned his lesson.

In December of 1992 Murphy appeared in another comedy film, The Distinguished Gentleman. In the role of Thomas Jefferson Johnson, Murphy is a resourceful con man whose ultimate scam is getting elected to the U.S. Congress, where he hopes to get rich on donations from lobbyists. Johnson soon faces a moral dilemma, however, when he learns that the electric companies that pay off his congressional committee are responsible for erecting environmentally unsafe power lines. Detroit Free Press film critic Judy Gerstel noted, The Distinguished Gentleman provides Murphy with a role thats both more sophisticated and more sympathetic than usual. It does this without sacrificing too much of the popular Murphy screen personalitythat patented wink, punch, grin.

As an entertainment institution powerful enough to call his own shots, Murphy has branched out from movies into the recording industry. His first album, 1984s How Could It Be?, went gold and featured a spin-off hit, Party All the Time, and his 1989 release, So Happy, displayed his perfectionism and musical gifts. While most of the songs are as sexually raunchy as anything ever put on vinyl, Murphys vocal talent and the overall quality of the recording are better than 95 percent of the stuff flooding record stores these days, Charles L. Sanders wrote in Ebony. A third album, Loves Alright, debuted in October of 1992 and featured the single Yeah!, a collaboration with such pop superstars as Paul McCartney, Janet Jackson, and Hammer. The songs proceeds were to be donated to Yeah!, the charitable foundation that was founded by Murphy.

I live to make people happy, Murphy told James McBride of People, and his huge popularity attests that hes done exceptionally well in achieving this goal. In fact, the ability to leave his audiences happy in whatever he does may very well be the simple secret to his phenomenal success. As Corliss wrote, More than any other entertainer in recent memory, Eddie Murphy just plain makes people feel good.

Selected discography

Eddie Murphy (comedy), Columbia, 1982.

Eddie Murphy: Comedian (comedy), Columbia, 1983.

How Could It Be?, Columbia, 1984.

So Happy, Columbia, 1989.

Loves Alright, 1992.

Sources

American Film, December 1987; September 1988.

Boston Globe, July 3, 1992.

Christian Science Monitor, July 6, 1990.

Commentary, March 1985.

Detroit Free Press, July 1, 1992; December 4, 1992.

Ebony, July 1988; November 1989; January 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, July 10, 1992.

Esquire, December 1985.

Films in Review, August-September 1987.

Interview, September 1987.

New Republic, December 18, 1989.

Newsweek, January 7, 1985; July 4, 1988.

New York, June 25, 1990.

New York Times, March 10, 1985; February 15, 1987; May 20, 1987; May 28, 1987; December 19, 1987; June 29, 1988; January 9, 1990; June 8, 1990; September 24, 1991.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI), August 23, 1992.

People, January 25, 1982; January 31, 1983; July 4, 1988; August 8, 1988; December 4, 1989; December 18, 1989.

Rolling Stone, July 7, 1983; July 2, 1987.

Time, July 11, 1983; January 7, 1985; July 4, 1988; July 6, 1992.

Greg Mazurkiewicz and Isaac Rosen

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Murphy, Eddie

MURPHY, Eddie



Nationality: American. Born: Edward Regan Murphy in Brooklyn, New York, 3 April 1961. Education: Attended Roosevelt High School. Family: Married Nicole Mitchell, 1993, children: Bria, Miles Mitchell, Shayne Audra. Career: First public performance at a youth center on Long Island, 1976; regular on Saturday Night Live for NBC TV, 1980–84; film debut in 48 HRS., 1982; signed multi-film deal with Paramount, 1985; formed own film production company; formed Eddie Murphy Television Enterprises, 1986; directed first film, Harlem Nights, 1989. Address: c/o Eddie Murphy Productions, Inc., 152 West 57th Street, 47th Floor, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.


Films as Actor:

1982

48 HRS. (Walter Hill) (as Reggie Hammond)

1983

Trading Places (Landis) (as Billy Ray Valentine)

1984

Best Defense (Huyck) (as Landry); Beverly Hills Cop (Brest) (as Axel Foley)

1986

The Golden Child (Ritchie) (as Chandler Jarrell)

1987

Beverly Hills Cop II (Tony Scott) (as Axel Foley, + story); Eddie Murphy Raw (concert performance)

1988

Coming to America (Landis) (as Prince Akeem/Clarence/Saul/Randy Watson, + story)

1990

Another 48 HRS. (Walter Hill) (as Reggie Hammond)

1992

The Distinguished Gentleman (Lynn) (as Thomas Jefferson Johnson); Boomerang (Hudlin) (as Marcus Graham, + story)

1994

Beverly Hills Cop III (Landis) (as Axel Foley)

1995

Vampire in Brooklyn (Craven) (as Maximillian/Preacher Pauley/Guido, + pr, story)

1996

The Nutty Professor (Shadyac) (as Sherman Klump/Buddy Love and the Klump Family)

1997

The Metro (Carter) (as Scott Roper + pr)

1998

Mulan (Bancroft, Cook) (as voice of Mushu); Doctor Dolittle (Betty Thomas) (as Dr. John Dolittle); Holy Man (Herek) (as G.)

1999

Life (Ted Demme) (as Rayford Gibson + exec pr); The PJs (Gustafson, series for TV) (as voice of Superintendent Thurgoode Orenthal Stubbs + exec pr); Bowfinger (Oz) (as Kit Ramsey/Jiff Ramsey)

2000

The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (Segal) (as Sherman Klump/Buddy Love); Shrek (Adamson/Asbury) (voice)

Film as Actor and Director:


1989

Harlem Nights (as Quick, + exec pr, sc)

Other Film:


1990

The Kid Who Loved Christmas (exec pr)

Publications


By MURPHY: articles—

Interviews in Time Out (London), 1 December 1983 and 6 July 1988.

Interview in Jet (Chicago), 18 March 1985.

Interview in Photoplay (London), May 1985.

Interview in Interview (New York), September 1987.

Interview with Bill Zehme, in Rolling Stone (New York), 24 August 1989.

Interview with David Rensin, in Playboy (Chicago), February 1990.

Interview with Walter Leavy, in Ebony (Chicago), June 1994.

"Murphy's Lore," interview with David Eimer, in Time Out (London), 28 August 1996.

"Sex Is Easy to Get: Stand-up Comedy You Have to Work For," interview with Andrew Duncan, in Radio Times (London), 28 September 1996.


On MURPHY: books—

Davis, Judith, The Unofficial Eddie Murphy Scrapbook, New York, 1984.

Ruuth, Marianne, Eddie: Eddie Murphy from A to Z, Los Angeles, 1985.

Koenig, Teresa, Eddie Murphy, Minneapolis, 1985.

Gross, Edward, The Films of Eddie Murphy, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1990.

Wilbourn, Deborah A., Eddie Murphy, New York, 1993.

Sanello, Frank, Eddie Murphy: The Life and Times of a Comic on the Edge, Carol Publishing Group, 1997.


On MURPHY: articles—

Current Biography 1983, New York, 1983.

Corliss, Richard, "The Good Little Bad Little Boy," in Time (New York), 11 July 1983.

Connelly, Christopher, "Eddie Murphy Leaves Home," in Rolling Stone (New York), 12 April 1984.

Hibbin, S., "Eddie Murphy," in Films and Filming (London), December 1984.

"Inside Moves," in Esquire (New York), January 1985.

Berkoff, Steven, in Time Out (London), 1 February 1985.

Grenier, Richard, "Eddie Murphy, American," in Commentary (New York), March 1985.

Townsend, Robert, "Eddie, the Black Pack and Me," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1987.

Ehrenstein, David, "The Color of Laughter," in American Film (New York), September 1988.

"Three Generations of Black Comedy," in Ebony (Chicago), January 1990.

Schickel, Richard, "In Search of Eddie Murphy: The Gifts that Made Him a Star Have Disappeared into Self-Parody," in Time (New York), 25 June 1990.

Richardson, John H., "Murphy's Law," in Premiere (New York), January 1992.

Richmond, Peter, "Trading Places," in GQ (New York), July 1992.

Stivers, Cyndi, "Murphy's Law," in Premiere (New York), August 1992.

Brennan, J., "Murphy's Cool about Being Top Cat," in Variety (New York), 15 March 1993.

Radio Times (London), 9 July 1994.

Samuels, A. and J. Giles, "The Nutty Career," in Newsweek, 1 July 1996.

Hennessey, K. and E. Bailey, "Look Before You Leap!" in Movieline (Escondido), October 1996.


* * *

Young and ambitious, black comedian Eddie Murphy rose from the ranks of stand-up comedy and television to become one of the top box-office film stars of the 1980s only to see his career and popularity take a precipitous nosedive in the 1990s.

While still a teenager, Murphy began haunting the comedy clubs in New York City, honing his craft at night while attending school during the day. After high school, he was selected to join the cast of Saturday Night Live, the late-night television series that had launched the careers of celebrated comic actors John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Dan Aykroyd. The show offered a forum for Murphy to showcase his talent for mimicry as well as to develop a series of memorable characters, including Gumby, Buckwheat, and Mr. Robinson, which were biting takeoffs on television favorites from the past. A starring role opposite Nick Nolte in the action film 48 HRS. helped to construct his distinctive film persona—that of the sassy, self-confident, often abrasive con artist who is fast on his feet.

From 48 HRS. to Harlem Nights, each of Murphy's roles has made use of this image, even the character of Officer Axel Foley in Beverly Hills Cop (a role originally slated for Sylvester Stallone) and its lackluster sequels, Beverly Hills Cop II and III. Like the fast-talking con-man characters in all of Murphy's films, Axel easily assumes other identities in order to get past some obstacle. Murphy's adeptness at mimicry—whether it is a recognizable character such as Buckwheat or a stereotype such as a fastidious government inspector—is his trademark. His roles emphasize this talent, which places most of his films in the category of star vehicles.

Other aspects of Murphy's comic persona, particularly as displayed in his stand-up routines earlier in his career, include a proclivity toward provocative, masculine humor. His speech is peppered with expletives and street slang, while his self-assured demeanor is assertive. Yet his comedy and his image do not threaten his white audiences. The best of Murphy's humor and the best of his film roles create a tension between the dangerously provocative and the brashly humorous: he makes a potentially volatile joke but tempers the delivery with a wide grin and a unique belly laugh.

Comparisons to Richard Pryor, the biggest black star of the last generation, are inevitable. Though Murphy claims Pryor as a major influence, profound differences mark their comedy styles and personas. Pryor's stand-up routines derive from growing up on society's margins. The characters—winos, junkies, prostitutes—he plays in his routines mirror that society. Murphy grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood on Long Island; the primary source for many of his routines and comic impersonations is television. No matter how many four-letter words he uses, Murphy has an immediate bond with mainstream audiences who grew up with the tube.

Toward the end of the 1980s, Murphy experienced a backlash in the media. As occurs to many popular figures who suddenly become superstars, he began to be criticized by a press that had previously been friendly. Reviewers attacked such films as Beverly Hills Cop II and Another 48 HRS. for being uninspired vehicles chosen to cash in on his fame and the success of their forerunners, while stories about his numerous bodyguards, enormous wealth, frequent womanizing, and galloping ego added to the media-based perception that success had gone to his head and altered his personality. This criticism culminated in the beating he took for his vanity production Harlem Nights, an action comedy he wrote, co-produced, directed, and starred in. The film was poorly executed, but reviewers unfairly dismissed Murphy's interest in working behind the camera as the actions of an ego-driven superstar, conveniently forgetting that he had expressed a desire to produce and direct as far back as 1983. Suddenly, Murphy's self-confidence was deemed arrogance; his mainstream appeal was termed "a slick, Hollywood package."

All this negative press had repercussions at the box office. Murphy rebounded slightly with The Distinguished Gentleman in which he took his con-artist persona of the Beverly Hills Cop I and II, 48 HRS., Another 48 HRS., and other films to Washington, D.C., to cash in on the gravy train as a freewheeling, wheeler-dealer member of the House of Representatives. The film was warmly received by reviewers for its satiric edge and was a moneymaker at the box office, albeit not in the blockbuster class of earlier Murphy films. Boomerang—a prefeminist if somewhat crass comedy which traded on Murphy's image as a womanizer who, in the film, sees the error of his ways when he runs up against maneater Robin Givens—inspired neither good reviews nor good box office. A third installment in the popular Beverly Hills Cop series, which seemed like a sure bet, was an unexpected flop with audiences. As was Vampire in Brooklyn, a Wes Craven horror comedy in which Murphy played several roles, including the bloodsucker of the title. But Murphy bounced back big time with his remake of the old Jerry Lewis vehicle The Nutty Professor, a comic spin on the Robert Louis Stevenson tale Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in which Lewis had played dual roles—that of a goofy, childlike professor and his chemically-induced alter ego: smooth talking lounge lizard and sleazeball Buddy Love. A huge critical and audience success for Lewis (it is considered his best film), the remake was just the shot in the arm Murphy needed to regain his crown as the king of comedy. Not to be outdone by Lewis, Murphy not only plays Buddy Love and the socially backward scientist Sherman Klump but Klump's entire family—who, at one point in the film, appear together (hilariously) in the same scene with the use of clever special effects.

In Life, a comedy-drama about two convicts who grow old together in prison, Murphy plays just one part (Martin Lawrence plays the other), but the part tests his skills (and range) not only as a comedian but as an actor for he is required to age convincingly throughout the film—a trick he brings off adroitly in what many critics consider to be his best screen performance to date.

Murphy was back to playing dual roles again in Bowfinger, a satire about low budget filmmakers on Hollywood's periphery hoping to catch the brass ring. In it, Murphy plays a black superstar of action films named Kit Ramsey, and Kit's endearingly unsuccessful brother Jiff—whose resemblance to Kit exploitation producer-director Steve Martin trades on to get his latest poverty row extravaganza off the ground. The film, which Martin scripted, is surprisingly bereft of comic high points. Laughs are infrequent—except when Murphy is on the screen; he steals the movie with his hilarious performances in both parts.

—Susan M. Doll, updated by John McCarty

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