Eddie Murphy

Occupation: Actor, Comedian, Producer
Date of Birth: April 3, 1961
Place of Birth: Brooklyn, N.Y., USA
Sign: Sun in Aries, Moon in Scorpio
Relations: Mother: Lillian Murphy Lynch (telephone operator; father: police officer (deceased); stepfather: Vernon Lynch (factory foreman); brother: Charles (a.k.a. Charlie) Murphy (actor, screenwriter); stepbrother: Vernon Lynch Jr.; wife: Nicole Mitchell (model); kids: Bria, Miles Mitchell, Shayne Audra, and Zola Ivy (with Mitchell); Christian (with Tamara Moore)
Education: Attended Nassau Community College


IN an article published in Vibe magazine in 1994, director John Landis opined that Eddie Murphy is "a bona fide movie star." By "bona fide," Landis was referring to the old-style stars of Hollywood's Golden Era  that halcyon age of monolithic studio-groomed idols like Burt Lancaster and William Holden. Movie stars in those days were discovered young for their precocious talent, worked their way up from the bottom to inspire adoration in millions, made movie producers rich with a single film, and richer still with subsequent films, bought lavish estates, married beautifully. And, Landis adds, they were misunderstood, suffered slumps and bad press, and faced demoralizing career lows along with the heady highs. Being a cinema icon of that ilk, he says, is a chemistry thing.

That Murphy was born with movie-star charisma to burn was readily apparent even when he was just a tiny tot growing up in the projects of Bushwick in Brooklyn, delighting friends and family with a gallery of funny voices he picked up from watching television. His policeman father died when he was still quite young, and he and his brother were subsequently raised by their telephone operator mother and her second husband, an ice cream factory foreman. During his teens, Murphy and his pals frequently amused themselves with games of the dozens (or ranking, as they called it), a contest of verbal dexterity in which players attempt to out-insult each other. He was so good at capping on his peers that he won a school-sponsored ranking contest when he was 15. A dandyish and self-aware teen ("I was a little Sammy Davis-dressing motherf&*#er. I'd wear ascots, a coat over my shoulders," he has said of those days), the cocksure Murphy was primed for success.

In reality, Murphy's fame came at the cost of years of hard work and agonizing self-promotion in a business that was just barely ready for young black comics. In his late teens, he entered and won several talent contests and braved numerous Gong Show-type events at local Long Island bars. The comic prodigy eventually secured a regular gig at a small tavern, where he was billed as a disciple of the immensely talented and popular comic Richard Pryor. After learning the lay of the land in New York City, Murphy discovered quickly how very few black comics there actually were performing professionally at the time (the late '70s), and he began to consciously consider himself a student of the great Pryor.

Taking a salesman job in a mall shoe store to make ends meet, Murphy enrolled at Nassau Community College while continuing his performances at clubs in and around the city. In 1980, he auditioned to join Saturday Night Live's Not Ready for Prime Time Players; according to Murphy, he succeeded in landing a spot as an occasional performer largely because the show needed a black face on the screen. But whatever the reason for his being hired, it soon became evident to everyone that a massive talent had been discovered. Murphy's appearances generated so many laughs that he was soon added to the main cast, where he tickled audience funny bones for four seasons with his inspired characterizations of Gumby ("I'm Gumby, damnit!"), inner city kiddie show host Mr. Robinson, Tyrone Green (the "kill my landlord" prison poet), and the immortal Buckwheat, among others.

Murphy's first movie role, playing a wiseacre convict to Nick Nolte's world-weary cop in the buddy flick 48 Hrs. (1982), would prove to be a significant experience, not only because it represented a precocious leap to celluloid. Murphy, then just 21, took an unusually proactive role in tailoring his big-screen debut assignment. The first thing he did was to convince director Walter Hill that his character's name needed to be changed  "Willie Biggs," he contended, was too "niggerish." He suggested Reggie Hammond, and Hill acquiesced. Murphy also added numerous touches to the role, personalizing it and making it more real  his efforts paid off handsomely, as the film was a smash success. He cemented his reputation for playing appealing smart-asses with his follow-up role in the 1983 comedy Trading Places, which paired him with fellow SNL alum Dan Aykroyd.

In possession of a $15 million Paramount deal, all the gold and leather on Rodeo Drive, an entourage, and a coveted spot on a Barbara Walters special, the rakish Murphy's mega-grossing and grossly scatological (and gay-bashing, misogynistic, and obscenity-laden) comedy records and concerts pushed his stock ever higher. In addition to his comedy recordings, he launched a three-album pop career in 1985 with the Rick James-produced R&B album How Could It Be, which yielded the monster hit single "Party All the Time" (So Happy followed in 1989, and Love's Alright dropped in 1993).

Murphy's film career was catapulted into the stratosphere in 1984, on the wings of his breakthrough film performance as Beverly Hills Cop's Axel Foley, a wisecracking detective from Detroit who unleashes his roguish, no-apologies brand of police work on the straitlaced and tony title town. The role (which Murphy inherited from Clint Eastwood, incidentally) became his signature characterization  he has said that the Axel persona comes closest to the way he acts himself when he's just hanging out. With follow-up starring roles in the comedy/adventure The Golden Child (1986) and the immigration farce Coming to America (1988), it was clear that Murphy had hit the big time.

Staggering popularity, worldwide fame, and barrels of money followed, as they inevitably do in the Hollywood fable, but Murphy also found himself the reluctant inheritor of a huge amount of racial responsibility. While most people applauded his phenomenal success, a number of voluble and high-profile African-American observers who were impatient for Hollywood to integrate the industry in a meaningful way tagged Murphy to lead the charge in busting down the doors that had been closed for so long. Well-respected artists like director Spike Lee publicly called for Murphy to use his clout to get more African-Americans hired at Paramount Studios. Murphy was labeled as "establishment," and cited as part of the problem by many people who wanted to see more done for blacks trying to break into the business.

Though Murphy was sorely tested during this period, he rallied in 1989 to produce, write, star in, and direct Harlem Nights. Though the ambitious film showcased such great talents as Redd Foxx, Della Reese, and Murphy's idol and friend Richard Pryor, it was universally panned by critics and shunned by audiences. A string of subsequent starring vehicles likewise proved critical and commercial let-downs (anyone remember 1995's Vampire in Brooklyn?), and Murphy weathered more than his fair share of stinging rumors that he was washed up. As Critic Robert Osborne commented in USA Today in 1994, "I think Eddie Murphy has had his day. I think he did the same thing that Burt Reynolds did that did him in  he stuck with that one style too long. I think that Eddie Murphy is very talented, and I think that he should have broken away when he still had an audience and taken his audience with him. We're in such a disposable society. Audiences don't stay too long with one star, and now they're ready to move on to Jim Carrey."

But just when everyone, save his most diehard fans, had given up on him, Murphy experienced a decided upswing with his highly successful 1996 remake of Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor. All of Hollywood was set abuzz by his Travolta-like comeback for a time, but he was once again plunged into the lowest depths of action-comedy hell with the disappointing Metro (1997). Murphy was back in audiences' good graces following the back-to-back 1998 releases of two well-received films  Disney's animated Chinese folktale Mulan, in which he voiced a dragon, and a nonmusical version of the talking-with-the-animals romp Doctor Dolittle. 1999 brought the buddy prison flick Life, in which he co-starred alongside Martin Lawrence (with whom he was paired to good effect in the 1992 comedy Boomerang), and Steve Martin's Hollywood satire Bowfinger. Summer 2000 welcomed the release of Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. On the small screen, Murphy executive-produced and provided voice for the claymation series The PJs. As for the future, he is developing a surefire sequel to Beverly Hills Cop (a fourth installment).

For his part, Murphy remains philosophical about his career, taking the missteps in stride, as have Hollywood stars before him for the better part of a hundred years. As he groused in a New York Daily News interview in 1994, "The strangest thing I ever hear is when people say my career is in trouble. How can some journalist look at my career and ask if it's in decline? Why don't they write that shit about Christian Slater? He's made about 30 bad movies. So what if my career dies? I stopped thinking in terms of career $80 million ago. If it ends, I'll sit home and chill and raise babies." Speaking of his home life, Murphy has focused his domestic energy in recent years; after some wild living during his first flush of stardom, he married model Nicole Mitchell in 1993, and they have four children.

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