And now for a new category of blog posts that I plan to write from time to time where I focus on one actor, their body of work and the good, bad, and ugly of it.
We start with Eddie Murphy. He is an actor whose career I have followed very closely. The reason is simple: I believe Murphy to be one of the most talented comedians and actors on the planet. As a fan, he has given me some of the greatest comedic experiences I’ve ever seen and disappointed just as often.
He exploded onto the scene at only age 19, when he was cast a feature player on “Saturday Night Live”. In 1980, he joined the show at a low point in its history. Lorne Michaels had just left as producer (he would return in the mid-80s and never leave). SNL was only five years old, but all the players from the original cast had finally left to pursue movie careers – names like Aykroyd, Belushi, Murray, and Radner.
Many wondered if SNL would survive. Murphy, it turned out, was the only real bright spot on the show for a while. His uncanny impressions of Stevie Wonder and James Brown. His now-classic characters Buckwheat, Mr. Robinson, and Gumby.
The show would soon find its groove again, but it was obvious that Eddie was destined for bigger things. At age 21, he would co-star in 48 HRS., a buddy cop film with Nick Nolte. It’s one of the most memorable film debuts of all time, was a huge hit, and proved without a doubt that he would be a massive movie star.
This is one of the most well-known scenes in the film and it’s crazy to think how great he is and this is his first movie.
In 1983, he would headline his own stand-up comedy special Delirious. It is widely considered one of the best stand-up specials of all time and it deserves to be. Murphy was a master at stand-up and was able to effortlessly combine his brilliant impressions with hilarious stories from his childhood. Here he is impersonating Michael Jackson.
1983 also brought us his second film, Trading Places. It’s a classic. Starring with Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Ameche, and Ralph Bellamy, the film is directed by John Landis, the man responsible for Animal House and The Blues Brothers. It manages to improve on Murphy’s already great debut. I go back and forth on what may favorite Eddie movie is, but this is probably it.
The massive success of his first two films meant it time to leave SNL. He would co-star with Dudley Moore in Best Defense in 1984, which Murphy promptly disowned as a piece of junk. This would turn out to be a minor speed bump in his career, however. In that same year, Murphy would headline his first picture: Beverly Hills Cop.
Originally intended as a starring vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, Paramount ended up going in a different and more comedic direction. Even though 48 HRS. and Trading Places were big hits, it was unpredictable at the time whether Murphy could carry a movie on his own.
What happened? When it was released, Beverly Hills Cop became the highest grossing comedy of all time up to that point. It literally turned Eddie into the biggest movie star on the planet. At age 23.
I think it’s probably safe to say that no other actor got off to the kind of amazing start that Murphy did. In four years, he went from bit player on SNL to the star of SNL to America’s box office king. It’s the kind of comedic hot streak that we rarely see, though Jim Carrey would experience it a decade later (he’ll be the subject of a Curious Case blog post in the future).
Excluding Best Defense, everything Murphy touched from 1980-1984 turned to gold. It took only his first headlining role to break box office records for a comedy.
What would follow? A really bad movie called The Golden Child, which is where The Curious Case of Eddie Murphy – Part Two will pick up.