Whatever happened to Eddie Murphy?

Saturday - 10/08/2019 20:33
Whatever happened to Eddie Murphy? Picture: Emma McIntyre/ Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Whatever happened to Eddie Murphy? Picture: Emma McIntyre/ Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
He’s been missing from Hollywood for several years but is set to make a return. Is this Eddie Murphy’s big comeback?

Rudy Ray Moore was a smooth-talker, a hard-grafter and a big-time charmer. 

He was a singer, a rapper, an actor, a comedian and a producer.

His most famous character was a pimp in an iconic ’70s film. Snoop Dogg credits him with his career. He’s been called the “godfather of rap”. He was larger than life.

So who could possibly play Moore in a movie? Only Eddie Murphy.

The once-major comedian and Hollywood star has only been in one movie in the last seven years, but in 2019 he is staging a comeback in Dolemite Is My Name, a Netflix biopic of Moore’s colourful life.

The film, which also stars Chris Rock, Wesley Snipes and Keegan Michael Key, is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. There are high hopes that it might be the start of a renaissance of sorts for this star, whose fall from grace has been so spectacular and well-documented.

But what happened to Eddie Murphy? And could he be making a comeback?

RELATED: Mel B spills on relationship with Murphy

RELATED: Tituss Burgess TV host for ‘negative’ question 

RELATED: American Pie star’s rollercoaster career

 

Eddie Murphy is staging his Hollywood comeback in <i>Dolemite Is My Name</i>. Picture: AP
Eddie Murphy is staging his Hollywood comeback in Dolemite Is My Name. Picture: APSource:News Limited

 

THE EARLY DAYS

Murphy is a Brooklyn boy, born in 1961 and raised in Bushwick by a single mum. (His parents separated when he was a toddler and his father was stabbed to death by a girlfriend when Murphy was eight.)

Comedy came easily to young Murphy, who found that he had a talent for making people laugh. By the time he was a teenager he was doing the rounds of the comedy circuit; when he was 19 he was cast on Saturday Night Live.

There’s a lot of myth-making that surrounds Murphy’s debut on the SNL stage. Some say the teenager called talent scout Neil Levy almost daily begging him for an audition, pleading that he had 18 hungry siblings to feed.

Levy says he eventually agreed to let Murphy test as an extra, but was so impressed by the performance he lobbied the producers to include Murphy in the main cast.

It’s a nice story, but in all likelihood Murphy came to SNL the regular way: after being scouted at a comedy club.

Producer Jean Doumanian, who many credit as being the woman who “discovered” Murphy, saw him at the Comedy Strip in New York when he was 18 and asked him to audition. “The minute he walked in the door, he had star power,” Doumanian told The Hollywood Reporter.

But alas, the producer had filled the roster for the main cast and had no budget left to pay for Murphy. She hired the teenager as a feature player and he immediately began to steal the sketches from under the feet of the more seasoned comedians.

“The network finally realised how talented he was,” Doumanian said and Murphy was hired as a regular cast member. He would go on to stay at SNL for four years.
 


Murphy’s legacy at the iconic sketch show is for the characters he created, people like Buckwheat, Gumby and Dion, as well as his impressions of everyone from James Brown to Muhammad Ali and Stevie Wonder.

But after four years at SNL, Hollywood came knocking and by 1984 Murphy couldn’t wait to leave. “I don’t like the show,” he admitted to Rolling Stone. “I don’t think the show is funny. I hate it.”

After saying goodbye to SNL, Murphy never guest hosted and only returned to Studio 8H once, in 2015, as part of the show’s 40th birthday celebrations.

Let’s face it, by 1984 Murphy was much too big for SNL. The actor had become Hollywood’s second highest-grossing movie star — after Clint Eastwood — courtesy of roles in the comedy Trading Places and the thriller 48 HRS.

In 1984 Murphy would go on to star in Beverly Hills Cop, which would become one of his most popular franchises. In 1988, Coming to America became a smash hit. And all the while Murphy’s comedy albums were breaking records, winning Grammy Awards and being certified gold, unheard of for comedy records, both then and now.

“I’ve always had very strong confidence in myself,” Murphy told Rolling Stone in 1984. “And the confidence came because I have a lot of initiative. I know I want to make something of myself. I guess that because I’m not indecisive like a lot people, it makes people uncomfortable.

“I’ve never been conceited. I’ve never been crazy. And I think people are sort of expecting that of me.”

By 1984 Murphy was Hollywood’s second highest grossing actor.
By 1984 Murphy was Hollywood’s second highest grossing actor.Source:Supplied​​​​​

SKIRTING SCANDAL

In that Rolling Stone article the author noted, understatedly, that Murphy was “arrogant”. (“A little, perhaps,” was their diagnosis.) This remark was the precursor to addressing the controversy between Murphy and the gay community in the ’80s.

In particular, there was Murphy’s 1983 special Delirious — now streaming on Netflix, folks! — which features the homophobic joke: “I got some rules when I do my standup, I got rules and sh*t. F****ts aren’t allowed to look at my ass while I’m on stage. That’s why I keep moving while up here.”

Murphy responded to the controversy in a roundabout way, first by saying that he takes aim at everything and everyone in his comedy, and then by explicitly saying that he’s not scared of ‘homosexuals’. “I am not the first comic to do homosexual jokes,” Murphy said.

“I don’t wish anything against homosexuals, I’m not afraid of them. I know homosexuals. It was a joke. I make fun of everybody; I poke fun at anything that I think is funny. It’s comedy.”

But this was only Murphy’s first taste of scandal. In 1997, Murphy was pulled over at a quarter to five in the morning of May 2 with a transgender prostitute named Atisone “Shalimar” Seiuli in his car.

The incident took place on West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard, a known cruising spot in Los Angeles. At the time, Murphy was married to Nicole Mitchell. (He has since gone on to have relationships with Spice Girl Melanie Brown, with whom he has a daughter. He has been married twice more after his break-up with Brown and has 10 children in total.)
 

Eddie Murphy and Nicole Mitchell. Picture: Patrick Gardin/AP
Eddie Murphy and Nicole Mitchell. Picture: Patrick Gardin/APSource:AP

 

Murphy told police that he was merely being a “good Samaritan” and giving Seiuli a lift in his car. After police decided that Murphy was innocent of any illegal activity he was released but unfortunately for Seiuli there was an outstanding prostitution warrant in her name.

Coming hot on the heels of the Hugh Grant and Divine Brown scandal in 1995, Murphy’s ride in the car with a transgender prostitute was the biggest news story of the moment.

The National Enquirer paid for Seiuli’s bail on the proviso that they receive the in-depth, tell-all story. Seiuli told them that Murphy asked to see her in lingerie before they were picked up by police.

Later, Murphy sued The National Enquirer and the Globe for libel, slander and invasion of privacy, after they printed stories from other transgender prostitutes claiming to have slept with Murphy.

The case against the Globe was settled but Murphy dropped all charges against the National Enquirer and was forced to pay the publication’s legal fees. In 1998, Seiuli was found dead outside her apartment. It was believed the 21-year-old had been locked out of her building and, attempting to climb back into her flat, fell to her death.

The scandal profoundly shook Murphy. Though his marriage to Mitchell survived until 2005, the actor revealed that after the ’90s he cut himself off from the world. “I used to know everything about everything, I used to read about everything that was going on,” Murphy told The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter Podcast in 2017.

“Anything that was written about me I would read. I haven’t read a newspaper in 20 years. I don’t read stuff about me. If there’s an article about me, someone has to read through it before they even give it to me … I don’t want to read any of that sh*t, so I don’t know what y’all think.”

Following the incident with Seiuli, Murphy was forced to pay the National Enquirer’s<i></i>legal fees. Picture: AFP
Following the incident with Seiuli, Murphy was forced to pay the National Enquirer’s legal fees. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

 

THE SHREK YEARS 

Murphy’s Hollywood reputation took a serious beating in the aftermath of his scandal. How did he claw his way back? Family movies.

Weird flex, after a transgender prostitute scandal. But OK. Murphy spent the late ’90s and early ’00s toiling away in family friendly fare. First came The Nutty Professor, in which Murphy played seven — count ’em — roles and which became a runaway success, spawning a sequel in 2000.

Then in 1998 there was Mulan. After that was Doctor Dolittle, which was a huge hit and went on to become one of Murphy’s many successful franchises.

And then along came Shrek.

As the manic, ever-so-slightly unhinged Donkey, Murphy bought energy and charisma and jokes — so many jokes — to the scrappy DreamWorks animation series. Shrek went on to defy all expectations and kickstarted a trend for self-aware, knowing children’s movies.

It was also marked the second coming of Murphy as a big box office draw and coincided with the star banking serious cash. For the first Shrek, Murphy made $3 million. By the sequel he was one of the world’s highest paid voice actors, taking home $10 million. Today, Murphy is worth some $85 million, despite having appeared in only one movie in the last seven years.
 

Antonio Banderas, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz at the premiere of DreamWorks Animation's Shrek Forever After. Picture: Kevin Winter/ Getty Images.
Antonio Banderas, Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz at the premiere of DreamWorks Animation's Shrek Forever After. Picture: Kevin Winter/ Getty Images.Source:AFP

 

OSCAR HOPES AND A HOLLYWOOD DISAPPEARANCE 

In 2005, Murphy got divorced. A few months later he was asked to star in Dreamgirls, a glittering ode to Motown music. As Jimmy, a gifted but uncontrollable R&B singer inspired by everyone from James Brown to Marvin Gaye, Murphy was the perfect foil to co-stars Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson.

His performance was searing and unforgettable, by turns both tragic and comic. Murphy received some of the best reviews of his career and he was nominated for a Golden Globe (he won), a Screen Actors Guild Award (he lost) and then an Oscar.

Playing a broken man struggling with addiction and with a love for a woman he cannot do right by was, Murphy has said, one of the most difficult roles he had ever taken on. “They say, ‘Oh this is great, this is his best acting, it looked like you were really crying on the inside,’” Murphy told The Washington Post. “I was.”

Murphy was an early favourite to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 2007 but he ended up losing to Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine.

When the category was announced and Arkin revealed as the winner, Murphy got up from his seat and left the auditorium, missing his castmate Hudson’s Oscar win and her performance, alongside Beyoncé, of a medley of the musical’s most famous songs. Murphy’s snub remains one of the most controversial in Oscars history.
 

Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Beyonce Knnowles and Anika Noni Rose in a scene from Dreamgirls.
Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Beyonce Knnowles and Anika Noni Rose in a scene from Dreamgirls.Source:Supplied

 

Murphy is yet to return to the Academy Awards. After initially agreeing to host the ceremony in 2011, Murphy stepped down after the show’s producer Brett Ratner was ousted for making homophobic comments on the radio.

Since then, Murphy’s career has gone pretty dark. The actor has starred in only three films since 2011: Tower HeistA Thousand Words and Mr Church, all of which came and went with relatively little fanfare.

So what has he been doing? “I only want to do what I really want to do,” Murphy told Rolling Stone in 2011. “Otherwise I’m content to sit here and play my guitar all day. I always tell people now that I’m a semi-retired gentleman of leisure.”

He plays guitar, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t have social media and he only uses his phone to call and text. This is the life of Murphy today when he’s not on a film set. He’s also been raising his family.

Murphy has 10 kids in total: five with Mitchell, two with girlfriends from his youth, one with Brown and two with Australian model Paige Butcher. The pair were engaged in 2018 and have a daughter, born in 2016 and a son born in 2018. A family photo from Murphy’s daughter Bria’s Instagram shows a rare gathering of all ten of Murphy’s children at Christmas 2018.

 


THE SECOND COMING OF MURPHY? 

Murphy might have been missing from Hollywood for the last several years but in Dolemite Is My Name he is making a big, splashy, can’t-miss-it return. Telling the story of one of black comedy, cinema and rap’s most iconic figures, the movie is bound to be a conversation starter.

What’s more, if the role is anywhere near as meaty as it is being described, it could be exactly the kind of vehicle to garner Murphy the awards buzz that he hasn’t had in over a decade. Could Dolemite Is My Name be the movie that wins Murphy his first Oscar?

After Dolomite Is My Name, Murphy’s upcoming film slate might include some familiar names. We live in the age of reboots and sequels, so don’t be surprised if you see Coming 2 America and Beverly Hills Cop 4 in the cinema in the next few years, whether you actually want to see these movies or not.

Sure, Beverly Hills Cop 3 was one of the most poorly reviewed movies of the ’90s. But it’s still the zingy, immensely watchable franchise that made Murphy a star and best distilled his cinematic potential as a livewire ball of energy and charm.

Producers would be mad not to try and capitalise on society’s collective thirst for nostalgia and resurrect Murphy’s most famous franchise.

Recently one of Murphy’s Dolemite Is My Name co-stars Tituss Burgess was questioned about Murphy’s behaviour towards him on the set of the Netflix film.

“He was very problematic for the gays when I was coming out,” Andy Cohen asked Burgess on Watch What Happens Live. “Well he wasn’t problematic for Tituss,” Burgess responded. “It was a long time ago, people can evolve,” added Laverne Cox, Burgess’ fellow guest on Cohen’s couch.

“We talked about Dreamgirls and he should have won the Oscar, I believe,” Burgess said. “He was great and any problems he may have had with gay people I guess are gone because he loved me.”
 


Later, Burgess added on Instagram that believes Murphy to be a “legend” and the “true king of comedy”.

Through all this, Murphy has been silent. But, in September, Dolemite is My Namewill premiere and Murphy will be back on Hollywood’s centre stage again. He might follow that up with sequels to some of his most beloved films. He may even make a return to stand-up. This might be the second coming of Eddie Murphy.

“If I ever get back onstage, I’m going to have a really great show for you all,” Murphy told Rolling Stone in 2011. “But I don’t know. The way that used to come about, you’d be around the house, hanging out, say something funny and it’d be like, ‘I’m going to the club, try that out tonight.’

“That still happens, but it’s been a long time. I’m not that guy in the leather suit anymore. The hardest thing for comics nowadays is to find your f***ing voice.”

Hannah-Rose Yee is a freelance writer. Continue the conversation @hannahroserose

 

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