Birth Name: Edward Regan Murphy
Born: April 3, 1961
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York
Nationality: African American
Actor, comedian. Born April 3, 1961, in Brooklyn, New York. Murphy spent his early years in the projects of Bushwick with his father, Charles Murphy, a New York City police officer and amateur comedian, his mother, Lillian Murphy, a telephone operator, and his brother Charles. His parents divorced when he was three; five years later, his father died and his mother went into the hospital for an extended period. When Murphy was nine, his mother married Vernon Lynch, a foreman at a Breyer’s ice cream factory, and the family moved to the primarily African-American suburb of Roosevelt, Long Island.
Murphy watched a lot of television growing up and developed a great skill for impressions, doing such characters as Bugs Bunny, Bullwinkle, and Sylvester the Cat. Murphy told Gene Lyons of Newsweek, “my mother says I never talked in my own voice—always cartoon characters.” Although he was never a dedicated student, Murphy found a great forum for his verbal agility in grade school, excelling in the popular game of “ranking”—trading witty insults with classmates. Hosting a talent show at the Roosevelt Youth Center at age 15, Murphy delighted his young audience with an impersonation of Al Green.
This early success spurned a passion for showbiz, and Murphy began working on his comedy routines after school and performing stand-up at local bars, clubs, and "gong shows." His schoolwork suffered, however, and Murphy had to repeat the 10th grade. By doubling up on classes and attending summer and night school, he graduated only a couple of months late. Murphy was voted the “most popular” boy in his graduating class. His declared career plan: comedian.
Responding to the pleas of his mother, Murphy enrolled at Nassau Community College and worked part-time as a shoe store clerk. He continued to perform in local clubs, and eventually worked his way into such New York City venues as the Comic Strip—billing himself as a disciple of the great comedian Richard Pryor. Although his raunchy, profanity-ridden routines resembled his idol’s, Murphy stayed away from drinking, smoking, and drugs, and would later declare to Barbara Walters, “I don’t have to sniff cocaine to make me funny.”
When Murphy learned that the producers of NBC’s popular late night comedy show, Saturday Night Live, were seeking a black cast member for the 1980-81 season, he jumped on the opportunity and auditioned six times. He finally got a part as an “extra” and appeared sporadically throughout the show’s unsuccessful season. One fateful night, during a moment of panic when producers realized they had four minutes of airtime remaining and no material, they pushed Murphy before the camera and told him to do his stand-up routine. His improvised performance was called “masterful” by Rolling Stone and Murphy became one of only two cast members (along with Joe Piscopo) asked back for the next season.
Murphy became Saturday Night Live’s strongest comedic presence, creating such memorable characters as Mister Robinson, a ghetto version of TV’s Mister Rogers; a grown-up Little Rascals' Buckwheat; and an illiterate convict-poet Tyrone Green. He also continued his skillful impersonations, adding Bill Cosby, Muhammad Ali, James Brown, Jerry Lewis, and Stevie Wonder to his repertoire. Murphy received some criticism for his satirical characterizations based on black stereotypes, but in defense, he claimed that his characters were far too absurd and abstract to be taken seriously.
In 1982, Murphy received a Grammy nomination for an album of stand-up material, which eventually went gold, and at age 21, he landed his first major motion picture role, alongside Nick Nolte in 48 Hours (1982). He approached the role with confidence and ingenuity, convincing director Walter Hill to adjust some of the dialogue to more genuinely depict a black speaker. His charming and inspired performance as the fast-talking convict stole the film, and 48 Hours grossed over $5 million in its first week.
Murphy followed this success with the 1930s style farce Trading Places (1983). Playing alongside fellow SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd, Murphy’s street-wise Billy Ray Valentine becomes the victim, then the victor, of two Wall Street moguls’shortsighted bet. Paramount proceeded to sign the 23-year-old to a six-picture contract worth $25 million. Murphy’s next film, Beverly Hills Cop (1984), hit number nine on the list of all-time box office hits. He played bad boy/good cop Axel Foley, a role originally slated for Sylvester Stallone, and earned a Golden Globe nomination. Taking advantage of his status as a hot commodity, Murphy released his first album How Could it Be? featuring the hit single “Party All the Time.”
Murphy went on the make Beverly Hills Cop II in 1987, which received mixed reviews from critics, but major rewards from the box office. However, his other efforts of this period including The Golden Child (1986), and his violence and profanity riddled directorial debut Harlem Nights (1989), starring Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, were deemed failures by critics and audiences alike. The only film of the period that seemed to showcase his comedic charm was Coming to America (1988), a light romantic farce costarring Arsenio Hall, in which both Murphy and Hall play several characters each. Another 48 Hours (1990) did little to redeem his career, and Murphy decided to take a break from the Hollywood scene.
He returned as a smooth, impeccably dressed bachelor in 1992’s Boomerang, costarring Halle Berry, about a lady-chasing cosmetics executive who finally meets his match. The film met mixed reviews, but many critics found Murphy’s mellowed performance a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, he followed this semi-success with an uninspired Beverly Hills Cop III (1994) and the unmemorable Vampire in Brooklyn (1995).
In 1996, Murphy rediscovered his love for over-the-top comedic invention in a hit remake of the Jerry Lewis film The Nutty Professor. Murphy earned some unfortunate publicity when he was discovered by L.A. police with a transvestite male prostitute in the early hours of May 2, 1997. He claimed he was merely trying to give the prostitute a ride, but the incident made him the target of jokes nonetheless. Despite the scandal in his personal life, Murphy went on to play the voice of Mushu the Lizard in Disney’s animated picture Mulan (1998) to enormous critical praise, and starred in the family film, Doctor Doolittle (1998).
In 1999, Murphy starred in the comedy Bowfinger, costarring Steve Martin, who also wrote the screenplay. Nutty Professor II: The Klumps was released in the summer of 2000, with Murphy featured as all six lead characters. He also voiced the lead character, superintendent Thurgood Stubbs, on The PJs, an animated TV show for which he also serves as executive producer. In the summer of 2001, Murphy had two more big box office successes, starring in Dr. Doolittle 2 and lending his voice to the character of Donkey in the fantastical animated feature Shrek, also featuring the voices of Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz. In 2003, Murphy starred in yet another family comedy, this time as an overwhelmed babysitter in Daddy Day Care. The following year, he revived Donkey for the hit sequel Shrek 2.
In 1993, Murphy married model Nicole Mitchell. The couple has four children together: Bria, Myles, Shayne Audra, and Zola Ivy.
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