Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eddie Murphy - Biography

World Famous People

Eddie Murphy

Funny, they say, is hard, that's Eddie Murphy. Funny floats in the ether and only the chosen can snatch it down. So, to be the funniest of them all is a challenge few can rise to. Steve Martin did it, Robin Williams too. On a more underground tip, there were the late greats Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks. And, of course, there was Eddie Murphy. His breakthrough on Saturday Night Live and a series of killer stand-up videos would make him the king of early-Eighties comedy. 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, Dr Dolittle, The Nutty Professor and their sequels would make him a cinematic star. Then Bowfinger and, more importantly, Dreamgirls, would have him seen as a serious thespian contender. Along the way, there were many hiccups, even a few out-and-out disasters. But, amazingly, a quarter of a century in, he's still a major contender today.

Edward Regan Murphy was born in the Bushwick projects of Brooklyn, New York, on the 3rd of April, 1961. His father was a policeman. His mother, Lillian, was a telephone operator. Sadly, they divorced when Eddie was 3 and, even more sadly, his father was killed by a new girlfriend when the boy was just 8. Living with Lillian and his brother Charles Q Murphy (now an actor and screenwriter), Eddie stayed in Brooklyn till he was ten. Then Lillian, along with her new husband Vernon Lynch (a former boxer then employed as a foreman at Breyers Ice Cream plant)) took the boys, plus Lynch's son (also named Vernon), to Roosevelt, Long Island. This was a predominantly white, middle-class area thats black population increased sharply throughout the Sixties and Seventies. It also spawned Howard Stern, Julius Erving and Public Enemy rapper Chuck D.

So Eddie, a natural mimic schooled in the streets and now the suburbs, expanded his repertoire of characters. Starting with Bullwinkle and Sylvester The Cat, he began to impersonate the stars of the day, as well as invent new characters of his own. At Roosevelt High School he'd carry a briefcase full of joke-books with him, and was often voted Most Popular Student, even winning over the teachers, who'd laugh as they sent him to the Principal's office for his hilarious insubordination. As well as singing in a local R&B band (they'd steal supermarket trollies to transport their equipment), Eddie was damn funny, and he knew it. Heavily influenced by his hero, Richard Pryor, he worked on his monologues and impersonations - quickly mastering Lionel Richie, Bill Cosby, Al Green and Elvis Presley - and made his stage debut at the Roosevelt Youth Centre on the 9th of July, 1976.
As Murphy himself says, once he started, he couldn't stop. He began performing regularly in youth centres and bars, taking $25-$50 a time, money he used to finance his enrolment at Nassau Community College, Garden City, New York. Very quickly, he made his name, soon staging a showcase at New York's Comic Strip, where co-owners Robert Wachs and Richard Tienkin were so impressed they agreed to manage him.

Yet it was Murphy's own persistence that would win him his first major break. Neil Levy, talent co-ordinator on Saturday Night Live would later recall how, in 1980, he received a call from Murphy, sounding like he was on a pay phone, asking for an audition. Levy turned him down, saying that the show was no longer auditioning for their next season. But Murphy called back the next day, this time claiming he had 18 brothers and sisters and was desperate for the job. Every day he called, until Levy agreed to give him a try. So, Murphy arrived at SNL HQ at 30, Rockefeller Centre and delivered a 4-minute sketch where he played three different guys from Harlem, one of them trying to start a fight between the others. Levy was so impressed he demanded that Murphy be hired, but new producer Jean Doumanian was not so sure as she was already planning to have Robert Townsend replace Garrett Morris as the show's lone black performer. Eventually, she would relent, bringing Murphy in as a featured performer rather than a regular.

This was a very difficult period for SNL. Now five seasons old, it had hit vertiginous heights of popularity due to the contributions of such comic heavyweights as Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Bill Murray. Now producer Lorne Michaels, burned out by his efforts, had left and the remaining stars - Murray, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner - were gone, too, as well as most of the writing staff. Doumanian, a close collaborator with Woody Allen throughout his career, was brought in and had just two and a half months to replace everyone on a budget that had been slashed. She was not popular and the knives were out.

As the new season started in late 1980 it quickly became apparent that the show's quality had plummeted. Charles Rocket, Denny Dillon, Ann Risley and Gail Matthews, unfairly expected to immediately match the exploits of the outgoing stars, were hammered in the press. The show was fast losing viewers, and consequently the good will of the corporation. Doumanian had help on hand, having hired both Murphy and Joe Piscopo, but didn't realise it, both of the show's future stars being limited to supporting roles, when they appeared at all. Then, one night, when Doumanian had not gathered enough material to fill the show's 90 minutes and faced a terrifying final five minutes of absolutely nothing, it was decided in desperation to fill the time with Murphy's audition routine. Keen and ready, he went down a storm.
Yet even this was not enough to give Murphy centre stage. What he needed was a big shake-up, and he got it when, in February, 1981, Charles Rocket did the unthinkable and said "Fuck" on live TV. The producers used this as an excuse to fire the unpopular Doumanian and brought in Dick Ebersol, who'd helped create the show back in 1974. Ebersol took SNL off the air for some six weeks, instead showing classic episodes to remind audiences what the show was all about. Then, in April, they were ready to go live again.

Throughout the ten months of Doumanian's reign, the under-utilized Murphy had shown an impressive attitude. He kept working with the writers, kept coming up with new characters, kept entertaining the troops on the 17th floor. Everyone believed him to be the funniest guy there, he just wasn't getting the chance to shine on air. Now, with Ebersol in charge, a stroke of luck came his way. Writer David Sheffield's father would often phone his son with ideas for sketches, ideas that were uniformly poor. But now he mentioned a news story he'd read about a Cleveland high school basketball team forced by law to include white players in the side. Sheffield and his writing partner Barry Blaustein cooked something up for Murphy and he enthusiastically worked with them, improvising wildly. And the sketch made it into the next show, at last launching Murphy on his way. "You could tell", said Sheffield "the first minute he was on the air that whatever 'it' is, he had it. He completely connected with the audience. He just jumped off the screen". Quickly, Murphy became SNL's undisputed star, with Sheffield and Blaustein providing many of his best moments. Murphy was easy to work with, said Sheffield: "Basically, we would sit in a room and Eddie would start talking".

Though such talents as Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Belushi would be added to the cast during Murphy's four years on SNL, Murphy would remain the stand-out performer. He was the street-smart hustler Velvet Jones, with his book I Wanna Be A Ho: he was the enraged militant film critic Raheem Abdul Muhammad: the jailbird poet Tyrone Green: Buckwheat from the old Our Gang comedies: and, most famous of all, he was the sour-mouthed showbiz vet cartoon character Gumby. Beyond this, there was his recording career outside the show. In 1982, there was Eddie Murphy, an album recorded live at the Comic Strip. The next year there was another, Eddie Murphy, Comedian, that won a Grammy as Best Comedy LP. He'd already been nominated for the hit single Boogie In Your Butt - he was, after all, a musician too. In 1985, he'd release the How Could It Be album, produced by Rick James and Stevie Wonder (Murphy also did a spectacular Stevie). This delivered a million-selling single in Party All The Time, and was followed by 1989's So Happy, helmed by Nile Rogers and Cameo's Larry Blackmon. 1993 would bring Love's Alright, featuring collaborations with both Michael Jackson and Shabba Ranks.
Already a big name through SNL and his stand-up shows, in late 1982 Murphy's star went truly into the ascendant. Director Walter Hill, famed for The Warriors and Southern Comfort, had been casting for a partner for tough-guy Nick Nolte in his latest thriller, 48 Hours. Murphy was taken on, becoming the first actor to be paid $1 million on debut, and the script was rewritten to suit his sharp and often foul-mouthed patter. But one thing was missing. Having been mellowed by life in Roosevelt and his speedy success, it was thought that Murphy lacked the rage necessary to play the touchy convict given a two-day release to help bust an escaped killer. Fortunately, he was taught the requisite tricks by acting coach David Proval (later to star as the extremely angry Richie Aprile in The Sopranos).

. One sight of Murphy on the big screen and you knew he'd make it. Wrapped in shades and headphones and shrieking out a wince-making version of Roxanne, he was immediately in your face. Then, wisecracking like crazy, going head-to-head with Nolte, and subduing and taunting a bar full of disapproving whites, he proceeded to steal the show, as he and his rough-cut partner proceeded to track down malevolent Hill regular James Remar. A Golden Globe nomination was the least he deserved. Now, aside from two brilliant comedy videos - Delirious and Raw - he would concentrate heavily on his film career having signed a long-term deal with Paramount that would make him a millionaire many times over. SNL staff would be amazed when Jeffrey Katzenberg himself came to the writers' room on the 9th floor just after the release of 48 Hrs and handed Murphy his cheque for $1 million.

A second Golden Globe nomination would come with the smart comedy Trading Places, directed by John Landis. Here, for a bet, two swinish millionaires reverse the positions of street hustler Murphy and snobby stock dealer Dan Aykroyd (one of the SNL stars Murphy had earlier replaced). Murphy would have a ball, first on the street pretending to be a legless war vet, then quickly adapting to his newfound fortune and power. The movie was a big hit, unlike Best Defense, where Dudley Moore was a useless military engineer drawn into industrial espionage and coming up against murderous Russian spies. Meanwhile, Murphy's out in the Middle East testing Moore's crazy new super-tank in combat and it's all going haywire. Really, it was something of a mess and made to look even weaker by Murphy's other filmic efforts.

By now he was finished with SNL. In fact, he'd been leaving for some time. In order to guarantee their star's participation in the 1983-4 season the producers had contracted Murphy to appear in ten of the twenty shows scheduled and also taped some fifteen Murphy spots to insert in the others. This annoyed many staff as it went against the "live" ethos, and many thought no one was bigger than the show. However, at the time Murphy WAS bigger than the show and the producers rightly recognised it.
As far as Murphy himself was concerned, such petty quibbles were the least of his problems. He wasn't dealing too well with his newfound fame and wealth. He was receiving death threats and no longer knew who his real friends were. Harry Belafonte gave him advice, but to no real avail. And, on top of it all, there was still the "black" problem. John Landis would recall how, when meeting Murphy in New York to discuss Trading Places, Murphy had asked him to hail a cab for him as no cabbie would stop for a young black man. Indeed, whenever Murphy wanted a taxi a tSNL he'd have to ask a white staff member to come down to hail one for him. Even when he was famous, even when he was a star.

. Following Best Defense, Murphy's second release of 1984 proved he was right to leave SNL. This was Beverly Hills Cop, originally intended as a gritty vehicle for Sylvester Stallone but, as with 48 Hours, heavily rewritten to accommodate Murphy's humour and punchy ad libs. Here Murphy would star as Axel Foley, a maverick Detroit cop who takes it upon himself to travel to LA to hunt for the killers of his partner. Once there, he causes chaos for local policemen John Ashton and Judge Reinhold, rampaging across their sleepy beat and pulling all manner of inappropriate stunts as he tracks down bug-eyed coke dealer Steven Berkoff. And, of course, it was a huge hit, the movie becoming one of the Top 10 grossers of all time. As well as many millions of dollars, Murphy would receive his third Golden Globe nomination.

For five years, Murphy would enjoy an extraordinary run of success. The silly but entertaining The Golden Child would see him as a sleuth specialising in finding missing kids. Called into action when demons from Hell kidnap a sacred sprog from Tibet, he takes on a series of supernatural tests as well as a supremely evil Charles Dance. This would be followed by the first Beverly Hills Cop sequel, a predictable Eighties crime thriller where Murphy came up against a sinister Jurgen Prochnow and bitch queen Brigitte Nielsen, occasionally pausing to shout sarcastically at people. It wasn't a patch on the original yet still grossed over $150 million. Murphy remained red-hot.

Coming To America, a reunion with his Trading Places director John Landis, would see Murphy as a spoilt African prince arriving in New York to find a bride. Deciding that he wants a girl to love him for himself rather than his position, he becomes a janitor and endeavours to win the heart of Shari Headley. Murphy himself would be credited as writing the story, and this would become the subject of a long-running law-suit when columnist Art Buchwald took producers Paramount to court. As it turned out, several years earlier Paramount were attempting to turn a Buchwald script into a movie, with Murphy to star. That fell apart and, in 1986, Warners optioned Buchwald's script, only to dump the project when Paramount began to make a similar movie, starring Murphy.
Given that Coming To America pulled in some $350 million worldwide, Buchwald wanted his share of Paramount's profits, as stated in his original contract. But, claimed Paramount, after all expenses were deducted, there was no net profit at all, therefore they owed Buchwald nothing. That's a lot of expenses, no? The court agreed with Buchwald that Paramount's accounting was "unconscionable" and - after seven years - Paramount coughed up. The terms, of course, were undisclosed, Paramount fearing further revelations about their practices, but the case was vital in that it finally cast some light on decades of financial abuse. Murphy himself would escape without censure. Indeed, the court even went so far as to commend his comic "genius".

. Was it bad karma? Overexposure? Megalomania? Murphy's fortunes would certainly now change and he'd not hit big for another eight years. His first and perhaps most painful failure came with Harlem Nights. Keen to build his own entertainment empire, here he acted as writer, director and star, putting together a black ensemble piece co-starring his early hero Richard Pryor. The period movie would see Prior as the owner of a speakeasy coming under pressure when a major white gangster demands protection money. Aided by his adopted son Murphy, he attempts to save himself and his fortune by pulling off an outrageous boxing scam. Some found the movie - anarchic, cruel, fast and often sidesplittingly funny - to be Murphy's best so far. But the critics caned it, citing its violence, misogyny and relentless foul language, and a reasonable box office take could not cover the film's huge expense. Next he'd pop up as James Brown in a kid's daydreams in the failed pilot What's Alan Watching? Another 48 Hours, where Murphy reteamed with Nick Nolte and Walter Hill to chase down drug lord The Iceman, was a middling hit but could not place Murphy back at the top. Suddenly, after a decade of glaring success, the golden boy had lost his sheen.

Things weren't any better in his personal life, Murphy later admitting fame when straight to his head. Having in the early Eighties been briefly engaged to biology student Lisa Figueroa, he'd since suffered paternity suits from Nicolle Radar, Paulette McNeely and Tamara Hood (with the last of whom he has son, Christian). Though in 1988 he'd met Nicole Mitchell and had a daughter, Bria, with her, followed by four further children - Miles, Shayne, Zola and Bella - he did not settle down with the family till some years later, in the meantime being linked with such beauties as Robin Givens, Halle Berry and Whitney Houston. Eventually, in 1993, he'd marry Mitchell and the ever-expanding family would live in a 22-room colonial mansion called Bubble Hill (Bubble being slang for Party) in Englewood, New Jersey. Murphy has said he never knew whether the many women who pursued him really wanted him, or his money and status.
Mitchell, a rich model from the age of 10, had a social position and jam-packed bank account of her own.

. After Another 48 Hrs would come Boomerang where Murphy played an executive at a cosmetics firm who's always chasing, catching and dumping tottie. However, when Robin Givens becomes his boss and treats him in exactly the same callous manner, he's confused and depressed, his situation worsened when he's pursued by a 70-year-old Eartha Kitt and then falls for decent co-worker Halle Berry. Also on the bill would be Martin Lawrence and a young Chris Rock, who'd earlier appeared as a valet in Beverly Hills Cop 2 and had just hit big on SNL. Boomerang saw Murphy in gentler mode and, based on a story by Murphy himself, was seen by some as an apology for the misogynist excesses of Harlem Nights. But it was only moderately successful at the box office, not up to Murphy's earlier blockbusting standards.

Worse was to come with The Distinguished Gentleman where Murphy was a Florida con man, running sex lines and blackmailing his clients, a true sleazeball. When congressman James Garner dies in mid-election campaign, Murphy, who shares Garner's name, slips his name onto the ballot papers and, mistaken for a good guy, wins a thoroughly undeserved place in Washington. Once in power, he immediately seeks out money-making opportunities, selling his vote to the highest bidder, then falls for Victoria Rowell. Will love redeem him? Not too many cared.

Now seriously needing a hit to reclaim his Hollywood top spot, Murphy would return to Beverly Hills Cop, further upping his chances by bringing onboard director John Landis, with whom he'd hit paydirt in Trading Places and Coming to America. This time his boss in Detroit would be killed, a vengeful Murphy returning to LA to find trouble in an apparently family-friendly theme park. Unfortunately, the formula had outlived its welcome and the film would lose money. With both the Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs franchises dead, Murphy was desperate to find something new.

His next release was the low-budget (or rather LOWER-budget) Vampire In Brooklyn, which he'd written in collaboration with his own brothers Charles and Vernon. This was a comedy horror effort directed by Wes Craven, legendary helmsman of A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Hills Have Eyes, and saw Murphy as the last of a vampire race, seeking a mate and pursuing cop Angela Bassett. Sadly, it didn't work, being neither good comedy nor good horror. Happily, though, both director and star would refind their form the very next year. 1996 would see Craven successfully meld comedy and horror in Scream, while Murphy would strike back with The Nutty Professor.

Proven on SNL, Murphy's gift for characterisation was well known. On film he'd occasionally played multiple characters, as in Coming To America and Vampire In Brooklyn, but The Nutty Professor, based on the 1963 Jerry Lewis vehicle, used advanced make-up techniques to make the absolute most of his abilities.
Murphy would play the painfully obese Professor Sherman Klump with aplomb and no little pathos. He also played Klump's sleazy love-god alter-ego Buddy Love, and the whole of Klump's family: his lecherous granny: his longsuffering mum: his crude dad: his thin-skinned brother, all of them. He spent 80 days in heavy make-up, famously not complaining once. The film was genuinely superb and a deserved hit, Murphy finding himself Golden Globe-nominated for the fourth time, and the first in twelve years.

The Nutty Professor proved beyond doubt that Murphy still had "it". But there was also a sneaking suspicion that he only enjoyed big success when he played multiple characters; that is, when he brought SNL-style shenanigans to the Silver Screen. His next film, Metro, seemed to bear this out. Here he'd play a hostage negotiator whose friend is murdered by diamond thief Michael Wincott. Murphy's off the case but pursues Wincott anyway, through wild car chases and major action set-pieces. The dialogue was crisp, the performances fine, yet still the public didn't bite. Worse was to come when at 4.45 one morning in May, 1997, Murphy - who couldn't sleep and was on his way to the newstand - saw a woman in distress on Santa Monica Boulevard and offered her a lift. Or so his story went. The policemen who stopped him said the woman was a transvestite prostitute with a warrant out on her. There were no charges for Murphy, but the transvestite, Samoan 20-year-old Atisone Seiuli (known as Shalomar), told a reporter that Murphy had placed $200 on her leg and asked her what kind of sex she liked. Worse, other transvestites came out of the woodwork, claiming they'd had sex with Murphy. He sued both the Globe and the National Enquirer for $5 million, for slander, libel and invasion of privacy, then pulled out. The story ended sadly one year later when Seiuli was found dead on the street, dressed only in bra, panties and towel. Apparently, she was locked out of her apartment, attempted to use the towel to swing from the roof into an open window, and fell.

Murphy's onscreen efforts would now bring him some measure of succour. It would now come to him that his voice might be ideally suited to big-budget cartoon capers. Disney's Mulan would be his first, a Chinese folk story where a girl dresses as a boy to fight off evil invaders. On her journey she'd be joined by Murphy, playing a skinny, street-smart dragon who detests being called a lizard. Murphy would, of course, be the stand-out performer, his dragon working much as Robin Williams' genie had in Aladdin six years earlier. Mulan was a big hit.
So too was Dr Dolittle, a loose adaptation of Hugh Lofting's classic, where Murphy would play a famous doctor who, suffering a blow to the head, would discover an ability to communicate with animals. In a way, Murphy was a strange choice for the part in that he was asked to play it relatively straight, the crude gags and crazy voices being provided by his furry friends, but kids worldwide loved it. Along with The Nutty Professor, it would provide Murphy with yet more sure-fire sequels.

Murphy's other film of 1998, Holy Man, would be slightly more sophisticated fare. A satire on the media, this would see Murphy as a guru discovered by shopping channel executives Jeff Goldblum and Kelly Preston. Put on air he becomes a huge star, his angle being that he tells the truth, and love follows wherever he goes. It was weak stuff, and bombed. His next movie, Life, would also lose money, but was a far more accomplished piece. Set in the 1930s, this would see Murphy re-team with his Boomerang co-star Martin Lawrence, the pair of them getting into trouble with a hard-nosed club owner and being forced to drive down to Mississippi to pick up a cargo of moonshine. Once down there, they're framed and jailed for life, the rest of the movie concerning the growing friendship between the realist Murphy and hot-headed Lawrence as they dream forever of escape. It was warm, nostalgic and thoroughly watchable.

After these two relative failures, Murphy would cross into the new millennium with a real bang. Now came Bowfinger, written by Steve Martin and directed by Frank Oz, where Martin would play a low-grade producer trying to sign Murphy's neurotic, race-obsessed film star for his new production. Murphy, though, is more interested in his weird New Age cult so, in desperation, Martin employs a cluelessly naive Murphy lookalike (also played by Murphy) and, using stolen footage of the real thing, attempts to make his movie without the star Murphy's knowledge. In terms of comedy, it was mild but effective, mild not being an accurate description of Murphy's next outing, a manic sequel to The Nutty Professor that saw him play eight characters as Buddy Love and the family Klump become involved in Sherman's wooing of research assistant Janet Jackson. Aided by superb make-up work from Rick Baker, who'd earlier aged Murphy so brilliantly in Life, it was another superb Murphy performance.

While The Nutty Professor 2 was pulling them in at the box-office, Murphy was also scoring a hit on TV with The PJs. Created by Murphy himself, this was a foamation series, with models brought to life by stop-motion photography courtesy of the Will Vinton studios. Murphy would lend his voice to the lead puppet, Thurgoode Stubbs, chief superintendant of the building in which he lives with wife Loretta Devine. Thurgoode would be a big-haired, chicken-fried-steak-loving caricature and the humour was crude, but great animation brought it 22 million viewers, amongst the Fox network's best-ever ratings.
And Murphy would again score big with animation in 2001 when he starred alongside Mike Myers and Cameron Diaz in Dreamworks' Shrek. This would see Myers' ogre sent to rescue Diaz's princess from a dragon, added comedy being provided by Murphy's loudmouthed donkey. Murphy's part, reluctantly accompanying the hero on a dangerous journey, was not unlike the role he'd played in Mulan, but Shrek's success far outweighed that of its predecessor, raking in an enormous $267 million at the US box office alone. Amazingly, the same year would bring another big hit when Murphy released Dr Dolittle 2, Murphy's titular medic now running an animal therapy centre and battling to save a bear's home forest from destruction.

Having enjoyed such a raging comeback, Murphy could not have expected the crashing failure of 2002. Indeed, few actors have faced such misery in recent times. First would come Showtime, a spoof of cop buddy movies where Robert De Niro played a tough policeman forced to partner maverick Murphy and take part in Rene Russo's reality TV show. At the same time, the odd couple must search the streets for an enormous new gun that must not fall into the wrong hands. Though Murphy and De Niro would play well together, it was really predictable action all the way.

Next would come the big one, The Adventures Of Pluto Nash. Filmed back in 2000, this one had its sci-fi thunder stolen by Speilberg's AI and lost over $100 million. In it, Murphy played an ex-con running a successful club on a lunar colony whose livelihood and then life are threatened by an evil crime lord. Cue bombings, shootouts and chase sequences, actually all the things we'd seen in Beverly Hills Cop but this time set in extremely expensive scenarios. Another loser would be I Spy, directed by Dr Dolittle helsmwomen Betty Thomas and based on the hit TV show starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby. Here Murphy would play a prize fighter recruited by spy Owen Wilson and helping to steal a spy plane back from a wicked Malcolm McDowell. As with Showtime, Murphy worked well with his co-star but the human interest was lost amidst the pyrotechnic action.

2003 would be a mixed year. First he'd successfully return to dumb comedy with Daddy Day Care where he and pal Jeff Garlin, sacked from an ad agency, decide to run a kindergarten - a particularly chaotic kindergarten - thus coming into conflict with a rival carer, a hilariously strict Anjelica Huston. Directed by Steve Carr, who'd earlier worked on Murphy's Dr Dolittle 2, it was another $100 million hit. This was followed by the far superior The Haunted Mansion, based on a Disney theme park ride. Here Murphy acted the straight man once more, playing a workaholic estate agent who's pulled away from a family holiday by the chance to flog a big country house. His efforts are complicated, though, by a ghost who believes Murphy's wife to be the reincarnation of his dead lover.
With excellent support turns from Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly and Terence Stamp (earlier a co-star in Bowfinger) and more fine effects work from Rick Baker, the movie was excellent fun but sadly suffered at the box office.

After another huge hit with 2004's Shrek 2, Murphy would not be seen again for two years. And then he was seen everywhere. First he hit the headlines when his divorce from Nicole Mitchell was announced and he entered a highly-publicized relationship with former Spice Girl Mel B. Then the tabloids went barmy as he split from a pregnant B and demanded a DNA test to see if the child was his, at the same time dating one Tracey Edmonds.

However, just as he appeared to have become mere tabloid fodder, Murphy came up with his first "serious" artistic success. This was in Dreamgirls, based on the hit Broadway musical and more or less telling the story of Sixties girl group The Supremes. Joining Jamie Foxx, Danny Glover, Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Hudson in a stellar black cast, Murphy would star as James "Thunder" Early, a self-destructive soul sensation mixing scorching musical performances with cutting wit to brilliant effect. With the film tackling racism, social unrest and familial betrayal, it was a critical smash and a financial winner, too. And at last Murphy received the respect of his peers, being Oscar-nominated alongside Hudson.

Murphy wouldn't win the Oscar and it was often suggested that he lost because of his next production, Norbit. Here Murphy would play the titular hero, a weakling abused by his huge, mad wife (also played by Murphy). Teaming up with first love Thandie Newton, he must try to save Mr Wong's orphanage (Wong being Murphy again) from being turned into a titty bar by rapacious Cuba Gooding Jr, who'd made an early appearance as a kid getting his hair cut in Coming To America. Written by Murphy and his brother Charles, it was packed with fat-jokes and crude caricatures that many found offensive - perhaps the reason for the Oscar defeat - but the public lapped it up, and it was yet another mighty smash. The third installment of Shrek would then continue his run.

Having received $20 million each for Pluto Nash and the sequels to The Nutty Professor and Dr Dolittle, Murphy can perhaps try again for the empire he threatened to build when younger. He does give money away - to the AIDS Foundation, the Martin Luther King Jr Centre, various cancer charities, he donated $100,000 to the Screen Actors' Guild's strike relief fund - but he reinvests heavily in his own organisations. Having been burned so badly in his earlier career, he likes to surround himself with people he can trust too. His cousin Ray looks after him, his childhood friend Clint Smith is VP of his TV company, while Lillian and Vernon help out with Panda Merchandising, which controls the rights to Eddie's products. What he needs most, though, is a screenwriter he can trust and a director to control his excesses.
After all, despite the billions of dollars he's generated for Hollywood, the only major film prize he has ever won is a Golden Raspberry for Harlem Nights. This situation needs to be addressed, and soon.

Dominic Wills

Eddie Murphy, world famous people, actor, comedian


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