When the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences enlisted Eddie Murphy, star of the new movie Tower Heist, to host the next Oscars, they knew what they were doing. The Brooklyn native hadn’t hosted an awards show in years (more on that later), but he’s been entertaining since he was 19 years old. Following this year’s debacle with actors James Franco and Anne Hathaway as co-hosts, the Oscar committee called in a more seasoned funnyman. Whether he’s acting or doing voiceover work in one of his many blockbuster films, performing stand-up, or even singing his way up the Billboard charts, Murphy knows how to entertain a captive audience. Here, BlackEnterprise.com decodes Murphy’s deceptively versatile resume. —William Ketchum III
Murphy may be known for his blockbuster films these days, but the perennial funnyman earned his chops the old-fashioned way on the stand-up comedy circuit. While numbers for his 1983 special Eddie Murphy Delirious were tough to dig up, Eddie Murphy Raw (1987) earned more than $50 million at the box office. More recently, Murphy has expressed plans to return to the stand-up stage, but there have been no official announcements just yet.
When Murphy was 19 years old, he was cast on what would become the legendary television show, Saturday Night Live. According to IMDB, he was initially only hired as a guest performer without any duties. Bringing the Brooklyn native as a full-time cast member paid off well, though. During his four years on the show (1980-1984), SNL earned five different Emmy Award nominations, two of which were specifically for Murphy’s work on the show.
Comedy is Murphy’s bread and butter, but his star power translated into popular music as well. His Rick James-assisted single “Party All The Time” (1985) reached as high as No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and another single, “Put Your Mouth On Me,” (1989) reached 47 on the Hot 100 (along with No. 2 on the R&B/Hip-Hop chart). While his full-length albums didn’t fare as well, Murphy still made his mark musically. “Party All The Time” has been parodied by Weird Al Yankovic, covered by Aubrey O’Day (of Danity Kane fame), and still gets airplay in lists like VH1’s “100 Greatest One Hit Wonders” and AOL Radio’s “100 Worst Songs Ever.” Even still, he got to show his musical range more recently in 2006’s Dreamgirls as the boisterous James “Thunder” Early.
Murphy’s stand-up material may have been lewd, but he showed his versatility with his voiceover work in animated children’s films. The Shrek franchise, which features Murphy’s voice as “Donkey,” is the highest-grossing animated series (one of the top five highest-grossing film series ever), with a total worldwide box office gross of $2.94 billion, according to CNBC. The 1998 animated film Mulan had a budget of $70 million and made over $304 million worldwide.
Actors already have the daunting tasks of memorizing their lines and to be sure to convey the emotions of their roles. Several of Murphy’s films have doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled those duties as he played multiple characters. Thankfully, the method works most of the time. He played four characters in the classic Coming To America, which grossed $288,752,301 worldwide. Bowfinger ($98 million-plus worldwide with a $55 million budget) and Norbit ($159 million with a $60 million budget) also performed well at the box office. Murphy’s most memorable moment of playing separate characters, however was in the Nutty Professor series, where he plays protagonist Sherman Klump, antagonist Buddy Love, five (!) of Klump’s family members (often with the whole family in one scene), and a workout instructor named Lance Perkins. The two films grossed a whopping $440,300,909 worldwide.