What the Hell Happened to Eddie Murphy?

eddie murphy

Eddie Murphy

By this point in the “What the Hell Happened?” series, a pattern has developed.  The career usually begins with TV roles or modeling gigs.  Then a big break, super stardom and a stint on the A-list.

Sometimes the celebrity rides on the top of the a-list for years.  Other times, they come crashing down relatively quickly.  Eventually, their time in the spotlight ends.  Sometimes they flame out in a spectacularly public fashion.  Other times, they just walk away.

Eddie Murphy’s story breaks from the formula.  Sure, there is a rise and fall.  But in Murphy’s case, there’s not just one.

Murphy rose to superstardom, slipped into irrelevance, reinvented himself as a family friendly leading man, had a scandal, dropped into obscurity, and then threatened to stage a come back multiple times without ever actually coming back.

Murphy - SNL

Eddie Murphy – Saturday Night Live – 1980 – 1984

Murphy started performing as a stand-up comedian as a teenager.  In 1980, at the age of 19, Murphy joined the cast of Saturday Night Live.  At the time, he was the youngest cast member in the history of the show.

In the early 80s, SNL was in its first real slump.  It was actually facing the possibility of cancellation.  Murphy and co-star Joe Piscopo were the sole stand-outs of the cast and arguably saved the show.  Murphy became the show’s clear star with characters like Buckwheat, Gumby and Mr. Robinson.  He also did a killer Stevie Wonder impression.

Murphy also has the distinction of being the only cast member to host the show while he was still a regular cast member.  Murphy remained on SNL until 1984.  Once he left, he would not return for over three decades.  According to Murphy:

“They were shitty to me on Saturday Night Live a couple of times after I’d left the show. They said some shitty things. There was that David Spade sketch [when Spade showed a picture of Murphy around the time of Vampire in Brooklyn and said, “Look, children, a falling star”]. I made a stink about it, it became part of the folklore. What really irritated me about it at the time was that it was a career shot. It was like, “Hey, come on, man, it’s one thing for you guys to do a joke about some movie of mine, but my career? I’m one of you guys. How many people have come off this show whose careers really are fucked up, and you guys are shitting on me?” And you know every joke has to go through all the producers, and ultimately, you know Lorne or whoever says, [Lorne Michaels voice] “OK, it’s OK to make this career crack…”

Eddie Murphy - 48 Hours - 1982

Eddie Murphy – 48 Hours – 1982

While Murphy was still on SNL, he made his feature film debut in 1982’s 48 Hours.

I don’t think the impact of 48 Hours can be over-stated.  It wasn’t just a smash hit.  It practically invented a genre that would dominate the film landscape for the next decade.  The buddy cop movie began with Nolte and Murphy in 48 Hours.

Murphy commented on why the movie – in which Nolte’s character says some very politically incorrect racial slurs – worked:

You know why it worked then and the reason why it wouldn’t now? My significance in film – and again I’m not going to be delusional – was that I’m the first black actor to take charge in a white world onscreen. That’s why I became as popular as I became. People had never seen that before. Black-exploitation movies, even if you dealt with the Man, it was in your neighborhood, never in their world. In 48 Hours, that’s why it worked, because I’m running it, making the story go forward. If I was just chained to the steering wheel sitting there being called “watermelon,” even back then they would have been like, “This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!”

Nolte was supposed to host SNL when the movie opened.  But he partied a little too hard and had to cancel.  Instead, Murphy – still a cast member on the show – took over the hosting duties.

Murphy was already a star thanks to SNL.  But 48 Hours made him a movie star.  Murphy was nominated for a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year.  He lost to Ben Kingsley for Ghandi.

murphy - trading places

Eddie Murphy – Trading Places – 1983

The following year, Murphy teamed with SNL alumn Dan Aykroyd in Trading Places.

Murphy played a poor conman who trades places with a rich Wall Street trader played by Aykroyd.  Jamie Lee Curtis played a hooker with a heart of gold who helps Aykroyd deal with his new status quo.

Trading Places was directed by John Landis who would work with Murphy two more times.  The rich man/poor man comedy was an even greater hit than 48 Hours.  Murphy was nominated for another Golden Globe.

Eddie Murphy - Delirious - 1983

Eddie Murphy – Delirious – 1983

Murphy was 2 for 2 in Hollywood and was still a star on TV.  He was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical for Trading Places.  Plus he had a hit stand-up comedy special in Eddie Murphy: Delirious that same year.

Murphy’s career was hot.  He wasn’t just a rising star.  He was shooting straight to the top.

Next: Beverly Hills Cop and The Golden Child


Posted on January 31, 2012, in Movies, Saturday Night Live, TV, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 412 Comments.

  1. What Happens When Once-Beloved Comedy Fails the Test of Time?

    Perhaps the most troublesome example of beloved comedy that doesn’t quite hold up these days is that of Eddie Murphy. Delirious and Raw are two of the most important standup specials of the 80s, perhaps even of all-time, and with good reason. Murphy is a manic ball of energy on stage, going through hilarious bit after hilarious bit without any sign of slowing down. And yet, we also have to deal with the homophobia that was rampant in both specials. It would be one thing it had merely been casual use of the f-word; that could likely be written off as “well, that word was more acceptable then,” but what makes it so hard to take now is the genuine homophobia within the bits. It wasn’t just the word, it was the sentiment. When Murphy talks about unwanted attention of gay men, he plays into the biggest driving factor behind homophobia — the idea that homosexuality is a clear and present threat to masculinity.



    A Florida con man uses the passing of the long time Congressman from his district who he just happens to share a name with, to get elected to his version of paradise, Congress, where the money flows from lobbyists. But soon he learns the nature of the game and decides to fight back the only way he knows how, with a con.

    This was the first time Eddie Murphy appeared in a film that was not distributed by Paramount Pictures.

    The film has the interesting premise of having a con-man going into politics and find it even more corrupt then he could even imagine and everything is going fine until he decides to grow a conscious. Which is helped along due to a romantic interest.

    The film is basically built around the humor and charisma of the star Eddie Murphy. As it seems the movie is more Mr. Murphy goes to Washington.

    The film seems strangely clean material wise there is strong language here and there but for the most part the film could play as a family film for older kids. At least probably compared to what is out there today. Even though even kids might be a bit bored by this film which has more dialogue then slapstick scenes.

    The problem is that the cast around him fills out the necessary one dimensional roles. There is a cameo by James Garner in the early scenes that seemed to give the film more of a prestige. Della Reese only seems here to remind people of the animosity she and Eddie Murphy had in scenes in HARLEM NIGHTS. As they have a similar but less vicious one here. She only is around for a handful of scenes.

    The rest fill out their roles but are given barely any material to work with. So they just stand around and deliver what is required without making any mark.

    This film finds Mr. Murphy more at a crossroads as he is still a movie star but starting to drop as his films aren’t a guaranteed hit. This was right before he decided to do more kids films. So while this film isn’t a hard R. It isn’t the classic Eddie Murphy either. Here he is more starting to lighten up. We can say that he can only be as good as the material.

    The film is a film of it’s time which is a Nice way to say dated. The films strives to be a crossover film. Meant to unite audiences of all races. Even through part of the premise is this more urban street smart guy making the rounds through the privileged white collar but even dirtier Streets of the politics of Washington D.C. The only Sly eye the film brings about is the ridiculousness of politics and the passing of laws through bribery which we had all know. But this was the first film that was designed as a blockbuster to expose it on the big screen. Not that it goes after the subject with a vengeance but suggests it. Which when it came out and me being so young really opened my eyes.

    I remember seeing this film in theaters when I was a teenager and really being at my own crossroads as it was the first time I realized Eddie Murphy wasn’t magical. I really was excited to see the film. But as I sat through it by the end I told myself I liked it but there were so many moments of disappointment. When I watched it again on horn video a few months later I realized that I didn’t really enjoy it and having watched it recently I can really see why the film is so disappointing.

    I have gone on record as a huge Eddie Murphy fan and while the film gives him plenty of ammo to work with. The film just doesn’t seem worthwhile in the end. Even though this seems the closest character to his personality all smiles, little jokes here and there and Provocative colorful suits. The entourage. His seemingly real reactions and over sharing in some situations.

    There are some laughs but most of the humor is television level and the jokes a lot of times that might have been timely back then. Just seem to sit there watching it now.

    Part of the humor and fascination of the film is the idea of a African-American in the white world of politics back ground successful and keeping his morals to a degree. One last home even suggests his character running for president. Which at the time seemed an impossibility that became a reality only a couple of decades later.

    In the end there is just no effort put forth to make the film feel and kind of inspiration. The film plays routine and measured. So that whole Eddie Murphy is supposed to be the wild card he ends up fitting In Way too easily. As he was supposed to make the film more entertaining through personality, but there are limits to what he can do or really if he wants to.

    He seems more scripted then usual as the films comedy comes off more lean with all the delicious fat trimmed off. Which might be more healthy but not as tasty or memorable.

    This political comedy film is directed by Jonathan Lynn, who previously was a co-creator and co-writer of the British political comedy series YES MINISTER, and its’ sequel, YES, PRIME MINISTER.

    The film ends up being serviceable but not as juicy as you would like. To general Audiences and staying focused purely On the story then any asides it even character development. The film feels too straight laced.

    Though if that is what you are looking for, more a safe Eddie Murphy comedy this is one for you (Though seems sort of almost blasphemous)

    GRADE: D


  3. I think Eddie Murphy’s career is pretty tragic. I really loved him in “Dreamgirls” and I agree, you could really see that this was a project he was passionate about. I dream of an alternate universe where Norbit was put on the shelf for another year just to see if Eddie Murphy could have won the Oscar and if that would have taken him places.

    But who knows? Maybe he will make another comeback or just stick with voicework.


    • I still think ol’ Eddie should’ve won an Oscar in that spot, regardless of “Norbit”.


    • I think that Eddie started getting lazy around the 2000s and pretty much coasted on his past reputation. Instead of trying to make decidedly more “smart” comedies like he did during his ’80s-early ’90s peak, he cashed in quick, easy paychecks on “slapsticky”, kiddie movies, weird high concept movies (e.g, “Pluto Nash”, “A Thousand Words”, “Meet Dave”, etc.), or movies that recycled the crude “Nutty Professor” formula (e.g. “Norbit”). “Bulworth” was arguably the last true or real “smart” comedy that Eddie took part in during this time period.


    • The huge early success he had seemed to get to his head a lot, and like many actors with a huge ego he’d be quite difficult to work with on set. Wes Craven talked about how he refused to do funny stuff and all sorts of things which were in the script for “Vampire in Brooklyn”, and that movie’s biggest problem is in fact that the balance between comedy and horror doesn’t work very well. It’s uneven.

      In the 1990s, he was probably too stuck in his prime mentally, when he had a huge deal at Paramount with his Eddie Murphy Productions and could call (almost) all the shots. But a few flops will slow down your momentum and power and you either adjust to that… or you end up making stuff like “Meet Dave” and “Norbit”.

      Eddie Murphy’s downfall, I think, is having big ambitions but too big of an ego.


      • I think that after his success in the 1980’s, he wasn’t in another film that took him to the next step, or even kept him on the same level. He was kinda stuck on the success he previously created.


  4. Host-To-Host: A Completely Necessary Ranking Of Every Host In MTV Video Music Awards History

    Eddie Murphy

    Year Hosted: 1985

    Eddie Murphy‘s sweater deserves its own line of postage stamps. MESMERIZING! Murphy was an incredibly cool dude in 1985, yet there’s something about the cruelty of time that reveals how strange it is that there was once a broadcast where you could see if the guy from 48 Hrs. could make Sting laugh. Award shows are weird, eh? The whole affair closed with Eddie Murphy singing “Party All The Time” to Tina Turner which is a pretty cute touch. We hope the girl mentioned in “Party All The Time” got the help she needed with her crippling party addiction or at least has Andrew W.K. on speed dial. One can’t help but wonder what his performance would be like if he went all in or had a different year to work with.


  5. Would Eddie Murphy Ever Do A Superhero Movie? Here’s What He Said

    Someone needs to buy the rights to Eddie Murphy’s autobiography, because he’s been hitting his recent interviews to promote Mr. Church out of the park. The most recent piece of candor that the legendary comedian has put out into the world is an answer to an question often asked of actors doing the rounds these days: could he see himself in a super-hero film? If you were expecting a yes, be prepared to be let down in the most hysterical manner, as Murphy shot down any chance of being a legitimate superhero with his own personal superpowered humor. During an interview with Mashable, Eddie Murphy delivered a mini-monologue that basically said he feels he’s too old to play any sort of superhero.


  6. Whatever Happened to Eddie Murphy?

    Although he’s been a fixture in Hollywood since his days on Saturday Night Live in the ’80s, Eddie Murphy hasn’t really done all that much in the last handful of years. Where has he been? And what has he been up to? As it turns out, he’s been living life like the rest of us.


    • Most Comedic Actors Have a 10-Year Window of Greatness

      Eddie Murphy (1982-1988)

      Almost every year in the ’80s Eddie Murphy was pumping out something new that everyone loved.48 Hrs.

      Trading Places

      Beverly Hills Cop

      The Golden Child

      Beverly Hills Cop II

      Coming to America

      Eddie Murphy had an incredible run in the ‘80s. Almost every year he was pumping out something new that everyone loved. Then came the dark period of 1989 to 1995 when it seemed like every film he touched turned into garbage. He had a little recovery in the late ‘90s with The Nutty Professor, Dr. Doolittle, and Bowfinger. But since then it’s been mainly mediocrity interspersed with the occasional hit, like Dreamgirls.


    • The Real Reason You Don’t Hear From Eddie Murphy Anymore


  7. ‘Star Trek IV’ Writer on Eddie Murphy’s Lost Role and Film’s Rewrite Drama

    Murphy was going to play an astrophysicist at Berkeley, and the original story did not include Dr. Gillian Taylor (Catherine Hicks), the marine biologist and love interest to Kirk. Eventually the Murphy deal fell through and Gillian Taylor was worked into the script to replace him.


  8. Eddie Murphy Gets Candid In In-Depth Interview, Talks Return To Film And Stand-Up

    Via Shadow and Act:
    It’s rare these days that Eddie Murphy sits for more than a few minutes to be interviewed, so it was good to watch this almost 40-minute conversation with the actor (and musician) courtesy the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. Moderated by Stacey Wilson Hunt of New York Magazine, and happening in front of a live audience, Murphy was on hand to discuss his latest big screen project, “Mr. Church,”

    [During the interview] he [says he] is interested in getting back on the stage, but not just to do stand-up comedy. Murphy’s ambitions for a stage return will encompass more than just comedy. As he says when asked whether he’ll ever entertain doing a comedy tour again, he answers: “Yeah, I’ll entertain it. I think about it. Eventually I will. But it won’t just be stand-up. It’ll be music. It’ll be comedy. It’ll be stuff from my movies… I’ve just got to figure out a way to put a show together. Because me just coming out on stage and doing stand-up, I can’t see myself doing just that. I can see having some of that, and then doing everything else. We’ll see.”

    A big screen “comeback” might also be something [fans can] to look forward to; at least that’s what I immediately thought about when Murphy told the audience that he’d like to work with Quentin Tarantino, [Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.]

    You can check out the FULL interview with Eddie Murphy BELOW:


    • 10 Actors Who Suffered The Most In 2016

      Eddie Murphy

      Eddie Murphy has been taking it easy the last few years, outside of voicing Donkey for a Shrek short and making a cameo in a Beverly Hills Cop TV pilot that didn’t air. He also promised his days of doing bad movies for money were over, and that he was only seeking quality projects.

      That’s why people were excited for Mr Church, which was a low budget indie movie based on a true story. It was a chance to see him stretch himself as an actor, without a fat suit or a talking animal in sight. There was even talk of an Oscar nod for his work, but alas the movie failed to impress anybody. Murphy’s performance was fine, but the film was a mawkish, lukewarm TV movie that vanished without trace in the U.S.

      Probably not the result Eddie was looking for with his first onscreen role in five years, which is why Beverly Hills Cop 4 is looking increasingly likely.


      • What Happened to Eddie Murphy – What’s He Up To Now?

        What Happened to Eddie Murphy – News and Updates

        This September, Murphy starred as the title character in the drama movie, Mr. Church. Originally premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, it revolved around the unique, and heart-warming relationship between a little girl and a talented cook. Aside from Murphy, who played the part of Mr. Henry Joseph Church, other cast members in the film included Britt Robertson, Xavier Samuel, Lucy Fry, Natascha McElhone and Christian Madsen. While the actor received praised for his performance, Mr. Church was generally met with negative reviews; it currently holds a 15% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 37/100 score on Metacritic.

        Aside from that, it has been announced that Murphy will be working on a few films in the upcoming year including Triplets, Richard Pryor: Is It Something I Said? and Beverly Hills Cop 4.


    • Eddie Murphy on Making His First Indie Movie, Celebrating Pluto Nash, and Returning to Stand-up


  9. Beatty never been consistent for every hit hes had a few flops


  10. eddie should branch out in more drama he has talent


    • It sounds good in theory, but there are some factors to consider: I think Eddie Murphy would want to do drama on his own terms, the television/film community just doesn’t see him as a dramatic actor (Bill Murray once went through that), and he’d need the kind of vehicle which would do well and inspire him to continue in that direction.
      I don’t know, Eddie Murphy’s always been a tough case: I’m not trying to be funny here, but I think Eddie Murphy moved away from comedy a long time ago (I don’t think his heart was really in it) on a personal level, but the next thing that was on the level of his comedic works never has happened, so he’s kind of stuck in an artistic no man’s land. This is why F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there are no second acts in life (that doesn’t apply to everyone though), because that’s been the case for Murphy. It’s tough for him, since not many people blow up like he did in the 1980’s and become that huge, but it’s impossible just to enjoy a few good years with something unless there’as something equal or better to replace it.


  11. Bill has done a lot of dram dies in the last 18 years Eddie could do the same .If his movie career is dead he could venture into a tv sitcom MAybe a modern family type thing.


    • Murphy was on the perimeter of TV with his involvement in the stop-motion show “The PJ’s” (which I liked, although at first I didn’t understand what PJ’s meant). I’m not sure if live action TV is his game though, even if I believe he’d do fine in a series or miniseries. I’m just not sure if he’s interested.


  12. Tv might be his only hope. With his movie career going the way it is there might be no tv offers.


  13. Oscars: Ranking the Last 12 Academy Awards Hosts!8/billy-crystal-2012/


    Billy Crystal (2012)

    After last year’s rightfully mocked experiment with youthful hosts, the 84th Academy Awards pivoted entirely in the opposite direction, into the comforting arms of Billy Crystal. The result could hardly be called exciting, but after the pre-telecast fireworks Academy mavens were perhaps slightly relieved to be a little bit boring. If that was an unspoken goal — other than some unscripted moments displaying genuine emotion — they got their wish. Crystal and producer Brian Grazer were safe, familiar choices for the Oscars after Brett Ratner verbally torpedoed his stewardship of the ceremony and Eddie Murphy subsequently withdrew as host. The film montage featured some clever edits — the juxtaposition of scenes from “The Help” and “Bridesmaids,” for example — but it was hard to escape a nagging feeling the night would be filled with deja vu.


  14. Arise Prince Akeem! Eddie Murphy ‘working on a sequel to hit 1988 comedy Coming to America’

    The comedian is in the early stages


    • Ever since Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer did those “Barbershop” movies, I kind of wish that Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall did a “Coming to America” spin-off about those old bickering men in the barbershop in Queens.


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