Eddie Murphy is one of the great comic geniuses of our time. His lively, energetic, brilliant standup performances made him one of the biggest comedy stars in the world in the 1980s and he went on to star in some of the funniest movies ever made. The quality of those movies might have declined in the past couple of years, but there’s no denying that he’s still one of the most hilarious people alive. His comedy genius has been recognized with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Here are 10 things that you (probably) don’t know about Eddie Murphy.
10. He was not the first choice to play Axel Foley
Believe it or not, Axel Foley, the role that made Eddie Murphy a movie star, was not actually meant for him. It was originally offered to Sylvester Stallone. And Beverly Hills Cop, one of the funniest comedy movies ever made, began its life as a straight action movie. According to Stallone, his version of the film would have “looked like the opening scene from Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy. Believe it or not, the finale was me in a stolen Lamborghini playing chicken with an oncoming freight train being driven by the ultra slimy bad guy.” That’s weird, right? A dark, bleak, serious Beverly Hills Cop starring Sylvester Stallone as a twisted, badass, fearless Axel Foley – it would’ve been the polar opposite of the Eddie Murphy version. And who knows? Maybe if the Stallone version had been made, Murphy would never have gone on to become such a huge movie star. Elements of Stallone’s script would later be reused to become Cobra, one of his worst reviewed movies, although to be fair to it, it has garnered a sort of cult following in the decades since its release. Still, it doesn’t have the following of Beverly Hills Cop.
9. He might return to standup one day
In the 1980s, Eddie Murphy made a name for himself in the world of standup comedy and ended up becoming one of the biggest comics in the world. He was selling out huge venues and starring in massively popular concert movies. However, sadly, as his fame took off, all the movies started getting in the way and he was doing less and less standup until, eventually, he wasn’t getting on stage at all. And now, his fans are waiting for him to get back into it. And he wants to return. Eddie himself wants to get back into performing standup. The problem is that the longer he stays off that stage, the harder it is to go back up there. It’s a paradox. When he was asked about it a few months ago by Jimmy Kimmel, Murphy said, “For years, I’d been procrastinating about it, going, ‘Oh, I’ll do standup again,’ and it just got to, all of a sudden, I’m this far away from it. But honestly, now, I really am curious about doing it again, because it’s been so long and so much has changed and I’m such a different person.” Do it, Eddie! We love you! You’ll be great!
8. He had a tragic childhood – and he has a sense of humor about it
Eddie Murphy’s childhood was marked with some pretty dramatic moments of tragedy, but like all great comics and in typical Murphy fashion, he has a sense of humor about it. Murphy explained what happened with his parents when he was growing up once in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. It was candid, but he was also cracking jokes about it in the interview, almost like he was workshopping a standup bit about the tragedies that befell the Murphy family during his youth. He told Rolling Stone, “My mother and father broke up when I was three, and he died when I was eight, so I have very dim memories…He was a victim of the Murphy charm. A woman stabbed my father. I never got all the logistics. It was supposed to be one of those crimes of passion: ‘If I can’t have you, no one else will’ kind of deal. Someone said to me one day, ‘That’s why you don’t trust women.’ Get the fuck outta here! What are you, a fucking psychiatrist?” It’s the mark of a truly great comic when someone can recover from such a tragic childhood and come out the other end laughing about it.
7. He only did The Nutty Professor to prove he still had it
When the ‘80s decade was coming to an end, a lot of people were using Eddie Murphy as, in his words, a “whipping boy.” It was easy to crap all over his career and say that he’d lost it and he’d never have a hit movie again. So, he decided to make them eat their words by throwing himself and all his talents into The Nutty Professor, the remake of the Jerry Lewis classic. He explained the cycle of this kind of thinking: “I had a bunch of movies that didn’t work. People were saying, ‘Eddie’s not good,’ so I was like, ‘Not good? Let me show you what I can fucking do. I’ll do something where I play all these different characters.’ It’s a trip, it seems every five or six years, you have to do something to remind them that they like you. Then you get offered a bunch of stuff, because you were in a hit, and some of the movies might be shitty, but they throw so much paper at you that you can’t say no to it. That happens a bunch in this town. The problem when you’re doing those flicks for a lot of paper, though, is on TV, they show your hit right next to your flop, on there forever.”
6. He started doing standup because he wanted to be Richard Pryor
Eddie Murphy started doing standup comedy at the very young age of 15 years old because he really wanted to be like Richard Pryor. It was as simple as that. He wanted to emulate his childhood hero. He even says in his 1987 standup special, “I wanted to be Richard so bad that I used to go out on stage when I was 15 that I used to act and walk and everything like Richard Pryor.” Murphy is a worthy successor to the Pryor name, just like Chris Rock is a worthy successor to the Murphy name. Rock was acclaimed for hosting the Oscars in the year that the #OscarsSoWhite controversy was kicking off, and he was simply following in the footsteps of his heroes. In the ‘80s, Murphy appeared at the Oscars to lampoon the lack of African American representation, and in the ‘70s before him, Pryor took the stage at the Oscars to joke about – you guessed it! – the lack of African American representation. Murphy ended up casting Pryor opposite him as the co-lead in the first movie that he directed, and he’s currently working on a Richard Pryor biopic in which he’ll play the comic legend’s father.
5. He apologized for using homophobic slurs in Delirious 15 years later
In the early 1980s, when Eddie Murphy’s HBO comedy special Delirious was first released, it instantly became legendary. It was one of the funniest hours of standup ever performed and it inspired a whole generation of comics to get into the game. However, if it was released today, when everyone is much more enlightened and woke and politically correct, it wouldn’t be quite so beloved, because in his set, Murphy makes a lot of homophobic comments and uses slurs like the F-word. At the time, no one kicked up that much of a fuss, because it was the ‘80s and gay people were being blamed for the AIDS epidemic. It was a very homophobic time. Still, 15 years after the special was released, Murphy realized how insensitive his use of homophobic slurs might have been and released a long statement in which he apologized to anyone who was hurt by his jokes and slurs. He said that when he made those jokes, he was young and “misinformed.” He said, “Just like the rest of the world, I am more educated about AIDS in 1996 than I was in 1981. I think it is unfair to take the words of a misinformed 21-year-old and apply them to an informed 35-year-old man.” He concluded, “I deeply regret any pain all this has caused.”
4. Improvisation won his role in Saturday Night Live
Eddie Murphy was never intended to be a proper cast member on Saturday Night Live. Jean Doumanian was producing at the time and she was getting the cast together for the new season. At the time, SNL wasn’t very progressive (to be perfectly honest, it still isn’t) and so there was only room for one black cast member. It was supposed to be Robert Townsend, who replaced Charlie Barnett after he fell through. Doumanian was urged to give Murphy a chance by his agent and one of the show’s writers, so she brought him in after Townsend failed to sign his cast member contract for whatever reason and stuck him in the background of every sketch. She really did not want to give Eddie Murphy a chance. Anyway, one day, Doumanian was stuck up a creek without a paddle or enough material to pad out the Ray Sharkey episode, Murphy jumped in and started doing some racially charged standup material. After that, he was promoted to featured player and went on to become one of the biggest stars in entertainment history. Just think, if Barnett was available or Townsend had signed his contract, we could be living in a world where the name Eddie Murphy means nothing.
3. He paid for Redd Foxx’s funeral
Redd Foxx, one of the all time comedy greats, was one of Eddie Murphy’s biggest comedic influences when he was starting out in standup. Murphy would eventually go on to cast Foxx in a role in his movie Harlem Nights and also created and produced a whole sitcom as a comeback vehicle for him called The Royal Family. Sadly, during the production of the first season of The Royal Family, Foxx died. The network tried to rework the show, but no one wanted to watch a Redd Foxx show without Redd Foxx, so they canned it. Thanks to his well known cocaine habit, Foxx had managed to die without a penny to his name, so his family couldn’t afford to give him a proper send-off. Fortunately for them, Eddie Murphy did have quite a few pennies to his name and he idolized Redd Foxx, so he was happy to throw in all the cash that was needed to give Foxx the funeral that a legend of his stature deserved. After Redd Foxx died, Murphy mourned his passing by saying, “Clearly Redd Foxx stood alone and stood the test of time. We all learned from him and will miss him greatly.”
2. He was considered for a lot of iconic movie roles
Like many big movie stars, Eddie Murphy has been considered for a lot of roles in movies that went on to become famous. As it turns out, he has missed a lot of big opportunities, but when you’re a huge star and you’re getting sent every script in town in the hopes that you’ll love it and champion it into production, then you’re going to have to turn a lot of them down, and some of them will turn out to be missed opportunities. A lot of them will also turn out to be bullets you dodged. Eddie Murphy was the original choice to play Winston Zeddemore in Ghostbusters – in fact, the role was written specifically for him. He was also considered for the Steve Martin role in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the Morgan Freeman role in Driving Miss Daisy, the Chris Tucker role in Rush Hour, and the Bob Hoskins role in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the latter of which he regrets turning down. He thought a live action/animation hybrid would be a failure, but of course it wasn’t, and now, when he watches it, he “feels like an idiot.” He was even considered at one point to play Malcolm X – and the Grinch.
1. He’s a huge Star Trek fan
Eddie Murphy is such a cool guy and he embodies everything that made the ‘80s cool, so he’s the last person that you would expect to be a Star Trek fanboy. But you’ll never guess what – he is! He might even be the science fiction phenomenon’s biggest fan. He was even considered for a role in one of the movies based on the show. The fourth theatrical movie based on the show was the trickiest one to pull off, since it involved the characters going back in time to present day Earth to save the whales. Steve Meerson, one of the screenwriters who worked on the movie, told the Hollywood Reporter that the story involving Earth and whales never got any flak from Paramount, the studio that was making the movie, but the behind the scenes drama was mostly about casting. Meerson explained, “It was always the same story that got approved, but the original draft included a part for Eddie Murphy. Eddie was on the lot at Paramount at the time and arguably was the biggest star in the world. They had told us he was a huge Star Trek fan.” Sadly, the plan fell through and his character was replaced by Catherine Hicks’ Dr. Gillian Taylor.