TheGrio Awards, Icon: Eddie Murphy

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The 62-year-old comedian and actor has delivered countless classics and an impeccable work ethic that set the standard for other entertainers to follow.

As one of the most successful performers on stage and across a multitude of films, Eddie Murphy’s illustrious catalog of characters has made him a household staple for decades.

He is one of the very few entertainers who have starred in top-grossing movies, such as “Coming to America,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and “Daddy Day Care,” which made over $100 million each at the box office. Tapping into animation, Murphy grew as a beloved figure starring in the film franchise “Shrek,” a fantasy comedy where he played the energetic character Donkey. From that project, Murphy received Kids’ Choice Awards, an Annie Award, and multiple award nominations for his role.

In 2006, he starred in the all-time classic “Dreamgirls.” He won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role along with a Critics Choice Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and more nominations, including Oscar consideration. Then came “Norbit,” where he also served as the film’s producer and screenwriter, with many feature films to follow.

Murphy is gearing up to take over the big screen again with his latest holiday movie, “Candy Cane Lane.” Starring alongside Tracee Ellis Ross, Murphy leads as a father and husband who tries to advance his chances of winning his neighborhood’s Christmas home decoration competition by making a deal with an elf in a plan that ultimately goes awry. The movie is slated to premiere on Amazon Prime Video in December. Murphy is also set to reprise his “Beverly Hills Cop” role. “Beverly Hills Cop” debuted in theaters in 1984, and has spawned three sequels. The franchise’s fourth installment, “Beverly Hills Cop: Alex Foley,” will be released in 2024.

Eddie Murphy’s everlasting stamp on comedy shaped a cultural phenomenon that redefined what it means to be a comic powerhouse. As Murphy continues to transcend throughout Hollywood, his comedic stomping grounds remain at the forefront of his career endeavors.

Murphy started stand-up comedy at 15 years old. While most teenagers were preoccupied with typical high school distractions, the New Yorker began establishing his name across comedy circuits throughout the city. His humorous impressions and stand-up routines amused audiences, making him stand out against his counterparts. He continued to perform at local gigs until he received the chance to entertain on a larger scale, setting the stage for the early phases of his comedy career to move upward.

Word reached Murphy that there was an opening slot in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” (“SNL”). Excited at the opportunity to have a spot where he could showcase his funniness on a bigger stage, he flocked to the phone lines to make sure he was included for consideration. Murphy reached out to the office of Neil Levy, the show’s talent coordinator at the time, daily. Levy’s secretary answered most of the time, which left Murphy at a dead end. He continued calling until one day, Levy picked up. On the other end of the phone call was Murphy pitching himself and spewing jokes during their conversation.

“He went into this thing about how he had 18 brothers and sisters, and he was the only one who could work, and they were all counting on him to get this job. That made me laugh,” Levy told the Atlantic in a 2020 interview.

Murphy’s passion and persistence led to a meeting in Levy’s office, where he executed a hysterical argument with three men, effortlessly switching between each character. That impressed him enough to welcome Murphy on “SNL” as a featured cast member. His talent soared past what the “SNL” crew expected from the rising star, and within a few weeks, Murphy was promoted to a full cast member.

At 19 years old, the up-and-coming comedian delivered skits that extracted uproars of laughter from audiences and birthed unforgettable characters during his time on the show: Gumby, Velvet Jones, and Mr. Robinson remain iconic personas from Murphy’s stint on “SNL.”

Murphy started working at “SNL” in 1980. During his tenure, he appeared in 65 episodes, served as host in 1984, and resurrected the show from its purgatory after most of its high-profile cast left before he joined. Not only did Murphy revive “SNL,” he also turned into the show’s breakout star. In 1984, he left “SNL” to concentrate on his promising acting career that had already been developing.

Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall,
(Left to right) Honoree Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall arrive at Spike TV’s “Eddie Murphy: One Night Only” at the Saban Theatre on Nov. 3, 2012, in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images)

Murphy debuted as a Hollywood actor in the 1982 film, “48 Hrs.,” where he plays a thief who helps a police officer catch a murderer on the run. His leading role showed Hollywood executives that his seamless transition from stand-up comedian to actor made him indispensable across both worlds. Next came his second movie, “Trading Places,” a 1983 comedy where an investor and con artist switch places. The 1984 action comedy, “Beverly Hills Cop,” was another big hit for the blossoming movie star. In between his back-to-back movie releases, Murphy continued doing stand-up before solely focusing on his acting career after leaving “SNL.”

In 1983, his HBO comedy special, “Eddie Murphy: Delirious,” premiered, showcasing Murphy carrying out a stream of witty material and laugh-out-loud moments to a packed crowd of supporters. That same year, Murphy released his second comedy album, “Eddie Murphy: Comedian,” which achieved gold status and earned him a Grammy for Best Comedy Recording. In 1987, Murphy released another stand-up comedy film “Eddie Murphy Raw.”

“Coming to America” debuted in 1988 and shifted the course of Murphy’s career. It provided a different perspective on the multiple facets of Blackness and set the precedent for future Black films to use as a guide. It launched the careers of celebrities like Samuel L. Jackson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Garcelle Beauvais, and other actors. The role also challenged Murphy as it was his first time playing a romantic lead. The film became one of the top-earning productions featuring African Americans, collecting $128 million nationally and more than $288 million worldwide.

Coming 2 America
Eddie Murphy stars in “Coming 2 America.” (Photo Courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Over 30 years later, the film remains a household favorite. It returned as a sequel in 2021 on Amazon Prime Video.

The artist closed out his successful career run of that decade as the writer and director of his movie “Harlem Nights,” which starred two of his childhood idols, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx, in 1989.

Murphy dominated the ’80s with his comedy and acting talents. Because of a cultural shift, the rise of other Black creatives, and a few low-performing projects, Murphy’s career suffered a minor setback. That setback did not last for long after the release of the 1996 movie “The Nutty Professor,” an indicator of the megastar’s highly anticipated comeback. “Dr. Dolittle” and the Emmy-award-winning, adult animated sitcom “The PJ’s” shortly followed.

As the culture shifted and evolved, so did Murphy’s supporters. Fans determined his official comeback to be his 2019 dramedy “Dolemite Is My Name.” Murphy returned to “SNL” that same year after a 35-year hiatus from the late-night show. He came back as a host and revived his most popular characters from his past. His return was the most-watched episode in more than two years. He also won an Emmy as the “SNL” host for Outstanding Guest Actor In a Comedy Series.

To recognize his decades-long career and significant contributions to entertainment, Murphy walked away with the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille award at the 90th Golden Globes in 2023. A few weeks later, he added another film under his belt with Netflix called “You People,” where he starred with Jonah Hill, Lauren London, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

With other projects scheduled to be released at the end of 2023 and future ones lined up in 2024, it is evident that Murphy is going nowhere soon.

He is just getting started – again.

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