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On This Day in History, April 3: Brooklyn Beginnings for Eddie Murphy

BROOKLYN — Eddie Murphy was born in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn on April 3, 1961, the son of Charles Murphy, a New York City policeman and amateur comedian and his wife, Lillian, a telephone operator.

The Murphys were divorced when Eddie was three, and Charles Murphy died about five years later. For a time, the family had to struggle to survive, and when the mother was hospitalized for an extended period, Eddie and his older brother, Charles, were placed in the care of a woman whom Eddie recalls as “a kind of black Nazi,” adding, “Staying with her was probably the reason I became a comedian.”

As a kid, Murphy did imitations of such cartoon characters as Bugs Bunny or Tom and Jerry, and film comics like Laurel and Hardy and Jerry Lewis. As he grew older, he began preparing comic routines with almost professional care, often rushing home from school to “rehearse” his impressions of Elvis Presley, Jackie Wilson, Al Green, and the Beatles.

When Eddie was 9 his mother married Vernon Lynch, a foreman at a Breyer’s ice cream factory, and a part-time boxing instructor, who moved the family to a two-story ranch house in the middle-class, largely black suburb of Roosevelt, Long Island. The Lynches continued to live in Roosevelt with their son Vernon, Eddie’s half-brother.

An indifferent student, Eddie Murphy regarded school as “a never-ending party, just a place to get laughs.” He attended Roosevelt Junior-Senior High School, which is also the alma mater of basketball star Julius Erving. While there, he dabbled in karate, baseball and astronomy, and worked for a time as a shoe store clerk. But developing his comedy skills was his only enduring passion, and he became an expert at “ranking,” a form of witty insult. In the tenth grade he disarmed a disapproving social studies teacher by announcing, “I’m going to be bigger than Bob Hope.”

Murphy took his first step toward superstardom on July 9, 1978, when he hosted a talent show at the Roosevelt Youth Center. “Looking out at the audience,” he later recalled, “I knew that it was show biz for the rest of my life.”

That decision made, he began performing on the comedy club circuit. He auditioned for “Saturday Night Live” where he was eventually cast as an extra. One of the shows ran short four minutes, and they threw Eddie in front of the cameras where he proved his talents as a wise-cracking comedian. Three years later, he was hailed as a major new star on the basis of his critically acclaimed work in the hit films 48 Hours (’82) and Trading Places (’83), which  brought him a multimillion-dollar film contract with Paramount. The latter film won him the Golden Globe Award as Best Actor.

Meanwhile, his nightclub tours continued to attract huge audiences. His first comedy album, Eddie Murphy, became a best seller and won a Grammy as Best Comedy Recording. Murphy created and produced the TV series “The Royal Family,” which was cut short upon the sudden death of the star Redd Foxx.

Murphy has said, “I want my work to have meaning. If you think of the 60s, you think of the Beatles, the 50s, you think of Elvis. I hope, when you think of the 80s, you think of [the rise of] Eddie Murphy.”

His desire has come true. Murphy is one of the highest grossing film stars of all time.

His films include Coming to America (’88), Beverly Hills Cop (’84), Harlem Nights (’89), Another 48 Hours (’90) as well as the Shrek, Dr. Doolittle and Nutty Professor movie franchises.

In 2007, Eddie was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Dreamgirls.

April 3, 2012 - 10:20am


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