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Son of a Brooklyn policeman who died when he was eight years old, African-American comedy superstar Eddie Murphy was born on April 3, 1982, and grew up in the comfortable middle-class community of Hempstead, New York, with his mother and stepfather.
By age 15, he was doing stand-up gigs for $25 to $50 each, and within a few years he was topping the comedy club circuit.
Murphy was 19 years old when he was hired as one of the supporting artists on NBC’s comedy weekly Saturday Night Live. His unique combination of boyish swagger, sharky good humor, underlying rage, and street-smart versatility made the comedian the main attraction on SNL, and soon the country was celebrating with imitations of such Murphy characterizations.
Just when it seemed like he couldn’t get any more popular, Murphy was hastily added to the cast of Walter Hill’s 1982 comedy/melodrama film 48 Hours, and voila, an $8 million-a-movie movie star was born.
The actor followed up this cinematic triumph with John Landis’s Trading Places, an update of Prince and the Pauper released during the summer of 1983, the same year that Eddie Murphy’s standup album Comedian won a Grammy.
In 1984, he finally got the chance to lead a movie himself: Beverly Hills Cop, one of the most successful movies of the decade. Proving that at this juncture Murphy could not be wrong, his next leading vehicle, The Golden Child (1986), made a fortune at the box office, even though the film itself was not perfect.
After Beverly Hills Cop 2 and its live standup video Eddie Murphy Raw (both from 1987), the popularity and Murphy’s career seemed to be on the decline, although his fans refused to abandon him. His esteem rose in the eyes of many with his next project, Coming to America (1987), a reunion with John Landis that allowed him to play a host of characters, some of whom he rehearsed so well that he was totally unrecognizable. .
Murphy leaned as director, producer, and screenwriter with Harlem Nights (1989), a 1930s black gangster farce that featured an incredible cast, but it was somewhat destroyed by the lazy script and cliche plot that felt recycled from the stories. Produced for Paramount, the film did well at the box office (in the $60 million range) despite devastating reviews and reports of audience dropouts.
After a two-year onscreen absence after Cop, Murphy resurfaced with a 1996 remake of Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor. Directed by Tom Shadyac and produced by the infallible Brian Grazer, the film surpassed all of Murphy’s previous efforts, earning hundreds of millions and pointing the actor in a more familiar direction..
His next two feature films, Dr. Dolittle and the animated Mulan (both 1998), were aimed at children, although in 1999 he returned to more mature material.
Over the next few years, Murphy would go on to appear in a handful of comedies like Meet Dave, Imagine That, and Tower Heist. In 2011, he was announced as the host of the 2012 Academy Awards, with Brett Ratner (his Tower Heist director) producing the show, but Murphy dropped out after Ratner quit. In 2013, a fourth Beverly Hills Cop was announced, but the film was pulled from Paramount’s schedule after pre-production issues.