Like Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor before him, Eddie Murphy was the preeminent African-American comic of his era; in fact, Murphy was arguably the preeminent comic of the 1980s, period -- at his peak, no other performer, regardless of race, was a bigger star or a more audacious talent. Combining Pryor's viciously acute observational gifts and love of obscenities with Cosby's undeniable mainstream appeal, Murphy quickly leaped from clubs to television to film -- even finding success as a serious pop singer -- on the way to establishing himself as the most wildly popular comedian since the heyday of Steve Martin.
Edward Regan Murphy was born April 3, 1961, in Hempstead, NY. By his mid-teens he was already working as a professional stand-up in Long Island clubs; by the age of 17, he was performing at Manhattan's famed Comic Strip and soon mounted a club tour of the East Coast. In 1980 his precocious talent won him a recurring gig as a featured performer on Saturday Night Live; at the moment, the comedy institution was suffering one of its frequent dry spells, and Murphy quickly established himself as its breakout star, graduating to full-time cast member status on the strength of memorable riffs on the Claymation hero Gumby and Our Gang character Buckwheat as well as creations like street pimp Velvet Jones and Mr. Robinson, a ghetto counterpart to Mr. Rogers.
In 1982, Murphy issued his debut comedy album, a self-titled live effort which drew fire for its controversial portrayal of the Asian community and misogynistic overtones as well as "Faggots," the first of many homophobic routines which ultimately resulted in a boycott call from the gay community. That same year he made his feature debut co-starring with Nick Nolte in the buddy comedy 48 Hrs.; the film was a major success, and at the age of just 21 Murphy was a Hollywood superstar, with a 15-million-dollar deal with Paramount Pictures as his reward.
The Delirious concert tour followed in 1983; recorded at a sold-out August performance, the LP Eddie Murphy: Comedian reached the Top 40 while his second feature, Trading Places, emerged as the year's highest-grossing film. A small role in 1984's disastrous Best Defense was Murphy's first misstep, but a year later he returned with Beverly Hills Cop, one of the most successful pictures in box-office history. Also in 1985 he teamed with producer Rick James to record How Could It Be, a straightforward R&B album which spawned the mammoth hit single "Party All the Time."
Murphy was the hottest actor in Hollywood when he signed on for the 1986 quasi-mystical action comedy The Golden Child; the film was a commercial and critical bomb, and for the first time his star power was in question. While 1987's Beverly Hills Cop II stood as the year's biggest blockbuster and restored much of his career's luster, the aptly titled concert film Raw drew considerable heat for its abrasive, politically incorrect ranting. After 1988's Coming to America raked in the revenue, Murphy wrote, directed, and starred in 1989's Harlem Nights, a black gangster tale which performed miserably and took a massive critical drubbing.
Following the Harlem Nights debacle, he agreed to reunite in 1990 with Nick Nolte in Another 48 Hrs. When it too bombed, Murphy's career bottomed out; neither of his 1992 efforts, Boomerang and The Distinguished Gentleman, performed as well as his earlier hits, the 1993 LP Love's Alright failed to chart, and even 1994's seeming sure thing Beverly Hills Cop III tanked. After 1995's Vampire in Brooklyn, an ill-advised horror comedy, he starred in a hit remake of Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor in 1996, but in the early weeks of the following year the action-adventure fiasco Metro took a nosedive. ~ Jason Ankeny