Charlie Murphy. Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage
Charlie Murphy died today from leukemia. He was just 57 years old. As Eddie Murphy’s older brother, Charlie Murphy was privy to the shenanigans of the demi-monde during the 1980s, and he ain’t forget a thing. The actor and comedian, who made his silver screen debut in Harlem Nights (1989), became a household name when he began making appearances on Chapelle’s Show, starring in the legendary skits, “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories.”
It simply must be said: “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories” changed lives. His sketches about the behind-the-scenes antics of Rick James and Prince inspired countless quotables that have become classics today. Murphy’s deadpan delivery set against a green backdrop, his voice unwavering as he recounts misadventures run amok, created a brilliant foil to Dave Chapelle’s glorious characterizations.
Prince, who acknowledged to MTV that “The whupping is true,” even went so far as to use the image of Chapelle dressed as The Purple One on the cover of his single “Breakfast Can Wait.” Here’s Prince in his own words:
Murphy, who had already appeared in films including Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, CB4, The Player’s Club, went on to do the voice of Ed Wuncler III for 10 episodes of The Boondocks, as well as star as Victor “Vic” Hargrove, the salty landlord in Black Jesus. Not that I am biased, but Murphy, along with cohort John Witherspoon, stole the show as the two made the best odd couple cast in modern television.
Born in Brooklyn on July 12, 1959, Murphy’s life changed after making the wrong move. As he recounts in The Making of a Stand-Up Guy (Simon & Schuster, 2009), “On the spur of the moment, for what in our minds amounted to nothing more than a lark, we decided to rob the driver at gunpoint. […] I was charged as a youthful offender on my first offense and handed three years’ probation. […] [I]n the third year I was arrested for petit larceny, loitering, and a few other misdemeanors. Taken all together, the crimes were a violation of my probation. […] I was sentenced to serve out the remainder of my probation in Nassau County Jail. I was going away for ten months.”
The day he was released from jail, Murphy enlisted in the United States Navy. He served as a Boiler Technician from 1978 and 1983. When he returned to civilian life, his brother was on his way to mega-stardom, and Murphy went along for the ride as Eddie’s security guard. Eddie eventually fired Charlie for being too overprotective and hot-headed, a trait he carried from his youth.
Murphy took comedy seriously, and used to pick fights with people who did not laugh at Eddie’s jokes. The Hollywood Reporter quotes him as saying, “It was to the point that, if I went to a show and you were the hater in the audience that was like, ‘That shit wasn’t funny’ POW! I’m jamming you, man,” Murphy once said. “Because the shit was funny. There was 10,000 people laughing, and you that one joker that wanna try and squeeze a lemon. F— you. I don’t even want you to be there. And I took it as a personal crusade, and they were like, ‘You know what, you’re a little overzealous with your job.’ So, that is how I ended up not doing that anymore.”
You can hear more about his early days in this remarkable interview with the Breakfast Club:
Charlie Murphy was more than the funny guy. He knew the score. His final Tweet, written last night at 10:00 p.m., offered words of wisdom to all who struggle in this life to make it everyday.
One to Sleep On: Release the past to rest as deeply as possible.
— Charlie Murphy (@charliemurphy) April 12, 2017
R.I.P. Charlie Murphy.
Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.