The son of a Brooklyn policeman who died when he was eight, African-American comedy superstar Eddie Murphy was raised in the comfortable middle-class community of Hempstead, NY, by his mother and stepfather. A natural-born class clown, he was voted the most popular student at Roosevelt Junior and Senior High. By the age of 15, he was doing standup gigs at 25 to 50 dollars a pop, and within a few years he was headlining on the comedy-club circuit.
Murphy was 19 he was when hired as one of the backup performers on the NBC comedy weekly Saturday Night Live. His unique blend of youthful arrogance, sharkish good cheer, underlying rage, and street-smart versatility transformed the comedian into SNL's prime attraction, and soon the country was reverberating with imitations of such choice Murphy characterizations as sourball celebrity Gumby, inner-city kiddie host Mr. Robinson, prison poet Tyrone Green, and the Little Rascals' Buckwheat. Just when it seemed that he couldn't get any more popular, Murphy was hastily added to the cast of Walter Hill's 1982 comedy/melodrama feature film 48 Hours, and voila, an eight-million-dollars-per-picture movie star was born. The actor followed this cinematic triumph with John Landis' Trading Places, a Prince and the Pauper update released during the summer of 1983, the same year that the standup album Eddie Murphy, Comedian won a Grammy. In 1984, he finally had the chance to carry a picture himself: Beverly Hills Cop, one of the most successful pictures of the decade. Proving that at this juncture Murphy could do no wrong, his next starring vehicle, The Golden Child (1986), made a fortune at the box office, despite the fact that the picture itself was less than perfect. After Beverly Hills Cop 2 and his live standup video Eddie Murphy Raw (both 1987), Murphy's popularity and career seemed to be in decline, though his staunchest fans refused to desert 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 an abundance of characters -- some of which he essayed so well that he was utterly unrecognizable.
Murphy bowed as a director, producer, and screenwriter with Harlem Nights (1989), a farce about 1930s black gangsters which had an incredible cast (including Murphy, Richard Pryor, Della Reese, Redd Foxx, Danny Aiello, Jasmine Guy, and Arsenio Hall), but was somewhat destroyed by Murphy's lazy, expletive-ridden script and clichéd plot that felt recycled from Damon Runyon stories. Churned out for Paramount, the picture did hefty box office (in the 60-million-dollar range) despite devastating reviews and reports of audience walkouts. Murphy's box-office triumphs continued into the '90s with a seemingly endless string of blockbusters, such as the Reginald Hudlin-directed political satire The Distinguished Gentleman (1992), that same year's "player" comedy Boomerang, and the Landis-directed Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). After an onscreen absence of two years following Cop, Murphy reemerged with a 1996 remake of Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor. As directed by Tom Shadyac and produced by the do-no-wrong Brian Grazer, the picture casts Murphy as Dr. Sherman Klump, an obese, klutzy scientist who transforms himself into Buddy Love, a self-obsessed narcissist and a hit with women. As an added surprise, Murphy doubles up his roles as Sherman and Buddy by playing each member of the Klump family (beneath piles and piles of latex). The Nutty Professor grossed dollar one and topped all of Murphy's prior efforts, earning well up into the hundreds of millions and pointing the actor in a more family-friendly direction. His next couple of features, Dr. Dolittle and the animated Mulan (both 1998), were children-oriented affairs, although in 1999 he returned to more mature material with the comedies Life (which he also produced) and Bowfinger; and The PJs, a fairly bawdy claymation sitcom about life in South Central L.A.
Moving into the new millennium, Murphy resurrected Sherman Klump and his brood of misfits with the sequel Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000) before moving on to yet another sequel in 2001, the decidedly more family-oriented Dr. Dolittle 2. That same year, sharp-eared audiences were served up abundant laughs by Murphy's turn as a donkey in the animated fairy tale spoof Shrek. Nearly stealing the show from comic powerhouse co-star Mike Myers, children delighted at Murphy's portrayal of the put-upon sidekick of the kindhearted ogre and Murphy was subsequently signed for a sequel that would go into pre-production in early 2003. After bottoming out with the subsequent sci-fi comedy flop The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Murphy stepped into Bill Cosby's old shoes for the mediocre big-screen adaptation of I Spy. With the exception of a return to donkeydom in the 2004 mega-hit Shrek 2, Murphy stuck with hapless father roles during the first several years of the new millennium, Daddy Day Care being the most prominent example, with Disney's The Haunted Mansion following closely behind.
In December 2006, however, he emerged with a substantial part in Dreamgirls, writer/director Bill Condon's star-studded adaptation of the hit 1981 Broadway musical about a Supremes-esque ensemble's ascent to the top. Murphy plays James Thunder Early, an R&B vocal sensation for whom the titular divas are hired to sing backup. Variety's David Rooney proclaimed, "Murphy...is a revelation. Mixing up James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Jackie Wilson, and some of his own wiseass personae, his Jimmy leaps off the screen both in his scorching numbers (his proto-rap is a killer) and dialogue scenes. It's his best screen work." A variety of critics groups and peers agreed with that assessment, landing Murphy a number of accolades including a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Around the same time, Murphy wrapped production on director Brian Roberts' Norbit. In that picture, the actor/comedian retreads his Nutty Professor work with a dual turn as Norbit, an insecure, backward geek, and Norbit's monstrous wife, an oppressive, domineering loudmouth. The story has the unhappy couple faced with the possible end of their marriage when Norbit meets his dream-girl (Thandie Newton). Never one to stray too far from familiar territoryMurphy next reteamed with the vocal cast of Shrek yet again for the next installment in the series, Shrek the Third.
Over the coming years, Murphy would appear in a handful of comedies like Meet Dave, Imagine That, and Tower Heist. In 2011, he was announced as the host of 2012 Academy Awards, with Brett Ratner (his Tower Heist director) producing the show, but Murphy dropped out after Ratner resigned. In 2013, a fourth Beverly Hills Cop was announced, but the film was pulled from Paramount's schedule after pre-production issues.