Getting his start on Saturday Night Live in 1981, a then-nineteen-year-old Eddie Murphy pulled the sagging sketch-comedy show from the depths of irrelevance with spot-on impersonations of everyone from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to Little Richard and Muhammad Ali. His hysterical portrayals of Buckwheat, Gumby and Mr.T helped Eddie make a name for himself, but it was movies that would soon catapult him into superstardom. He kept Saturday Night Live afloat for four years before the allure of Hollywood proved too much to resist.
Throughout his career, Eddie’s versatility and knack for playing multiple characters would prove to be his greatest asset. Although he enjoyed early success with 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop, some of Murphy’s best performances were those in which he played several different characters within one film. In 1988, Eddie teamed up with Arsenio Hall for Coming to America, in which he played five different parts with side-splitting success. It has become a cult classic over the years due entirely to Murphy’s comically schizophrenic contributions.
Throughout the nineties, Eddie found modest success with sequels to his breakout films. It wasn’t until he donned a fat-suit to play Sherman Klump in the 1996 film The Nutty Professor, however, that his longevity in Hollywood was cemented. Incredibly, Murphy played an unprecedented seven different characters in the film. The Nutty Professor was a wild success, leading to an even more successful sequel four years later.
Murphy’s moving portrayal of R&B star James "Thunder" Early in the 2006 smash-hit Dreamgirls earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor. His performance in Dreamgirls was a refreshing reminder of his unequalled versatility, and proved once again that he can step into a role and be more than convincing; Eddie seems to completely become the character he is playing.
In the upcoming comedy Norbit, hitting theaters 2/9, Eddie once again creates a world all his own, playing the majority of the lead roles. Abandoned as a child, Norbit is taken in and raised by Chinese-restaurant owner Mr. Wong (also played by Murphy). He is bullied by the morbidly obese Rasputia (Murphy again!) and eventually forced into marrying her. The film’s conflict arises when Norbit’s childhood crush comes to town.
Here are some of Eddie’s disguises in action:
Saturday Night Live (1981-1984)
Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) Life (1999) Bowfinger (1999)
Look for Norbit in theaters this Friday!