Music

Eddie Murphy Says He Sees Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Prince as ‘Cautionary Tales’

Eddie Murphy recently sat down with The New York Times for an episode of its podcast The Interview. During the conversation, host David Marchese pointed out that, early in his career, Murphy was at the same level of white-hot fame as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Prince, all of whom died before their time and, in one way or another, from drug use.

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“Those guys are all cautionary tales for me,” Murphy told Marchese. “I don’t drink. I smoked a joint for the first time when I was 30 years old — the extent of drugs is some weed. I remember I was 19, I went to the Blues Bar. It was me, [John] Belushi and Robin Williams. They start doing coke, and I was like, ‘No, I’m cool.’ I wasn’t taking some moral stance. I just wasn’t interested in it. To not have the desire or the curiosity, I’d say that’s providence. God was looking over me in that moment.”

All four of these performers achieved superstardom at a young age. Jackson was just 11 in 1970 when The Jackson 5 landed their first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, “I Want You Back.” He was only 14 in 1973 when he sang his solo hit “Ben” at the Academy Awards, where it was nominated for best original song. Presley was 21 in 1956 when he landed his first roof-rattling (and Billboard chart-topping) smash, “Heartbreak Hotel.” Prince was 21 in 1980 when he received his first platinum album for Prince and his first gold single for “I Wanna Be Your Lover.”

In similar fashion, Murphy was just 19 when he debuted on Saturday Night Live in December 1980. He was the standout cast member on a show that was rebuilding following the departure of the remaining original cast members at the end of the previous season.

Murphy’s fame quickly spread beyond the show. His first comedy album, Eddie Murphy, was released in August 1982. That December saw the release of his first film, 48 Hrs., in which he co-starred with Nick Nolte. Trading Places, in which he co-starred with SNL alum Dan Aykroyd, was released in June 1983. Beverly Hills Cop, which he carried by himself, was released in December 1984.

Murphy was just 21 in early 1983 when he received his first Grammy nominations – best comedy album for Eddie Murphy and best R&B instrumental performance for “Boogie in Your Butt,” a novelty track from the album. He won a Grammy the following year for his second album, Eddie Murphy: Comedian.

Murphy had turned 22 when, later in 1983, he received his first Primetime Emmy nomination for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy, variety or music series for SNL. He received two more Primetime Emmy nods – for both performance and writing – the following year. He finally won his first Emmy in 2020 for returning to SNL as a guest host. He received his first Oscar nomination in 2006 for best supporting actor in Dreamgirls.

Murphy, 63, has already lived longer than Presley, Jackson and Prince — Presley died at age 42 in 1977; Jackson at age 50 in 2009; and Prince at age 57 in 2016.

In the podcast, Murphy explained that getting famous at a young age, especially as a Black artist, can be like living in a minefield. “Now, at this age, I can look back and be like, ‘Wow, I came through a minefield for 35 years.’ How do you make it through a minefield for 35, 40 years? Something has to be looking over you,” he said. “This business, it’s not set up for a Black artist. It was a new thing: I’m doing this stuff that no one’s ever done, and it’s in a business that’s not set up for me. It’s set up for some white dude. So, you don’t have people watching your back, and you don’t have support groups.”

Murphy also discussed how his enormous success impacted how comedy performers, and Black performers, are seen. “The comic used to be the sidekick, the comic was the opening act, and I changed it to where the comic can be the main attraction,” he said. “They thought of comics one way, and it was like, no, a comic could sell out the arena, and a comic could be in hundred-million-dollar movies. All of that changed. And with Black actors, it was, like, the Black guy could be the star of the movie, and it doesn’t have to be a Black exploitation movie. It could be a movie that’s accessible to everyone all around the world.”

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