Eddie, Then and Now

Apropos of nothing, I’ve become somewhat obsessed of late with the evolution of Eddie Murphy’s career and persona. Some relevant links:

  • An absolutely exceptional interview from 1990 by Spike Lee, from the issue of Spin that Spike guest edited (!) in October of that year. Fascinating to see the burdens of identity and obligation that Murphy felt, both from his own inner drive as well as from the overt calls to action from folks like Spike.
  • From Vulture’s wonderful “Nostalgia Fact-Check” series: a reappraisal of “Delirious” and “Raw”. Fantastic performances, poisonous homophobia. Pretty much exactly what I remembered!
  • Then, just this past November, a great, self-aware interview in Rolling Stone. A bit of atonement, a lot of apparent maturity.

But most of all, what jumps out from watching the arc of Murphy’s career is what an incredible waste of an opportunity it was for him to drop out of hosting the Oscars. It could have redeemed his image as the pioneer and creative force that he’s been, instead of letting his reputation fade further.

I’ve never been a huge Eddie Murphy fan, but for his fans, the Oscar cancellation must have felt a bit like Michael Jackson’s cancelled HBO special in 1995: A lost opportunity for one last shot at artistic redemption.

Somewhat related: This beautiful appraisal of Ice Cube’s career, which singlehandedly refutes the gangsta/angler photo the memeosphere loves so much.

Update: Since I published these links, a few other great pieces on Eddie Murphy have popped up:

  • dream hampton’s take on Eddie is essential, touching uniquely well on his strengths and weaknesses.
  • And Bill Simmons riffs on Eddie with the perspective of a sports writer, contextualizing the arc of his career in terms of an incomparable winning streak.