Without question, two of the biggest and most globally popular and successful figures of the 1980’s were comedian and actor Eddie Murphy and singer/dancer Michael Jackson.
I was a massive fan of both men, and I still am. But one thing that really confused (and later delighted) me was the relationship between those guys. Here is a list of their history together (as I saw it).
- On August 17, Murphy, then a 22 year old superstar cast member of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, performed a now iconic stand up routine that was filmed for broadcast on HBO. The flick, Eddie Murphy: Delirious, recorded at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. was hilarious and raunchy, but Murphy imitated Michael during the routine (I was personally offended when I eventually screened the film). It seemed that he was making fun of MJ, which was a no-no in my book.
- On November 14, Michael Jackson’s now seminal short film, Michael Jackson’s Thriller made its theatrical debut at the Crest Theater in West Hollywood, California in order to qualify for a possible Academy Award nomination. After the 13 minute classic ended, Murphy (who was one of the luminaries in attendance) stood up in the theater and demanded that it be played once more.
- On December 1, Murphy’s third consecutive successful film, Beverly Hills Cop was released in L.A. and features a scene during which the 23-year old rising star’s character Axel Foley passes two guys on the street wearing replicas of MJ’s famous “Thriller jacket.” Upon seeing them, Murphy’s Foley chuckles. In another scene, Foley lies to a hotel official by telling him that he was in town “to do an interview with Michael Jackson.”
- In October, Murphy shot his legendary concert film, Eddie Murphy: Raw in New York City. The profanity laced film features an extended bit about MJ which definitely angered me at the time. In the bit, the 26-year old comic legend details a supposed phone call that he received from an angered Michael, whom he said weighs “a buck oh five” and that he’d “bust that ass off Mike.” He then mocks Jackson’s signature moonwalk dance step, his single glove and the public’s willingness to believe anything positive about MJ (how times changed). This all felt horrible to my 10-year old self.
- On January 30, I finally got the opportunity to see the actual nature of Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy’s friendship. MJ, just five days removed from concluding his wildly successful “Bad World Tour,” attended the 16th annual American Music Awards. It turns out that Murphy was on hand to present the Video Pioneer award to Michael, just as his “feature length film anthology Moonwalker” was set for release. When MJ came out on stage to meet Murphy, they were all smiles and hugs and thanks to Eddie, a charming bit of levity. As MJ spoke into the microphone to the crowd, he noticed that it was lower than he wanted it to be and asked Eddie to raise it for him. “He said, ‘Eddie pull it up’ like I was working for him,” deadpanned Murphy as both Michael and the crowd laughed. That moment really made my day.
- On November 13, Jackson and Murphy were among a litany of celebrity guests at Sammy Davis, Jr.’s 60th anniversary in entertainment celebration. Murphy served as host of the high profile event and made touching remarks about the iconic Davis, who was suffering from throat cancer at the time. MJ gave a poignant performance of a piece of music that he co-wrote called, “You Were There,” a tribute and appreciation of the barrier shattering legend. At one point, Jackson and Murphy assisted music legend Ella Fitzgerald on stage for her tribute to Davis. The celebration was not broadcast on television until February 1990, just three months prior to Davis’ death at 64.
- On December 6, Eddie Murphy appeared on the popular late night program, The Arsenio Hall Show to promote his forthcoming film, Harlem Nights. Both Hall and Murphy had been close friends for years, and as they were conversing on the couch, Michael Jackson shockingly stepped from behind a glass partition to a wild audience response. Both Hall and Murphy stood up out of respect for the iconic Jackson as the audience also gave him a standing ovation. This caught me completely off guard and had me smiling from ear to ear. MJ presented an award to Murphy and referred to him as “the king.” Moments later, Eddie gave Michael an award that he claimed had been sent over from MTV in recognition of the greatness of Jackson’s Thriller film.
- In January, Michael Jackson filmed the short film for his infectious pop ballad, “Remember the Time,” and cast 30-year old Eddie Murphy in the clip. Murphy portrayed the role of the pharaoh with a subtle charm mixed with a touch of his signature silliness. MJ gets the best of Murphy as he manages to steal the attention (including an unexpected kiss) and affection of the pharoah’s queen, played by model Iman.
- During the same month that Jackson and Murphy filmed the Remember the Time short film, they teamed up to record a song for Murphy’s single, “Whatzupwitu” from his third album, “Love’s Alright.” By now, Murphy’s affinity for making music on the side was well known, and I surmise that because he and MJ were good buddies, it made it much easier for Eddie to get him on the song. The following year, MJ appeared in the music video.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine that took place not long after his 50th birthday, Eddie Murphy was asked many questions about his life and his long and illustrious career. Among the topics discussed was his friendship with Michael Jackson, who had died two years prior at age 50.
When Murphy was asked about the tragedy of MJ’s death, he compared him to Elvis Presley. Said Eddie:
“Michael sat in the same hot seat Elvis was in, the biggest star in the world… how can I put it? It’s like you’re not a person, your human-beingness is compromised. The stuff that everybody has to deal with, take that and magnify it by 1,000 — that’s where Michael and Elvis are sitting. It’s madness swirling around them all the time.”
Murphy also discussed the last time that he ever spent time with Jackson and offered a bit of insight into the true nature of MJ:
“There was a whole regular person in there. Michael, he’s much more in touch than you would ever imagine,” said Eddie. “He wasn’t off in Never Neverland and not aware of the world that was spinning around him. The problem was the drugs.”
And so, the decades-long relationship that Murphy and Jackson had ultimately surprised me in a pleasant way. The way things began, Eddie as a brash, profane comic with a flair for making fun of people, upset me when it seemed that he was intent on ridiculing Michael. Once I realized that they were clearly on good terms and actual friends, it changed my perception and made me happy.
Smiley faces forever.