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Eddie Murphy is one of the greatest stand up comedians in the history of the industry. After Eddie Murphy appeared at The Comic Strip, the Richard Pryor-worshipping comedian landed a berth as a feature player on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in 1980. During his four-season tenure on the show, Murphy became noted for his accurate parodies of such icons as Bill Cosby, Mister Rogers (Mister Robinson's Neighborhood) and the animated figure Gumby ("I'm Gumby, damnit!") as well as his own creations like Little Richard Simmons and the oleaginous Velvet Jones.
Murphy segued to feature stardom as a wisecracking convict teamed with a world-weary cop (Nick Nolte) in Walter Hill's uneven but commercially successful "48 Hrs." (1982). His energetic presence, disarming smile and strong self-confidence (which teetered close to cockiness) appealed to audiences of all colors. Murphy went on to make a string of critically-derided box-office successes, like his teaming with fellow "SNL"-er Dan Aykroyd as a bum who exchanges lives with a successful financier in "Trading Places" (1983). After forming Eddie Murphy Productions, he struck pay dirt with the signature role of rogue policeman Axel Foley in "Beverly Hills Cop" (1984).
Murphy starred in the movie "The Golden Child" (1986), and scored with the scatological concert film "Eddie Murphy Raw" (1987) and displayed his charisma as a bride-hunting African prince in "Coming to America" (1988) before making a less than auspicious debut as screenwriter-director of the violent, profanity-laden but profitable "Harlem Nights" (1989), a critically slammed film that featured the talents of Redd Foxx, Della Reese and Murphy's friend and idol, Richard Pryor.
By the early 90s, Murphy made sequals to previous box ofice hits "Another 48 Hrs." (1990) and two "Beverly Hills Cop" outings in 1987 and 1994. A brief vogue as a recording star led to a hit single ("Party All the Time") but his limitations as a musician and songwriter cut short any lasting career. Through his production company, Murphy turned to TV, overseeing a string of unsuccessful sitcom pilots and the maudlin syndicated TV-movie "The Kid Who Loved Christmas" (1990). One successful comedy series he created and executive produced was CBS' "The Royal Family", which starred Redd Foxx, whose premature death ended the show's run in 1992.
In 1992, Murphy began to display a more mature onscreen persona, moving from comedian to leading man with his winning turn as a playboy who gets a taste of his own medicine when he meets his match (Robin Givens) in "Boomerang" and as a huckster who takes on politics in "The Distinguished Gentleman". A promising teaming with Wes Craven for the comedy thriller "A Vampire in Brooklyn" (1995) was deemed a waste of the actor's talents.
He fared better in the broader character comedy remake of "The Nutty Professor" (1996). Adopting a less manic style than originator Jerry Lewis. Murphy located the heart of the character and underneath the heavy makeup and special effects created a touching portrait of an outsider. Through movie magic and Rick Baker's Oscar-winning makeup designs, he also successfully played multiple roles as the professor's parents and grandmother. The result struck a chord with audiences and a sequel "The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps", was released in the summer of 2000. Before then, Murphy lent his considerable presence to the non-musical remake of the talking-with-the-animals-romp "Dr. Dolittle" (1998). This popular family film also sparked a sequel "Dr. Dolittle 2" (2001).
Right around the time Hollywood discovered Murphy had an exceptional talent for essaying multiple roles and transforming his face and body with image-altering makeup and clothing, film studios and TV networks began tapping the comedian to lend his unique voice and wisecracking personality to animated characters such as Mushu the miniature dragon in Disney's "Mulan" (1998) and The Donkey in the well-conceived and immensively popular CGI tale "Shrek" (2001) and its sequel "Shrek 2" (2004).
In 1999, Murphy voiced the character of Thurgood the superintendent in "The PJs", the Fox foamation series he also created and executive produced with Ron Howard. (The critically panned, yet popular comedy about family values in a big-city housing project moved to The WB in 2000.) 1999 also saw Murphy flawlessly essay the dual roles of a paranoid action film star and his dim-witted brother in the sharply written, though commercially unsuccessful, Steve Martin comedy "Bowfinger". He then played a wrongly accused convict who ages 60 years in "Life", a touching and hilarious comedy that re-teamed him with his "Boomerang" co-star Martin Lawrence. The actor followed those roles up as the lead in the space action comedy "Pluto Nash" (2002), which co-starred Pam Grier, "SNL" alum Jay Mohr and Randy Quaid. The sci-fi/comedy misfire, which sat on the shelf for a year before being released, was one of the biggest money-losing pictures of 2002. However, Murphy's collaboration with Owen Wilson in a big-screen "re-imagining" of the 1960s TV series "I Spy" (with his "Dr. Dolittle" director Betty Thomas at the helm) was far more on the mark. While the film's action sequences were a bit flat, the comic chemistry between the two leads elevated the material tremendously; Murphy, who by now could've phoned in his role as the cocky prizefighter Kelly Robinson, nevertheless found new and original ways to keep his performance fresh and funny. The film had lukewarm box office, but Murphy's next effort, "Daddy Day Care" (2003)--which cast him as a "Mr. Mom"-ish father who starts a child care business--proved to be far more potent at the box office and shushed the critics (at least temporarily) who suggested Murphy had lost his comedic touch.