In Memoriam

Jun 17, 2009 at 12:00 am

A once-dazzling and hilariously brilliant career was cut short this year, a victim of advanced, chronic lethargy and an incurable case of apathy.

Eddie Murphy's film career rose meteorically in the early 1980s, when the gifted performer parlayed an electrifying stint on Saturday Night Live into a string of critical favorites and box-office smashes. Hugely popular movies such as 48 Hours, Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop propelled the young star to the zenith of Hollywood fame, and though there were rough spots — such as 1986's The Golden Child — his future saw no limits.

Murphy was also a titanic force in standup comedy, his two hysterical concert films inspiring untold generations of urban comics to swagger a mile in his tight blue leather pants, following in his alligator-boot footsteps by performing crude, homophobic routines and jokes about how white people dance.

Yet the success appeared to be too much; there was the embarrassing and unironic side step into bad pop music, and a long, listless period marked by tired sequels and bizarre, ill-conceived vanity pieces such as 1995's A Vampire in Brooklyn. But we gave him a pass because …

Murphy tasted success again in 1996 with his homage to Jerry Lewis, The Nutty Professor, a tour de force of Murph versatility that portrayed an entire family of people who fart and bellow. The film made Murphy a pioneer in fat-suit technology — a move that had dire consequences in the ensuing years.

The onetime edgy (when that word had real meaning) and raw entertainer rested on "family" fare, offering up one lackluster kiddy-friendly "product" after the next. This era's high point was Murphy voicing an animated jackass.

But hope was not lost.

Murphy again surprised his many critics and actually won a Golden Globe for his dynamic performance as a washed-up singer in Dreamgirls. Tragically, any chance of an Oscar, along with the attendant cred, ended Feb. 9, 2007 — when Norbit hit theater screens nationwide.

Now the end is here, with Murphy's latest big-screen sleepwalk, Imagine That, a tedious exercise in both mugging and sermonizing, which proves to be too boring for kids and not funny enough for adults.

"It's a damn shame, Eddie was always so funny; he was the man. Woot woot!" says former talk-show host and frequent Murphy co-star Arsenio Hall, reached during a break from his night manager gig at a Jack in the Box in Ingelwood, Calif.

While the desiccated husk of Murphy's career will continue to shamble about Hollywood and periodically rattle its chains, the spirit and the magic are gone.

Eddie Murphy's film career was 27 years old.

Mr. Murphy's management respectfully requests that mourners please, in lieu of flowers, send better scripts.