Call Him Money: Eddie Murphy Opens Up

The king deigns to speak – about his new album, his forthcoming movie, and his habits in bed and bath

August 24, 1989
Eddie Murphy
Eddie Murphy on the cover of Rolling Stone
Bonnie Schiffman

The king sleeps through earthquakes. There have been two already this morning, both sizable enough to bestir gasps of panic and alarm. But the door to the king's sanctum remains closed; the jolts have elicited no reaction form within. "Where's Eddie?" the king's manager demands, himself looking a bit ashen, a bit unsettled. "Sleeping," he is told by the king's men, an omnipresent coterie of employees whose business it is to know what Eddie Murphy is doing every moment of every day. "Sleeping!" says the manager, incredulous, But it is true: Eddie is asleep, he is out cold, he is snoozing through the peril. Nestled on the expansive ebony sofa in his vast ebony office, he naps and feels nothing, nary a rumble. When he emerges much later, all eyes in the room intently scan him to ascertain his condition. He groggily rubs his face. "What earthquake?" he says. "Suits!" he hollers across the Paramount back lot later that day. Frank Mancuso, who is wearing a suit, sees trouble coming. Mancuso is chairman of Paramount Pictures, and he is presently loitering on the grounds, chatting with three studio executives, also in suits. Murphy, who's wearing black warm-ups, barrels up in his customized golf cart (festooned with ersatz Rolls-Royce grillwork) and bleats the horn. Aaaoooooo-gaaaaah! "Hello, suits!" he says, at once warm and defiant. The big shots chuckle at his insouciance. (Oh, that Eddie!) They are, after all, his subjects: He is Paramount's billion-dollar box-office sovereign, the nation's foremost comic commodity. And the back lot is where he reigns most conspicuously. He briefly schmoozes the Mancuso gaggle, then tears off again in his buggy, chasing down and hooting at pretty secretaries who appear in his path. "Yo! Yo! Yo!" he calls. Aaaoooo-gaaah.

His friends call him Money. He looks like money, like $40 million, if perchance one speculates. He looks crisp, controlled. He is twenty-eight yet not terribly youthful; he fancies himself much older, more world-weary. He stares straight ahead and seems to notice no one, but he see all and hears even more. Unless he's erupting into his deft repertoire of character voices, his presence is shy, inscrutable. Usually he is sullen, almost somber – but this creates a quiet aura of power. You feel him before you see him; first you see his men. He is insulated by bodies, a cleaving pack of old friends and relations on the payroll. These are Eddie's Boys: Fed, Larry, Jerry, Rough House, Roy, Fruity, Lee, Ray-Ray and several others. They attend to him, fortify him, whether back home at Bubble Hill – Eddie's palace in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey – or here in the balm of Los Angeles. They ride shotgun on the Rolls cart; they motorcade along in separate buggies, racing with Eddie around the lot (and letting him win); they flank, defer, cajole, tease, adore, grumble, serve, laugh approvingly and get beaten by him at chess ("Whaddya gonna do without no queen, you spineless fuck!" Eddie will say). Mainly, though, they just watch. Eddie makes his own ham sandwiches – his Boys just watch. Eddie falls into stride with passing female joggers – his Boys just watch. And crack up.

Because kings can do anything, Eddie does everything. He hyphenates recklessly. His astonishing talent gives him license. Since March, he's been directing his first film, Harlem Nights, on which he is co-writer, producer and costar along with Richard Pryor (his idol), Redd Foxx (his foulmouthed forefather) and Arsenio Hall (his close friend). It is a period con-game yarn – The Sting done black. The elders praise their nascent director. "It's turning out to be more pleasant than I expected," says Pryor. "He's wise enough to listen to people. I see him be very patient with his actors. It's not a lark to him. He's really serious." Foxx says, "He's on top of the world, and he's doing a hell of a job. He sure knows how to handle people with sensitivity. He'll come over to your side and give private direction – he never embarrasses anyone." Another thought from Pryor: "You walk around here and look at the people – have you ever in your life seen this many black people on a movie set? I haven't."

Eddie Murphy Speaks: The Rolling Stone Interview

Because Eddie can do anything, he also sings. It is a comedian's disease, this unfortunate urge. Carson wishes he could, but he can't. Jerry Lewis did but shouldn't have Eddie can, and he does. The first album, How Could It Be, came out four years ago and was timid fare – his voice was tentative, unconvincing in its conceit. (The dance single produced by funkmeister Rick James, "Party All the Time," however, was a novelty hit.) A second album, called So Happy, just released, is more confident and musically impressive. He takes kidding pokes at pop (in songs like "Put Your Mouth on Me" and "Bubble Hill") but also manages to display craft in the process. The voice is strong and practically unrecognizable; only the subject matter – and the occasional trademark Eeeh-eeh-eeh walruslike guffaw – betrays his identity. (Recurring lyrical themes include bondage, outdoor sex and distrust of women.) Still, he worries about the record; he has deigned to promote it and agreed to test his press paranoia one more time. Eddie takes care of business.

As such, Eddie is like Elvis. In many ways, he is like Elvis. He likes Elvis. "Are you going to butcher me?" he says, by way of salutation, to a reporter meeting him for the first time. He says this in Elvis Presley's voice, a voice he conjures up often. Between takes on the set of the "Put Your Mouth on Me" video, he becomes Elvis – strumming a guitar, sneering, singing.

"Heybabybossanovababy," he croons, Elvis-like. "Thankyouthankyouverrrmuch." Women beset him as they did Elvis, claiming to be incubating his love child or insinuating impropriety. (Most recently, actress Michael Michele filed a $75 million sexual-harassment and breach-of-contract suit against Murphy after he fired her from Harlem Nights.) His office is stocked with Elvis gold records, Elvis books, Elvis street signs, arcane Presleyana of all sorts. "Elvis looked like every hair was where it was supposed to be," explains Eddie, who is known throughout his household for interminable rituals spent each day before mirrors, combing and recombing his hair.

To interrogate Eddie Murphy, you must become one of his minions You must join his court, ride along in the tiny Rolls, wait while he directs his movie or while he sleeps through earthquakes. Dedication warms him. In conversation, perhaps as a reward, he is jarringly candid. (Bathroom habits! Sexual proclivities! Threats of violence!) "Everybody has something about them that nobody knows," he says buoyantly. "Except for me. I'm straight up." What follows then is an amalgam of several talks held in his Paramount office during days of pursuit. To ensure intimacy, he frequently tossed associates and several of his Boys out of the room. Only an unnamed and very pretty young woman was permitted to witness one chat – and then only from a remote corner. When her clanking earrings began to drown out Eddie's whisper-soft voice, however, he considerately instructed her, "Take 'em off! He's recording this. You're gonna fuck up the recording." She obliged. "That's what's gonna be in the article," he continued. " 'In the middle of the interview, a woman's earrings are clanking. Murphy demanded that she take them off.' Write it that way and you'll make me out like an idiot. Eeeh-eeh-eeh."

How much money does a box-office king carry around in his wallet? Let's see your dough.
Right now I've got nothing on me. I don't carry a lot of money – no more than $300 in my wallet at a time. I'm a credit-card fiend. I'm not like Mike Tyson, who walks around with between twenty and thirty grand in his pocket. But who's gonna try to take his money? If I walked around with thirty grand, I'd come in beaten up every day, going [shrugs helplessly], "They got me again!"Eeeh-eeh-eeh.

But where's your wallet? Don't you carry it yourself?
No, I never carry my wallet. There's a song on my album called "Until the Money's Gone" where I keep asking, "Where's my wallet?" That, in fact, is the question I ask most. Fifteen times a day, every day.

You mean there's one person who's in charge of holding your wallet?
No, I'll give my wallet to anyone who works for me. Which at one point caused me to change my staff. With my old staff, I'd say, "Hold my wallet," and then when I'd get it back, I'd say, "Waitaminute, there's only seven dollars in here, and it was full yesterday." They'd say, "Oh, you must spend a lot of money, Ed." I'd say, "I know I didn't spend $10,000 yesterday." "Well, Ed, I don't know anything about it, but I gotta go. My limo's here."

Do you have an idea of how much you're worth?
[Earnestly] Oh, yeah. To the dime. Oh, absolutely, I'm completely on top of that. It's an obsession. One of my major fears has always been that I'd get that call: "Your accountant's gone with all your money!" That kind of shit is spooky. So I know where every dime of my money is, and no one can sign checks for me. Which is a job in itself. I get crazy with that.

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