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."
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.
What do you make of your power in Hollywood?
I don't know. Strangely enough, given my personal circumstances and the success of my films, I've got the worst deal in town. [The deal is for five pictures; Eddie receives an estimated $6 million per movie, plus profit sharing.] When I renegotiated my deal with Paramount a few years ago, it seemed great. But nobody planned that those pictures would be as successful as they were. So now I've got a shitty deal compared with what I could be making, one picture at a time for different studios. And Paramount has me for another three movies at a set price.
You're like the last contract player left in town.
Yeah. Don't rub the shit in. Eeeh-eeh-eeh.
Still, your power is formidable. No matter what you do now – and you could do almost anything – you're surrounded by people who will tell you, "Way to go, Eddie!"
I know what you mean. But I hate yes people. I'm pretty good at making decisions for myself and my track record bears me out. But ultimately, I wouldn't do just anything. I don't have an asshole streak.
People see the pack of friends that follows you around and invariably wonder, "What's the deal with those guys?" One theory is that their presence allows you to move into unfamiliar territory and always feel comfortable.
May be so. I came to the realization that if you're lucky, you'll have five to ten friends in your life. And my old friends, people who were around me in grammar school and high school, they're all around me still. They're all intelligent and all serve a purpose. The thing is, I know they're my true friends. They knew me before it was financially desirable to know me.
Do you ever like to be alone?
No, I'm uncomfortable alone, especially at home. The only time I go off by myself is when I hop in the car and just drive for a couple ofhours.
Where do you go?
I'll just get on the freeway and go real fast. Or drive around in a fucked-up neighborhood, which can be really scenic. I like to see the hookers, the drug addicts, the bums, street fights, people getting arrested and shit. I do that a lot.
Is it some kind of reality check?
Maybe, but I just find it interesting. I once stopped and asked a prostitute, "Why are you out here?" I thought she would give me a heavy philosophical answer. But she just said, "Muthafucka, you wanna buy some pussy or not?!" Eeeh-eeh-eeh. I was anticipating this deep conversation about life and despair, and she said, "Do you want me to suck yo' dick?!" I said [sheepishly], "Excuse me, I'm gonna leave now . . . ."
Your first words to me were "Are you going to butcher me?" Why are you worried?
You know why I get paranoid about journalists? The first thing I hear about myself every day is some new shitty rumor. Something comes out in the Enquirer, and seven people who work for me all have a copy. Every time I walk into another room, I hear, "Hey, did you see this?" I've developed this lowdown self-image because every day I hear something horrible about myself. It gets to be a drag, to say the least.
What kind of rumors do you hear?
I've heard everything about myself. The most ridiculous rumor was that I was a faggot. I don't know where that came from. I've never had a dick in my ass or in my mouth! Maybe it's because I've made fun of homosexuals. The reasoning being, "He does a gay impression, so, well, he must be one." Then I've also heard I'm a notorious womanizer, which is sort of a contradiction in rumors. Another outlandish rumor is that I smoke crack, or that I do serious cocaine, or that I drink.
But you're in fact the picture of abstinence, right? Have you ever let liquor touch your lips?
I drank once. While making Coming to America, I had some weirdness with John Landis, who was directing the movie. We had a tussling confrontation, and when I went home, Arsenio [Hall] gave me some alcohol to settle me down. I thought a drink might help, so I drank a whole quart of Absolut vodka. I won the Most Vomit Award. I was bent over the toilet for hours. That was the first and last time I'll ever drink.
The Landis incident has never been clearly explained. One story has it that you two came to blows. What happened?
Nah, we didn't come to blows. Personalities didn't mesh. I grabbed him, and he thought I was playing. So he tried to grab my balls, and I pushed him away. But I wasn't kidding. He was doing some silly shit that made me mad. He directed me in Trading Places when I was just starting out as a kid, but he was still treating me like a kid five year later during Coming to America. And I hired him to direct the movie!
The notion was that were giving him a nice break at a time when he needed one.
I was gonna direct Coming to America myself, but I knew that Landis had just done three fucked-up pictures in a row and that his career was hanging by a thread after the Twilight Zone trial. I figured the guy was nice to me when I, did Trading Places, so I'd give him a shot. I'm a popular actor in this town, and to have a guy who was as fucked as he was get a job with me gave him some renewed credibility. I was going out of my way to help this guy, and he fucked me over. Now he's got a hit picture on his résumé, a movie that made over $200 million, as opposed to him coming off a couple of fucked-up movies – which is where I'd rather see him be right now. Eeeh-eeh-eeh.
Let's address the womanizing. Michael Michele filed a $75 million sexual-harassment and breach-of-contract suit against you after you fired her from 'Harlem Nights.' What's your side of the story?
She had the role that's now being played by Jasmine Guy, from A Different World. The fact of the matter is, I wanted someone with greater marquee value than Michael Michele. She wasn't working out. As for her claim that I was touching her – realistically speaking, if you're gonna be a sleaze and try to fuck somebody, you try to fuck em before you give 'em the part. And second, I don't have to give a woman a part in a movie to fuck her. I mean, she painted a picture like my name was Murray and I was five foot three with a big bald spot and a cigar, going [as scumbag producer], "You want the part? Then open your legs!"
The only thing that bothered me is that in her lawsuit, she says I tried to touch her, like I was a pervert. I never tried to touch this woman. We had, like, four conversations, each time with up to sixty people around us on a sound stage. But the lawsuit itself didn't bother me. Law-suits for me are an occupational hazard. You get your lawyers, and you deal with it.
Still, you give the impression that women can't help but prey on you. Is it difficult to know who to trust?
I'm not a trusting person by nature. My first reaction is to be distrustful – especially of women. I'm a target. As shitty as it sounds, I'm sure there are women who have gone out with me only because I'm Eddie Murphy. On the other hand, a lot of women go so far out of their way to show me that they don't care who I am that they end up being disrespectful. They treat me worse than they would some guy who works at Arby's. They act aloof and bored and won't even look at me. The least they could do is smile.
What qualities do you require in women?
Honesty, man. I'd take a dumb, honest woman who has nothing on the ball, just honesty. I'd take her every time over a smart one.
How do your relationships go wrong?
First of all, I haven't had a lot of relationships. When I break up with someone, it's usually because it got boring. I'm just like anybody else. Although last December I got involved in a weirdness. I went to London to meet this girl who's in a pop group called Five Star. She had sent me her picture, and I started talking to her on the telephone. I'm not a phone person; for me, five minutes is a long conversation. But I would be on the phone with her three and four hours a night, just talking. So I went over there, and she was adorable.
Then her father fucked up the whole relationship before it could get started. She couldn't go out unless security people came along. Even to the store. I said, "I know y'all are Five Star, but I go to the store!" I could never be alone with her. They didn't give me a chance to get to know her. In retrospect, I think the whole thing was a publicity stunt, because their new album was going into the shit house. So the father probably said, "Let's get something in the paper," and invited me out to the house. They probably sold another 20,000 records from that alone. Which weirded me out. I got used.
In the concert film 'Raw,' you performed a lot of misogynistic stand-up material, especially about marriage and divorce. Did you hear from a lot of angry women afterward?
Women got pissed off, but the truth pisses people off. Don't get me wrong. I love women, and I have nothing against marriage. But I'm afraid of divorce, and divorce is the reality. Why should I take a shot at getting married and risk losing so much? Steven Spielberg has to give up $95 million because he was married for four years, and that's not fair. Clint Eastwood wasn't even married to his woman, and he's gonna lose money on her. Carson supports an army of women. Why should I get married? Why? There's no reason. I can have children without being married. I can have a monogamous relationship without being married. Why risk a divorce and having to give up half your shit?
You'll never be married?
No, never. [Groans] I'll never live with anybody, and I'll never get married. There's no marriage for me. I'll have children. I'll be the best father in the world but a horrible husband. Marriage has to be a give-and take thing, but I'm a my-way-or-the-highway guy – that's Stallone's line I'm stealing. But I'm a realist; I don't kid myself. If I got there on the highway with half of my things.
I think you should take care of your child and get the woman back on her feet, give her a pat on the ass and go about your business. Just because you're rich and you married someone, this person doesn't have to be rich for the rest of her life if the marriage doesn't work. Lots of people scoff: "Oh, money isn't everything." Well, if you were making a lot of money, you'd see it differently. The idea of giving somebody Bubble Hill and $20 million would fucking blow my mind, man. I'd have to kill somebody. Eeeh-eeh-eeh.
You seem more romantic than that. On your new album, you co-wrote this lovely ballad called "With All I Know." That had to come from somewhere.
Isn't that a pretty song? I was sooo depressed when I wrote that song. Because I was singing about how I wanted to feel: hopeful about love. It's not going to happen for me.
You're discounting it?
Don't get me wrong – I could fall in love in a second. But all the shit in movies – the running-in-slow-motion-montage stuff – part doesn't ever happen to me. The only thing that'll get me married is when I feel life moving that slow and we're riding horses and the leaves are brown and I've got a sweater on – when shit like that start happening, that's when I'll get married.
Redd Foxx thinks you'll be married within a year.
Eleven months, he says. He bet me a thousand dollars. He says [in Foxx's voice], "She's ain't even gonna be fine; "she's gonna be a big, fat, ugly bitch with a big, fat, long jaw, and you gonna love her." Richard [Pryor] says the same thing. He says [in Pryor's voice]: Muthafucka, you gonna find somebody eventually. Her pussy's gonna fit and that'll be yo' ass." I say, "Not me." He says, All right, you'll see . . . ."
You seem slightly depressed about this.
I get depressed a lot. I was depressed this morning. It's just natural; it's human. My depressions are even more frustrating because I think, "Why the fuck am I depressed?" But more entertainers are like that. Michael [Jackson] and Stallone tell me they feel the same way.
Wasn't Stallone supposedly jealous over your working relationship with his then wife, Brigitte Nielsen, on 'Beverly Hills Cop II'?
I haven't talked to him since then. He thought I fucked his wife. He heard the rumor and believed it. He came after me and said, "You fucked my wife!" I said, "Down, brother, I didn't fuck your wife!" We talked about it, but I guess somewhere in the back of his head, he'll never really know the truth. Sly and I liked each other, too, but after the weirdness with Brigitte, it was ruined. I didn't fuck her.
Did it ever cross your mind?
Did I ever want to fuck Gitte? No, she's not my type.
What, she's too leggy?
No, she was married. And married to somebody who was my friend. I'm not that kind of guy.
Didn't you once date Robin Givens? Was she your type?
I saw Robin on and off for a couple of years. We were children then. I was nineteen or twenty; she was seventeen. I remember she spoke like a white person, very mannered and aloof. Every sentence was an exercise in linguistic propriety. She was very bossy. A powerful girl. When she and Mike Tyson hooked up, I thought, "Shit, they're exact opposites?" I tried to pull Mike's cards on it, because he and I were close. I told him. "Mike, please, PLEASE!" Mike said, "Hey, man, I don't give a shit 'bout no girl, I just want some pussy?" Next thing I knew, he was married! Eeeh-eeh-eeh. I guess he really wanted that pussy.
[Sighs] Love is no punk, boy. Love will whip your ass. Because Mike was honestly head over heels in love with her and still is, I think. Love is not only blind – love is deaf, love is crippled, love is a quadriplegic. Mike used to come by all the time, but after he got married, I saw him maybe twice. They broke up a year later, and I know he had to pay her something. He could've just been fucking her for a year and once it went sour, he could've just walked away. Instead, she just bought a $2 million house with his money. If this love shit is as potent as they say it is, maybe his good memories outweigh the bad. Maybe it was worth it. But no marriage for me.
How does this translate to your music? Why do I get this feeling you'll never release an album of ballads?
I don't like singing ballads, I'm uncomfortable with it. I don't buy me singing a slow song about love. There is no love.
You sound more confident as a musician on your new album than you did on your first one. You seemed a little embarrassed to be singing on the earlier record.
I wasn't embarrassed. But I wasn't crazy about it, either – there were about two or three good songs on that record. But I was a comedian singing, man. For a comedian singing, that was good stuff. I'm much more comfortable now. I buy me singing now. The last time, I wanted to sing, but I didn't buy it. Still, the acceptance was there, because "Party All the Time" went to Number Two on the pop charts. So now no one's gonna be sitting around going. "Eddie's singing? Really?" Anyway, we'll see what happens with it. I'm petrified.
Your first single on the new album is the funk song "Put Your Mouth on Me" – a great title, by the way, but your never specify in the lyrics just where you want that mouth placed.
When we were writing songs for the album, Narada Michael Walden, who co-produced the record, asked me for a title, and I just spat that one out. If someone's gonna put her mouth on me, though, it's got to be on my mouth. I'm very ticklish and anywhere else but my mouth tickles. [Laughs embarrassedly] Eeeh-eeh-eeh.
How do you see your self positioned as a singer? You once said you wanted to project at pure masculine image.
It's not even a conscious effort. I'm masculine, and that's what I put across. I'm glad that androgynous shit is over. If I had kids, and my kid came downstairs wearing pumps and lipstick and lacy drawers, I'd be mad. You don't want your kid to look like that. Maybe if I had put some lipstick and pumps on for the cover of the first album, I'd have done some more business. Eeeh-eeh-eeh.
But your songs do have a raw sexual edge.
That's because I'm a sexual person. I write sexual stuff. I'm a freak.
You're a freak?
Actually, I'm not a freak at all. I'm very conservative. You'd be surprised at a lot of stuff I've never done: I've never fucked in a car. I've never gotten head in the back of a limo. None of that superstar shit. Never fucked anyone in my office or on my bus. In my house, I've only done it in the bedroom. I don't fuck all over the house. I'm very prudish, really. I'm a clean freak, if anything. In a day. I probably take three or four showers and wash my hands up to fifteen times.
What do you think that means?
I'm just worried. You don't know where people's hands have been. I shake a lot of hands.
Is it true that you won't use public bathrooms?
I won't take a dump in a public bathroom. I can pee anywhere. I can pee outside.
Bubble Hill, your house in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, has taken on mythic status now that you've put a song about it on your album. Describe a quiet night at home.
Bubble Hill is never quiet. I named it after the black expression bubble, which is slang for "party." Translated: Party Hill. It goes deeper than the party, though. I really feel at home in that house. My lifestyle is very conservative. There's always a lot of swimming and Ping-Pong and listening to music and watching movies. There's not like a bunch of fucking going on, because basically everybody's too afraid to catch herpes and AIDS and die. And if my guys do drugs, they don't do them in front of me. I'm not gonna say you won't go behind the house and find somebody smoking a joint every now and then. But there are no orgies and coke and stuff.
If Elvis was alive, would you takes him in at Bubble Hill? It is your version of Graceland, after all.
I love Elvis. Funny you say that. Arsenio does this routine for me about how, if Elvis was alive and his career was in the toilet, he'd be trying to get into Bubble Hill. I'd be going [sotto voce], "Tell him I'm not here." And Elvis would be in the lobby going [in Elvis's voice], "Is Eddie there? Say, man, he tol' me to come over. Where's Fruity? Fuck y'all. Tell Eddie I'll call him later." Elvis pissed off in the lobby of Bubble Hill – it wouldn't happen, though. I'd hang out with Elvis constantly.
Can you explain your fascination with him?
His presence. He had the strongest presence of anyone ever in this business.
You must know you have a strong presence, too.
Yeah, but it's no fucking Elvis Presley presence. Maybe after I die. It didn't matter what he was singing – and after the Fifties, his music got really weird – he was Elvis up there. He looked like he was in total control, even though he was totally out of control and had no idea where he was. This guy was a fucking recluse, doing drugs, fucking up his body and his diet. He had this terrible deal with his manager, who got maybe fifty percent of all his money, and he paid seventy-percent tax bracket. It's lunatic, man.
Speaking of Elvis's manager, you once met Colonel Tom Parker, right?
Colonel Tom Parker rubbed my head in Vegas. A couple times he set me up in the Elvis Presley suite on top of the Hilton, and I would go play Elvis for a week, which was real cool. One night we were at the crap table together, and he rubbed my head for luck. I wanted to punch him in the face. But this guy is like eighty years old – too old to be taught the limits of racism. There was nothing I could do. What would it look like in the papers? EDDIE MURPHY BEATS UP COLONEL PARKER! To this day, he probably doesn't realize how horrible a thing that was to do. "Let me rub your head for luck, boy!" My blood was boiling, though. I wanted to choke him.
When was the worst moment in recent history to be black?
We lost our minds in the Seventies. We had big, long Afros, big platform shoes, big lapels, big hats. That was 200 years of oppression coming to a head. We'd been under so much pressure for so long – look how you made us dress!
Do you ever feel discrimination in Hollywood?
I'm aware of racism, although I don't feel overt racism towards me. What Hollywood doesn't do, however, is acknowledge your accomplishments as readily if you're black. For instance, Michael Jackson is never given enough credit for being the biggest thing in the world. Taking nothing away from Bruce Springsteen – I like him – but I attribute a lot of his popularity to the fact that there has to be a white counterpart: "Michael is the Thriller, but Bruce is the Boss!"
If you think about it, we get all fucked-up nicknames. Bruce is the Boss, Sinatra is the Chairman of the Board, Elvis is the King, John Wayne is the Duke, Jackie Gleason is the Great One. Michael is the Gloved One! The Thriller! Fred Astaire: the Greatest Dancer Who Ever Lived; Bill Robinson could outdance anybody who ever existed right off the planet, and they called him Mr. fucking Bojangles!
In retrospect, do you regret your comments during the Oscar ceremony last year about black artists' being overlooked by the Academy?
Because of what I said, I will never, ever get nominated for an Oscar, much less win one. I said that only three Oscars had been given to black actors in sixty years. I was just stating a fact. You know what was interesting? Everybody who was white felt that it was the wrong timing, and everybody who was black gave me the right-on sign. Wrong timing! Where else can you say something like that? On the Soul Train awards? Nobody's gonna see it.
Spike Lee has been quoted as saying that he thinks you've been neglectful in not using your influence to install more blacks in power positions, especially at Paramount.
Which is a weird thing to say. I do my black thing. I am completely aware that I am a black man. I have a strong social conscience. Still, the company is called Paramount, not Eddie Murphy Productions. Eddie Murphy Productions, which is located on the Paramount lot, however, is laced with color. But I can't walk into the studio's front offices and demand shit: "Hire some black people here!" Spike gets overanxious playing that militant-brother role and occasionally says some stupid stuff.
You do exert a quiet power in that scene. Paramount is generally acknowledged to be the most well integrated of all studios.
And who would you attribute that to? If I weren't here, it wouldn't be like that. You can go find 600 black people on the lot right now. So, Spike, that stuff is silly.
Would there be a Spike Lee if there wasn't an Eddie Murphy?
That's like saying there wouldn't be an Eddie Murphy if there wasn't a Richard Pryor. Spike just does a different type of film than I do. Spike is more of a politician that I am. I'm an entertainer. If I can get a message across through my entertaining, fine. I think Coming to America is a political movie without shoving a message down anyone's throat. It's a black love story, in which black people are seen being black people, and it made $250 million. And that's a political statement without having to run a Malcolm X quote at the ending [as in Lee's Do the Right Thing]. Not that there's anything wrong with that. You can be overt or covert – you make the choice. I don't hold anything against the brother for being overt.
How has it been directing Richard Pryor?
First of all, he doesn't need to be directed much, because he has such good instincts. Directing Richard is easier for me than it might be for someone else, because there's so much Richard in me. I know how brilliant the man is. The thing I like most about this picture is that Richard's character is so laid-back. He's, like, acting in the movie. It's a real classy role, and he's laying it out.
You're both playing gangster guys in the movie. Your character seems decidedly unlovable for a change.
Oh, yeah, that guy is a prick. He's a hothead kid. Paramount was real weirded out by me playing such a hothead – somebody who shoots an old woman's pinkie toe off, who kills another woman who tried to kill him first. Paramount was unhappy, but I said, "I'm an actor, man. I'm not gonna be Axel Foley every time I go up the fucking screen."
Some people think you shouldn't have been Axel Foley more than once.
Do you know what's scary? Beverly Hills Cop II was probably the most successful mediocre picture in history. It made $250 million worldwide, and it was a half-assed movie. Cop II was basically a rehash of Cop I, but it wasn't as spontaneous and funny. But my pictures make their money back: No matter how I feel, for instance, about The Golden Child – which was a piece of shit – the movie made more than $100 million. So who am I to say to sucks?
Which means you'll do a 'Cop III.'
There's no reason to do it: I don't need the money, and it's not gonna break any new ground. How often can you have Axel Foley talk fast and get into a place he doesn't belong? But these motherfuckers [at Paramount] and developing scripts for it. They're in preproduction. The only reason to do a Cop III is to beat the bank, and Paramount ain't gonna write me no check as big as I want to do something like that. In fact, if I do a Cop III, you can safely say, "Oooh, he must have got a lot of money!" Eeeh-eeh-eeh. Because we're whores. Stallone said it best: We're whores. If you think about it, they take you, put makeup on you – I got makeup on my face right now – they dress you up how they want you to dress, and they tell you to go out there and make that money. They give you a little cut of it – if you're lucky, you get ten percent of what the movie makes. If you're lucky. And then when you get old and fucked up, they throw you out and bring in some new bitch.
You've put your stand-up comedy on hold. Do you miss it?
I've retired from stand-up. I'm the Sugar Ray Leonard of stand-up comedy. What do I have to gain from doing stand-up? That's the only time people really take potshots at me. You know, when I did Delirious, I got all this flak for my material being so filthy. The truth is, it's nowhere near as filthy as some of the stuff they're doing now. I'm feeling like an old fucking guy watching Sam Kinison or Andrew Dice Clay. Shit, I'm nowhere near that dirty. I just said fuck a lot. I mean, Kinison does this bit about homosexual necrophilia – fucking a dead man in the ass – which is hysterical. But that's pretty dirty, you know?
Would that be crossing the line for you?
No, if I'd have thought of it, I would've done it. Absolutely. It's hysterical. My thing is, if you're funny, fuck it. If you're watching my show and 19,000 people are laughing, but you think there's too much cursing, then get the fuck out. Why'd you come in the first place?
How do you explain the recent success of your friend Arsenio Hall? What does it say about our times?
That he's very funny. Arsenio offstage is the funniest person I've ever met in my life. He's the only person who can make me laugh until it gets dangerous, where you're going, "Stop or else I'm gonna pee on myself!" He'll make me laugh until, like, two or three drops of pee come out. He just has the faster mind and a knack for recalling obscurities – weird names from the past that make you giggle. I always thought that as soon as Arsenio started being Arsenio, he would take off – and that's what happened. When I first started, I was Richard Pryor. When Richard started, he was Bill Cosby, And Cosby was influenced, if you watch closely, by Groucho Marx: the cigar, the bent-over posture. Everybody gets influenced by somebody. For Arsenio, people like Jay Leno were his heroes – people Arsenio is more talented than.
What do you think of Leno?
I think Jay Leno is talented, but I don't think he can fuck with Arsenio. It's interesting that we're now in an era where comics have sex appeal. In the old days, nobody was ever sitting outside of Lou Costello's trailer, going, "Oh, I gotta fuck you, Lou!" But women sit outside Arsenio's TV studio and want to fuck him.
You've agreed to be on the 'Saturday Night Live' reunion show this fall. Didn't you once swear you'd never return?
In retrospect, working on that show was the most fun I've had in my career. Now there's this onus on me – everything I do is under a magnifying glass. The world is watching. But back then it was new, and I didn't know anything about pressure. I was just having as much fun as I could. I was very creative back then, real hungry. You know the Rocky movies? "You gotta get the eye of the tiger back, Rock!" I had it back then. I don't have the eye of the tiger anymore.
What are your most irrational fears?
Every now and then, I go to bed and sleep with the light on. Is that just that me? Sometimes you feel a little uncomfortable, so you turn on the TV, because something just isn't right in your room. That's one of my fears about having children. They see a monster at night and call you – and you have to go deal with the monster. And Daddy doesn't want to see the monster, either. "Oh, shit, there's a monster in there!"
When you get mad, how do you vent your anger?
I have no way of venting my anger, and I haven't blown up in ages. I walk around with a big, huge knot of tension in the back of my head. I very rarely lose my temper. I haven't screamed at anyone in four years. One of the luxuries of having a staff is that if somebody pisses me off, no matter who it is, with the exception of relatives, I say, "Excuse me," and walk out of the room, and someone comes in and tells that person, "You have to leave." And that's it.
I don't know if this is a blessing or a curse, but when someone's out of my life, I have the ability to wipe them out like they never existed. If somebody fucks me over – that person is gone. There's no sitting back and singing [as Elvis], "Memories . . . pressed between the pages of my mind."
Is that true in the case of your former fiancée Lisa Figueroa?
Gone. Never existed?
Have you ever seen a therapist about how to better deal with your anger?
Nah, I feel like if I went to an analyst, then I must be crazy. I don't talk to many people about personal shit, so I'd probably wind up liking it. But I don't know. I think crazy people go to therapists. I know that a lot of people who've had analysis will read this and say, "Fuck you, I'm not crazy." But I would feel crazy. Every now and then, though, I feel like losing it.
Losing your temper?
Losing my mind. But I haven't yet.
What's your secret to maintaining sanity?
The only way I keep my sanity is the realization that every problem I ever had in my life, no matter how huge, right up to this moment, has worked itself out. Think about it: That problem you thought you'd never get out of – it worked itself out. It's behind you now. It doesn't make any sense to worry about it. The only problem that you can't get out of is kicking, Dying.
How often do you think about your father? How well did you know him before he died?
My mother and father broke up when I was three, and he died when I was eight, so I have very dim memories. Every now and then, I wonder what it would be like if he was still here. My father's brothers are around, though. And I do have two fathers. My father that's alive [Vernon Lynch], he raised me.
Your real father was killed by a woman. Does that give you pause?
He was a victim of the Murphy charm [chuckles]. A woman stabbed my father. I never got all the logistics. It was supposed to be one of those crimes of passion: "If I can't have you, then no one else will" kind of deal. Someone said to me one day, "That's why you don't trust women." Get the fuck outta here. What are you, a fucking psychiatrist?
I don't think the two have anything to do with each other. But I was really fucked up about his death. It was really traumatic.
Can you imagine being offed by a woman?
Will some woman take me out? I doubt it. Richard Pryor's father died fucking. That's a good way to go. I'll take that over being hit by a truck.
How do you think you'll die?
I used to think about death all the time. I guess when things are going good for you, you just expect it. I'd like to die in my sleep when I'm very old, but who wouldn't? I've never heard of someone saying [in high, effeminate voice], "I want to die very young, dancing!"
I don't think it's gonna be cancer or some lingering illness, though. I think I'm gonna go in some horrible crash. It'll be one of those stupid entertainer's deaths. Maybe it'll be a plane crash. They'll be showing the wreckage on the news and interviewing farmers who saw the explosion from three miles away. Fruity and Ray-Ray will be quoted saying, "I told him not to get on that plane!" Eeeh-eeh-eeh.
You've probably heard this before, but you don't smile much for someone with such a famous smile.
People come up to me and ask me to smile all the time. The thing I hear most is "Yo, smile! Why aren't you smiling? Smile. Smile for me!" And it gets irritating. Sometimes in restaurants, I'll see people across the room pressing their fingers into the corners of their mouths, showing me how to smile. I kid you not. When I'm driving down the street, people pull up to me and ask why I'm not smiling. Never mind that if I was driving around with a big smile, then people would think I was a lunatic.
Maybe you're just shy.
That, and I've got a mouth full of fillings. I'm a sugar freak – that's my one indulgence, so I get a lot of cavities, and I have to go to the dentist more often than most.
So the million-dollar smile is fake?
The million-dollar smile is hollow, actually. At any moment, the teeth could all fall out. It's the sad truth: The million-dollar smile is rotten. So I'll fucking smile when I want! Eeeh-eeh-eeh-ehh.
This story is from the August 24th, 1989 issue of Rolling Stone.