When you were 16, you were booking comedy gigs already, and telling your mom, "I don't ever want to be middle class." Where did that come from?
I remember saying that. That was part of "Hey, Mom, can I have a dollar?" "No, I ain't got no money." I was saying, "I never want to be like that." It's funny, I was saying, "I never want to be middle-class," but we wasn't middle-class. We were just working-class. Struggling-class is a better way of putting it. We were struggling-class black folks. My mother and father were so good at it, they had me thinking we was middle-class, God bless them.
Do you remind your kids of how you grew up?
I never throw that in their face. When I'm having those kinds of conversations, usually it's with someone else, not my kids.
You knew Michael Jackson pretty well. What did you make of the tragedy of his death? It had a lot of similarities to Elvis Presley's, whom you always loved.
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. On the surface, you're coming off like you have it all the way together, and behind the scenes, you're completely unraveling. Michael was the first artist that jumped up into the canvas and became part of it, where every waking moment is part of the show. Who can live up to that shit?
When did you last see him?
The last time I saw Michael, I was building this house, and I was staying around the corner, and he came over one night with Prince – his Prince, not Prince. I think Blanket was a little baby, either Blanket or Paris was a little baby, and he came over with them, cooled out for a minute. It was nice. There was a whole regular person in there. Michael, he's much more in touch than you would ever imagine. He wasn't off in Never Neverland and not aware of the world that was spinning around him. The problem was the drugs.
Have you had to defend your Elvis fandom to African-Americans who think he was racist? The big myth in the African-American community was that he said that the only thing black folks could do for him was shine his shoes and buy his records. People liked him when they were young, then said, "I don't like him because he said that," and I said, "He never even said that." Truth be told, you go back far enough, you go back to your black-and-white footage, everybody's a racist, every star you're looking at, every star you loved was some kind of racist, straight-out racist, no black folks in their movies, all that shit, but you love them, look at their work. And you can't fault them – that's the times.
Michael, Elvis, the Beatles, Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley and Marilyn Monroe, they had some shit that was different from everybody. They're just this other shit. You could take Bruce Lee and put him around 1,000 other Asian people, and your eye goes right to Bruce Lee. Muhammad Ali, a sea of black folks, your eye goes right to him. Whatever that It factor is, they have more of it than anybody.
You don't drink at all – you basically drank one night of your life? Is that true?
You know when I had a drink... the night I fought with John Landis on the set of Coming to America, I went back to the house and Arsenio got me drunk. And I got drunk on my honeymoon, when I drank three glasses of champagne. I'm terrible... I don't throw up if I drink, but I can't drink. That's why I look 35, I don't drink and no stress. How old are you?
Thirty-seven. That's why I look 38. "This motherfucker is truly delusional."
No drugs ever? Like, you never smoked a joint, nothing?
I've done all that shit, but I'm not a drinker. I don't think I tried a joint until I was 29, 30 years old.
Did you go through the coke phase? Was that ever part of your life?
Never, ever did coke. I've never actually even physically had cocaine.
That's quite an achievement for someone who hung around the cast of Saturday Night Live and Rick James.
When I was 18, I was down in the blues bar with Belushi and Robin Williams, everybody was partying, I was like, "No." Every now and then, I'd think about that moment, too, because I was around those guys, it was easy to party, and how everything would have changed. I know if I would have fucked around with that, I would have been all the way in. I'd have made a million headlines.
Combine that with your success and it would've been scary.
There would have been no success, the story would have stopped in the Eighties.
Woody Allen has that line "Rather than live on in the hearts and minds of my fellow man, I'd prefer to live on in my apartment." Is it any consolation that some of your work will live on after you die?
[Laughs] I love Woody Allen. Is it any consolation? This whole period of documenting an artist's work, movies, records, all this shit, it's 100 years old, if it's that. It's brand-new. Beethoven and those fuckers couldn't even listen to their shit, do you know how hard it was to find a motherfucker with a violin that worked back then? And his stuff went through the ages. Technology has it to where they gonna play this stuff forever. But the reality is, all this shit turns into dust, everything is temporary. No matter what you do, if you're around here long enough, you'll wind up dribbling and shitting on yourself, and you won't even remember the shit you did. I saw this documentary on Ronald Reagan, and it was like, "Whoa." They say he came into the house, and he had the toy White House that he had taken out of a fish tank, and he goes, "I don't know what I'm doing with this, but I know it has something to do with me." He had even forgotten he was the president. No matter what you do, that shit is all getting turned into gobbledygook. In 200 years, it's all dust, and in 300 years, it ain't nothing, and in 1,000 years, it's like you wasn't even fucking here. But if you're really, really lucky, if you really did something special, you could hang around a little longer.
You had to pay to get Redd Foxx buried. Is that a nightmare of yours, to be left poor like that?
I never had no horror shit like that. If somebody did some shit to me, I'm going to the street, I'm not going to court, somebody's going to get fucked up. I can't even imagine. But I've been with the same guy for years, my business person does everything right, took care of me, so when I'm old, you never have to worry about "Yeah, man, Eddie Murphy, he's dead and no one will bury him, he's just sitting in the yard." I have some burial funds [laughs]. Actually, cremation.
Is that right? Why?
Being buried is creepy, don't you think? In the ground... this rock over you, your name on the rock, you're down there, decomposing... it's creepy.
Is it OK religionwise, you're allowed to be cremated?
What religion? I'm baptized Catholic. But I don't want to have no religion. I have Christian-based values and beliefs.
People used to think you shouldn't be cremated so you can rise out of the grave when Jesus returns.
But that doesn't make sense, because you don't know what you look like in that box! So you come back and you're like, "I didn't get cremated, Lord, here I am." You're looking pretty bad, though [laughs]. You have to tell Jesus what your name is. "It's me, Lord, Eddie!" And Lord is like, "Who the fuck is this?"
Where do you want your ashes to go?
Ideally, it would be a beautiful woman sprinkling my ashes. "Oh, it's so sad," and I'll be, like, 100, and it will be some beautiful girl, and they'll be whispering, "She was too damn young to be with him," as she's sprinkling the ashes. Just sprinkle me in the drink somewhere, a nice ocean, and keep it rolling.
This story is from the November 10, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.
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