Being Bill Murray
Murray transforms even the most mundane interactions into opportunities for improvisational comedy. Peter Chatzky, a financial-software developer from Briarcliff Manor, New York, remembers being on vacation at a hotel in Naples, Florida, when his grade-school kids spotted Murray having a drink poolside and asked him for autographs. Murray gruffly offered to inscribe their forearms but ended up writing on a couple of napkins instead. Jake, a skinny kid, got “Maybe lose a little weight, bud,” signed “Jim Belushi.” Julia got “Looking good, princess. Call me,” signed “Rob Lowe.”
Murray grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, the fifth of nine children. His father, a lumber salesman, died when Bill was 17. He spent his 20th birthday in jail, having been busted at a Chicago airport with eight and a half pounds of weed. After he got out on probation, he pursued acting; six years later, he broke through on the second season of Saturday Night Live. These days, Murray spends a lot of his time in Charleston, South Carolina, where he is part-owner of the minor-league baseball team the Charleston RiverDogs. As “director of fun,” Murray will dress up in a hot dog costume, or even run around the tarp-covered diamond during a rain delay, concluding with a belly-flop slide – safe at home. So many people in Charleston have Bill Murray stories and sightings that a local radio station instituted a regular “Where’s Bill?” feature.
Recently, Murray attended a birthday dinner in Jedburg, South Carolina, invited by the chef Brett McKee. “My youngest daughter used to date his youngest son,” McKee says. “The party was in the middle of freaking nowhere, with people Bill didn’t know, and he was great – he was just hanging out like a regular dude. A couple of the guests were old country people, and they were showing him their moose calls.” After dinner, there was dancing; Murray commandeered the remote control and was captured on video getting down to his selections: Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” and DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What.”
I realized the more fun I had, the better I did
In April, Ashley Donald and her fiancé, Erik Rogers, were in downtown Charleston, posing for their engagement photos in front of historic houses. “As our photographer took a picture,” she recalls, “we noticed a guy standing behind him, lifting his shirt over his face and rubbing his belly.” Then he pulled down his shirt, revealing that he was Bill Murray. The betrothed couple were flabbergasted, but had enough presence of mind to ask him to take a picture with them. Murray posed, congratulated them and kept walking.
Murray made international news in May when he gave a toast at tech-startup manager EJ Rumpke’s bachelor party, at a steakhouse in Charleston. Murray didn’t technically crash – one of Rumpke’s friends spotted him at the restaurant and invited him – but he took the opportunity to drop some bona fide wisdom, telling the guys that just as funerals are actually for the living, bachelor parties are actually for unmarried friends. He advised the guests that if they found someone they thought they wanted to spend their lives with, they shouldn’t plan a wedding and book a caterer, but should travel around the world. And if they were still in love on their return to the States, “get married at the airport.”
“He grabbed my leg and threw me up in the air,” Rumpke says. “And then he snuck out.” Rumpke got married without a global journey, but Murray says that one of his own friends tried the scheme – and it worked out terribly. “The next time I saw him, he leapt all over me, because he was on his way down the slippery chute and he found out that was really the wrong thing,” Murray says with a grin. “He was very happy about it.”