There’s little doubt that Eddie Murphy is an entertainment legend, known for a raucous brand of comedy with enough youthful innocence to remain timeless, relevant, and pertinent.
Little did his fans know that in the early ’80s, big brother Charlie Murphy, who died of leukemia Wednesday, April 12, was just as funny, although he spent most of his early career working security and taking care of various other affairs for his little brother.
He broke into show business himself in the early 1990s, but it was 2003’s Chappelle’s Show that served as his comedic launching pad. After Dave Chappelle walked away from the series, Murphy thanked him, telling fans that if not for Chappelle, he would “still just be Eddie Murphy’s brother.” But it wasn’t all Chappelle’s doing, or Eddie’s for that matter. Charlie Murphy had arrived on his own.
From the Player Haters, Black Bush, and Mad Real World skits, Charlie Murphy was finally an A-lister, albeit only on cable and not prime time. Then came the show’s “Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Stories,” and a bombastic look at Murphy’s genius. His tales about partying and sparring with Rick James and being schooled in basketball by Prince will likely go down in history as some of the best sketches of all time.
And what fans will also treasure is not that James, Prince, and Murphy are now all dead, but that the tales of their misadventures are all true.
That’s right. Charlie Murphy and Rick James’ love-hate, drug-fueled fiascoes of the 1980s really happened. The pop star knew members of Murphy’s family, but the men became close when Murphy returned from the United States Navy and became part of Eddie’s entourage.
When Eddie would retreat home at the end of his day, the gallivanting began, as told by Charlie Murphy and Rick James. It’s when a decade of debauchery would lead to comedic gold.
“I love Charlie Murphy,” James recalled in the “True Hollywood Stories” bit. “But (we) had it out. Smacking each other upside the head. Smacking each other in the face. Punching each other in the chest. Kicking each other.”
The most famous slap chronicled by Chappelle came as the the punchline of “What did the five fingers say to the face?” Then there was the Eddie Murphy couch-soiling incident, where brothers Murphy joined forces to hold Rick James down in order to “whip his legs.” And we know while the severity of the alleged maiming was somewhat contested by James, he stated several times on the record that he remembered grinding his feet on Eddie’s couch simply because the comedian could afford another one.
Yes, Rick James was incorrigible and a habitual line stepper. But Charlie Murphy kept him at bay and always came back for more. If it wasn’t a run-in at Studio 54, the two had it out at the China Club.
Murphy’s relationship with Prince lent to a skit that won’t soon be forgotten either. The two met at through Eddie and did, in fact, play that infamouse game of pickup basketball. It wasn’t shirts vs. blouses, and the diminutive Prince had no dunking skills, but pancakes were served. And now that both have passed on, nobody will ever know if Charlie Murphy got a chance to purify himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
Born Charles Quinton Murphy on July 12, 1959, Charlie Murphy grew up in the Brooklyn Bushwick neighborhood and Roosevelt, New York. After their father died, Charlie and Eddie spent a year in foster care before their mother married their stepfather, Vernon Lynch.
Murphy married Tisha Taylor Murphy in 1997. The couple had a son and a daughter in addition to Charlie’s son from a previous relationship. Tisha Taylor Murphy died in 2009 of cervical cancer.
[Featured Image by Brad Barket/Getty Images]