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The sardonic Don: Happy 60th birthday, Bill Murray

September 22, 2010

Raising a glass to a rascal: Bill Murray has delighted public and critics alike for years with both comic and arty brilliance – often awesomely off-kilter but never lost in translation

Brimming with talent, dripping with sarcasm, often hipping it up and always seeming a little weird, Bill Murray has been officially Bill-Murraying for 60 years – well, as of yesterday, to be precise – so happy birth-and-one-day, Bill.

A reluctant film star following his huge success as the wonderfully wry Dr Peter Venkman in über-hit Ghostbusters (1984), Murray had always had aspirations of making it as a serious film actor rather than as one of Hollywood’s golden comedy crowd of the ’80s. Yet, his humour chops were well used and received throughout that decade. He played an obssessive golf course groundsman in Caddyshack (1980), a wisecracking army recruit in Stripes (1981), a pretentious actor roommate in Tootsie (1982), was perfectly cast as a modern-day Scrooge in, er, Scrooged (1988), reprised Venkman in Ghostbusters II (1989) and found genuine public and critical acclaim as a weatherman repeating the same day over and over in the eponymous Groundhog Day (1993).

The fifth of nine children in a poor family, Murray grew up in a suburb of Chicago and attended a Jesuit university in Colorado – before leaving after being arrested on marijuana charges. Following this, he drifted into Chicago’s Second City improvisational comedy troupe (he’d previously played in a rock band), which led him to The National Lampoon Radio Hour, itself in turn leading him to being offered a contract on the legendary Saturday Night Live TV show in 1976, following the departure of Chevy Chase. Eventually, of course, he and early SNL alumni Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi (for whom the Venkman role was originally written) would follow Chase to Hollywood.

Movie acting suits me because I only need to be good for ninety seconds at a time” ~ Bill Murray

After an attempt at serious film fare in The Razor’s Edge (1984) – it absolutely bombed – Murray didn’t try (or, perhaps more likely, wasn’t hired for the such) again for several years. However, artistic success finally came his way in the ’90s, first with roles in indie gangster comedy Mad Dog And Glory (1983), then Tim Burton effort Ed Wood (1994) and sexy mock-thriller Wild Things (1998). In recent years he’s carved out an enviable niche as one of the actors that weird and sometimes wonderful director Wes Anderson falls back on for his flicks, with appearances in Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007) – for which he’s received hefty critical praise.

Sadly, he missed out on the biggest prize of all – an Oscar – having won every other award in sight for his outstandingly well observed performance as a washed-up Hollywood star who re-discovers his soul in the Japan-set Lost In Translation (2003). He lost out to fellow ’80s icon Sean Penn, but was clearly the popular choice, as referenced on the night when, straight after his loss, the ceremony’s host Billy Crystal announced ‘We still love you, Bill’.

As if to underline his immense popularity, he’s even managed to get away with literally playing himself in major movies – first alongside Bugs Bunny and co. in Space Jam (1996) and then in last year’s Zombieland, in one scene of which he sat down with the film’s protagonists to watch himself in Ghostbusters.

So here’s to surely the driest dude ever to have glittered among Hollywood’s glitterati; he’s made us cheer, laugh and maybe sometimes almost cry on numerous occasions – I may be a day late, and so it’s a bit off-kilter, I know, but happy birthday, Bill. Actually, knowing him, that well-wishing might well be right up his street.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 22, 2010 5:37 am

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  2. September 22, 2010 10:26 am

    Love, love, love Bill Murray! One of my heroes.

    One of the best moments in my life was (literally) running in to him in Covent Garden. He was very polite and shook my hand. The man must get it all the time, but he was an absolute gentleman.

    Murray is actually a completely under-rated actor. I watched Groundhog Day again recently, and his performance is absolutely brilliant. There are few actors that can make an unlikable character likeable and carry you convincingly on the redemptive arc. His performance in Lost In Translation is just so subtle and believable. He’s brilliant in The Life Aquatic and Rushmore.

    Listen to the way RZA says “Bill Muwway” in this clip from Coffee & Cigarettes. Love it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6EZkIaJcCI NSFW, kids.

    Recently his cameo in Zombieland proved that he can steal a movie just by walking on set.

    I could go on forever, but I’ll just say a huge happy birthday and thank you for all the hours of entertainment you’ve given me. Mr. Bill Murray, ladies and gentlemen – a living legend!

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    • June 8, 2014 12:49 pm

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  4. September 28, 2014 5:37 pm

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