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Bill Murray - Actor

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Bill Murray is an American actor, well-known for his comedic roles, his dry wit and deadpan humour and for featuring in films such as Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.

Beginnings

Murray was born on 21 September, 1950 in Wilmette, Illinois. His parents Lucille and Edward were Irish Catholics, his father a lumber salesman and golfer. He was the fifth of nine children (eight brothers and one sister, four of whom have also tried to make it into the spotlight) and he describes his childhood family life as having been a 'constant claustrophobic mess'. It is arguable that his chaotic childhood inspired his ambition to become a comedian:

One of my strongest childhood impressions is of falling off the dinnertable while doing an impression. I hit my head very hard on the metal foot of the table leg. But when I saw my father laughing, I laughed while crying at the same time. I guess that was some kind of beginning.

The Early Years

After being kicked out of college for marijuana possession, Murray began to look at comedy more seriously. He began performing in Chicago during the early 1970s, starring on the radio show National Lampoon Radio Hour alongside John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and his brother Brian Doyle-Murray.

After his stint in radio, Murray was offered the chance to join the cast of (as well as write for) the television series Saturday Night Live. The studio executives were apprehensive about taking Bill on, fearing that he was too sardonic for their show. Murray was initially signed up for just three shows and only then was made a permanent member of the cast. He took the place of Chevy Chase with whom Murray famously came to blows when Chase returned to guest-host Saturday Night Live. Despite having made it onto the show, sketches were few and far between for him and Murray won many fans by jokingly appealing to the audience for their support. Murray remained on Saturday Night Live from 1977 to 1980, bringing his characters Nick the lounge singer and Todd the nerd to the audience.

Hollywood

By now a well-known comedian, Murray decided to make the move into the film industry. One of his first films was a collaboration with Harold Ramis, the comedy Meatballs, which was released in 1979. He would work with Ramis again on the films Caddyshack (of which more below), Stripes and Ghostbusters. In Stripes, released in 1981, Murray plays a taxi-driver, dissatisfied with his work and life, who decides to join the army to get into shape.

In 1984, Murray struck gold with the box office hit Ghostbusters. The film became the highest-grossing comedy of all time - until overtaken by Home Alone in 1990 - making Murray a permanent fixture in Hollywood. However, Murray only agreed to make Ghostbusters if the studio would fund his project to co-write the screenplay for and remake the 1946 film The Razor's Edge. In this film, released in the same year as Ghostbusters, Murray plays the role of a man who returns home from World War One disillusioned with his life. His character's search for answers takes him on a journey to the Himalayas and Europe in an attempt to find meaning in his life.

Murray continued to make comedy films to good reviews throughout the 1980s and 1990s. 1988 saw him star in Scrooged as the mean-spirited Frank Cross, who runs a television station creating an adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Frank's attitude is changed when he is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

Reprising his role as Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters 2 in 1989, Murray was churning out the hits. In What About Bob?, released in 1991, Murray plays the needy and paranoia-riddled Bob Wiley who follows his psychiatrist to his holiday home, sending him crazy.

Murray then found a role tailor-made for him in 1993 in Groundhog Day, where he plays a TV weatherman doomed to repeat the same day over and over again:

I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster and drank pina coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over...?

Mad Dog and Glory was released in 1993. The film stars Murray as Frank Milo, a mobster wanting to become a comedian, Uma Thurman as Glory, a girl paying off her brother's debt by working for Milo and Robert De Niro as Wayne Dobie, a shy and lonely cop. Dobie saves Milo's life and in return Milo offers him Glory for a week. Before the week is out, the pair fall in love, so ensuring a showdown with Milo.

During the mid to late 1990s, films seemed to take a back seat in Murray's life to golf tournaments, though he still continued to make comedy films such as Larger Than Life in 1996, The Man Who Knew Too Little in the following year and the work of genius that is the 1998 film Rushmore.

This tells the story of teenager Max Fischer failing in all his classes, but excelling in extracurricular activities. Fischer becomes friends with Herman Blume, played by Murray, the father of two wealthy kids attending Rushmore Academy. The two characters find themselves competing with each other for a teacher's affections.

After shying away from the spotlight for a while, Murray returned in 2001, co-starring in Wes Anderson's comedy The Royal Tenenbaums. Two years later, the lead in Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation brought him considerable acclaim as well as an Oscar nomination. Starring alongside Scarlett Johansson, the two lead actors play characters who are both as lonely as the other and begin a friendship while stuck in Tokyo.

Wes Anderson again chose Murray to play the lead in his next film, the adventure comedy The Life Aquatic in 2004. Murray was cast as Steve Zissou, a famous oceanographer intent on hunting down the shark that killed his partner.

Golf

Murray has had a great love of golf since he was a child. He caddied on a golf course with his brothers and, with the money he made, paid for his own school tuition.

One of Bill's early film roles, in Caddyshack, was that of Carl, a golf course groundskeeper madly intent on catching a gopher. Murray improvised most of his way through the script: 'I just sort of walked around the shack for fifteen minutes and it started jumping into my head.' He is known to improvise his way through many scripts and although this often annoys his collaborators, it tends to make for a much better performance.

Murray has also co-written a book, Cinderella Story, telling of his love affair with golf. The book tracks his life from when he was young and learning life lessons - such as 'how to smoke, curse and play cards. But more important, when to' - through to his playing at various golf tournaments, where he is now more likely to be found than up on the big screen.

Home Life

Bill Murray is keen to keep his private life out of the public eye and avoids celebrity parties and rarely gives interviews, although he does not avoid his fans and is known for being very generous when it comes to giving autographs.

Murray lives in a New York suburb with his children and wife Jennifer Butler1, who was a costume designer on Scrooged. Butler went on to work with Murray on Ghostbusters 2, What About Bob? and Groundhog Day.

Along with his brothers Brian, Joel and John, Bill is a co-owner of the restaurant chain Murray Bros Caddyshack, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Recent Projects

Having announced that he was taking a short break from acting in early 2005, Murray soon returned to play Don Johnston, the lead role in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. Finding himself single again and after receiving a letter informing him that he has a son, Don begins to reflect upon his past relationships. Although the film won the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, some audiences found the lack of laugh-out-loud moments and the minimalist approach unappealing.

2005 also saw Murray being directed by Andy Garcia in The Lost City, a romance set against the backdrop of the Cuban revolution. The Lost City is due for release in 2006.

Murray is due to begin filming his next project, Rob Schneider's Hard R, in 2006. The film is loaded with Saturday Night Live comedians, including David Spade, Norm Macdonald and Rob Schneider. The film was co-written with Murray's brother, John Murray.

Further Reading

Bill Murray and George Peper, Cinderella Story, 1999.

BBC Film

Bill Murray Appreciation Site

Bill Murray The Classic Years

1They have got divorced since this article was written.

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