Celebrity interviews


Charlie Murphy

The Times

August 13, 2012


Charlie Murphy tells his children — Xavier, 13, and Ava, 6 — that they’re lucky they are not growing up alongside their father when he was a child, “ ’cos I would rob you. I would take your shoes. I asked my son: ‘Has anyone run your pockets?’ He doesn’t know what it means. That’s so far from his reality.”

Charlie is an actor and screenwriter turned stand-up comedian soon to embark on his first UK tour and determined to be seen as more than “Eddie Murphy’s brother”. At 53 Charlie is two years older and more handsome than his film-star brother. Tall and muscular, he confesses to having been a “devilish kid” growing up in Brooklyn. “I specialised in teasing people. If you had acne I would crucify you. I don’t pick on the audience now. As a child I was Dennis the Menace.”

He was 5 when his parents separated. His father, also Charles, worked six days a week and slept on his day off. “If you’re male and don’t have a male influence around, you grow up with a deficit,” he says. Murphy was close to Lilian, his mother, and still is. “I was her biggest headache. She would whip me, but I learnt to minimise the damage by gripping her hands together. She said: ‘You’re impervious to whipping. It doesn’t work on you.’ ”

When Murphy was 10 his father’s lover murdered Charles Sr. Losing him was “unbelievable. I remember touching him and it feeling like this table would if it was cold. I know the depth of the wound.”

At 17 Charlie was “kicked out” of home because of his behaviour, then jailed “for a million little misdemeanours, mostly stealing”. After his release he joined the Navy. Six years later he became Eddie’s security guard (“I’m still his security on the East Coast”). On the hit comedy sketch show Chappelle’s Show he told of ending up at Prince’s house and having a basketball game.

“I did everything,” he says of drinking and drugs. “I still drink and I’m always going to smoke weed. I’m too old for cocaine. It would give me a heart attack.” Did he have lots of sex? “I had lots of relationships. It’s one of the finer things in life, to have a wild time sexually.” Is he self-destructive? “A lot of people in my position are self-destructive; I will be a danger till I’m dead.”

Of Eddie’s fame he says: “It’s extremely satisfying. He is the first person in my bloodline since we came here as slaves to be successful. I don’t compare myself to Eddie or compete with him. Our only similarities are that we make people laugh and have similar faces.”

The brothers are close and “fans of each other, but I have to blow it out of the water every night.” Why? “Eddie Murphy is my brother.”

The title of the Acid Trip Tour which Murphy is bringing to the UK refers to one well-honed riff about how doing LSD left him with profound psychological damage. His jokes are racy and homely: he talks about the partying he has done on the celebrity circuit, why an iPad is a sex toy, and about his daughter crying through Tim Burton’s Alice.

He has made his home in Englewood, New Jersey, far from Eddie’s in Los Angeles. “The Devil is there. I don’t want my kids exposed to that toxicity.” Did success change Eddie? “Yeah, I think it’s impossible for it not to. If anyone achieves tremendous success they find it hard to accept anyone else’s opinion.”

His brother didn’t inspire Murphy to be a comedian — having no job did. When Charlie first performed 11 years ago he was booed offstage. Eddie admonished him: “Nobody else in this game who you can name has never gone through that. Don’t call me with this bullshit.”

“Failure wasn’t an option,” Charlie says. “There’s no way I was going to admit they were right.” They? “Those who see me as Eddie Murphy’s brother.” Isn’t the baiting exhausting? “No, Eddie is my brother and it’s going to come up. My own success is my calling card.” Now he hopes to host a TV show.

Does he think racism still pervades Hollywood? “It’s changing. Is it going to change a lot more? I don’t know. The industry is not run by people of colour: they don’t own studios, production houses.”

His brother significantly changed Hollywood, I say. “Yeah, because of him people like Chris Rock were able to come through. The audience became more sophisticated.”

Away from the stage Murphy has started dating again. “The kids want me to get married, but I don’t want to bring someone home and it not work out. I’ll always be grieving for my wife but she said: ‘Go on with your life. Find somebody that can make you happy.’ ”

He certainly does. Murphy’s wife, Tisha Taylor Murphy, died in 2009 of ovarian cancer. They had been together for 17 years, married for 12. Did he say all he wanted to her? “No. I didn’t say I’m sorry,” he says flatly. What for? “Anybody you have a relationship with for 17 years . . . there are things you say you don’t mean. Losing someone makes you realise life is not long enough to be mad at somebody.”

Xavier was 10 when his mother died, the same age Murphy was when he lost his father. “It’s horrible, but I was able to tell him: ‘I went through what you’re going through.’ ”

Prayer has been Murphy’s “salvation. If you’re an illuminated person, it’s God’s finger illuminating you.” He says he is not as religious as Eddie, whose Baptist faith “is everything to him. I’ve got faith but not religion.”

This godliness is far removed from his teenage years. “I was in gangs. I wanted you to challenge me ’cos I’d beat your ass. I became a bully because I was a victim first.” His mother would send him to the shops, where bigger boys stole his money. “When I’d go home and cry, she didn’t say: ‘Let’s call the police.’ She told me: ‘The next time you let somebody take my money, I’m going to whip your ass.’ I knocked out the next guy who tried it.”

As a toughnut older brother, Charlie ensured that “Eddie never had a fight in his life. From first grade onwards, they knew he was my brother.” Eddie grew up “very differently”: he was “easy to be liked and more focused”.