The Godfather of Droll
The most deadpan man ever in movies, Bill Murray has held us in his ironic, mischievous gaze for 35 years. He doesn’t possess the looks of a leading man or the prestige of a great thespian, but those aren’t the secrets to longevity in show business anyway. It’s his hangdog charisma, his rascally regular-guy charm, combined with his indifference to all things industry-oriented (including an agent or a publicist), that have kept us enthralled. His comic performances — as a wry roommate in Tootsie, say, or a wisecracking scientist in Ghostbusters — are hilarious, and yet even they rub an existential ache that gives context to his more serious parts, like the depressed millionaire in Rushmore and the drunken gambler in his new film, St. Vincent. It’s no surprise that zeitgeist filmmakers Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola — both of whom were in their early teens when Ghostbusters was released — have been so drawn to the pathos behind Murray’s smiling face. They noticed, as we did, the funny, lonely, enigmatic qualities that make him more than just a brilliant performer. He’s one of us.
The Essential Bill Murray
Murray chose a PG-rated comedy about summer camp for his first starring role — one in which his counselor leads the kids in a chant about life: ”It just doesn’t matter!”
As the speech-impaired groundsman who equates killing a gopher with winning the war in Vietnam, he is the comic version of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
”Chicks dig me,” says Murray, as a new Army recruit introducing himself to the platoon. ”Because I rarely wear underwear, and when I do it’s usually something unusual.”
Venkman’s response when his girlfriend Dana (Sigourney Weaver) speaks in the possessed growl of a demon named Zuul: ”What a lovely singing voice you must have.”
A technician can’t get antlers to stick on the cute little head of a mouse in the Dickens revise. As cantankerous TV producer Frank Cross, Murray asks, ”Have you tried staples?”
Quick Change (1990)
Murray codirected this clever, underappreciated caper about three bank robbers struggling to flee New York City. His clown thief is, of course, ”the crying-on-the-inside kind.”
What About Bob? (1991)
A horror-film premise — psych patient embeds himself with doctor’s family — is bent into a dark comedy, with Murray expertly walking the line between adorable and arch.
Groundhog Day (1993)
Murray’s most self-examining role, as a superficial phony who’s stuck on repeat. Not many dramas — let alone comedies — raise this many weighty existential issues.
His toupee is merely the tip of the lunacy in this bowling farce. In a mock TV commercial, he offers his services as a dad to fatherless children…with very attractive mothers.
”Take dead aim on the rich boys,” says Murray’s Herman Blume. ”Just remember they can buy anything. But they can’t buy backbone. Don’t let them forget it. Thank you.”
Lost in Translation (2003)
Happiness, levity, melancholy, yearning — they all dance in his eyes during a tender, unsarcastic karaoke rendition of Roxy Music’s ”More Than This.”
Broken Flowers (2005)
In his quietest performance, Murray plays an ex-ladies’ man revisiting his past. He shares beautiful scenes with Jessica Lange and Sharon Stone.
Partners in Crime
Murray found kindred spirits in the late actor-writer-director extraordinaire Harold Ramis, whom he ad-lib eulogized at this year’s Oscars, and fabulist filmmaker Wes Anderson. He collaborated with the two men a total of 13 times.
Meatballs (1979), Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Ghostbusters II (1989), Groundhog Day (1993)
Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Why did he agree to voice the kitty in 2004’s dreadful Garfield: The Movie? He signed on because it was co-written by a fellow named Joel Cohen, and Murray assumed it was the same Joel Coen of Fargo and The Big Lebowski fame. ”I didn’t really bother to finish the script,” he said. ”I thought, ‘He’s great, I’ll do it.”’
The guy stands out even when he’s not front and center. Here are some of his best supporting roles and cameos.
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Cradle Will Rock (1999), The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Wild Things (1998), Hamlet (2000), Ed Wood (1994), Zombieland (2009), Tootsie (1982), Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
Bill and Dave
40+ appearances on David Letterman
The two funnymen go way back. Murray was Letterman’s first guest, both on his NBC show in 1982 and on his CBS one in 1993. Lately he’s appeared in full costume — last year as Liberace (just because) and this year as Peter Pan, explaining that he was auditioning for NBC’s live musical.
Saturday Night Live
Murray made the hippest show on TV even hipper during his tenure (1977–80), when he killed as the vapid anchor of ”Weekend Update” and as Nick, the robust, off-key lounge singer who croons, ”Oh, Star Wars, nothing but Star Wars, give me those Star Wars.”