"Nothing prepared me for being this awesome," Bill Murray tweeted not too long ago. "It's kind of a shock. It's kind of a shock to wake up every morning and be bathed in this purple light." None of us were prepared either, but we're really glad it happened—and for 40 years no less. So let's celebrate the beloved comedian's 68th birthday with a selection of his most awesome bits.
Nick the Lounge Singer (1978)
Bill Murray joined "Saturday Night Live" in its second season and over the next four years contributed many memorable characters to the show, but his velvety bottom-of-the-barrel Nick the Lounge Singer stands out. And when, in a 1978 sketch, Murray's smarmy crooner launched into his version of the "Star Wars" theme—"Star Wars/Nothing but Star Wars/Gimme those Star Wars/Don't let them end"—it became one of the comedian's first classic moments.
Murray goes over the top in the best Bill Murray kind of way as Tripper, the summer camp leader, giving a motivational speech to his less-than-athletic group of demoralized campers during a competition pitting them against rival Camp Mohawk. It's rousing, it's inspirational and it's totally wacko, with a red-faced Murray shrieking at the top of his lungs, "IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER!!"
It was only supposed to be a quick shot of Murray as the "Caddyshack" greenskeeper lopping off the tops of chrysanthemums as he practices his golf swing. But Murray turned the take into a minute-and-a-half improvised play-by-play commentary, repeated word for word by aspiring Tigers everywhere. "What an incredible Cinderella story—this unknown comes out of nowhere to lead the pack at Augusta…Tears in his eyes…This crowd has gone deathly silent. A Cinderella story, out of nowhere…It looks like a mirac—it's in the hole!"
Murray's goofy kid-brother likeability (he has eight siblings) has been on display from the very beginning, but it takes over the screen in this early hit movie. When he and buddy Harold Ramis decide to chuck it all and join the Army, their improvised interaction while facing the recruiter is five-star.
"Late Night with David Letterman" (1982)
Murray has been a late night go-to guest for decades. One of his earliest—and best—talk show appearance came as the first guest ever on "Late Night with David Letterman." Not only does Murray stage an on-air mental breakdown, he ends the whole thing by doing aerobics while singing Olivia Newton-John's "Physical."
Murray plays it relatively straight in a supporting role as Dustin Hoffman's playwright roommate in this romantic comedy. But he steals the party scene with an improvised monologue in which he pontificates—about theater, life, suicide, dreams and Native Americans. "I don't like it when people come up to me after my plays and say, 'I really dug your message, man.' Or, 'I really dug your play, man, I cried.' You know. I like it when people come up to me the next day, or a week later, and they say, 'I saw your play. What happened?'"
It's just a one-liner, and not even a particularly funny one, yet Murray's deadpan delivery turns his "Yes, it's true…this man has no dick" into a bring-down-the-house laugh, making a so-so scene into something amazing.
"The Razor's Edge" (1984)
Murray took on his first dramatic role in this adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel about an American pilot, traumatized by his experiences in World War I, who sets off in search of the meaning of life. The movie bombed, and Murray's dramatic ambitions were ridiculed by critics. But they were wrong. Murray proved that he could, indeed, act with the best of them.
"Little Shop of Horrors" (1986)
Only a cameo, but Murray's root-canal-loving patient (under the care of Steve Martin's dentist) in this musical comedy is painfully funny. Not only does Murray go all giddy without anesthetic, he even brings along his own disposable bib and cotton balls to hasten the agony.
Only Bill Murray could play such a heartless character—the TV executive who takes pleasure in firing an employee on Christmas Eve in this update of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"—and still make us love him.
"What About Bob?" (1991)
Psychiatric patient Murray makes mad and very loud love to a piece of corn on the cob while dining with his doctor (Richard Dreyfuss) and family. "This is so special…is this hand shucked?"
"Groundhog Day" (1993)
It's an insane little sequence from this classic comic fantasy when the bitter weatherman played by Bill Murray kidnaps Punxsutawny Phil—the titular groundhog—and jumps into an old red pickup truck, leading police in a car chase with furry Phil at the wheel. Says Murray: "That's not bad for a quadruped."
"Ed Wood" (1994)
Johnny Depp has the title role, based on real-life 1950s schlock moviemaker Ed Wood, and Murray co-stars as his drag queen friend "Bunny" Breckinridge. A baptismal dip in the pool elicits a classic Murray moment as Bunny—just being a sport—agrees to "reject Satin and all his evils." (Love the way Murray tests the water with his toe just before going in for the baptism.)
Murray's strutting, combover-challenged, break-dancing bowling champion in "Kingpin" leaves contender Woody Harrelson disgusted and speechless. Audiences were left speechless, too—with laughter.
Industrialist Herman Blume (Murray) has everything in this Wes Anderson comedy-drama—wealth, mansion, wife, kids—and he's unhappy with it all. And to watch him sit alone as his teenage twin boys tear open unappreciated birthday gifts while his wife flirts with another man is both hilarious and—new for actor Murray—classically tragic.
"Lost in Translation" (2003)
Justly celebrated for many his turns as a bombastic lounge singer, Murray plays it straight when trying his hand at karaoke with decades-younger Scarlett Johansson in a pivotal scene in "Lost in Translation." His voice soft and off-key, he sings volumes with his weary, seen-it-all eyes.
"Coffee and Cigarettes" (2003)
Murray plays a coffee-from-the-pot-guzzling waiter in late-night conversation with RZA and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan in this vignette from Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes." It's weird, it's funny and, best of all, it's quintessential Bill Murray.
"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2005)
Eccentric oceanographer Steve Zissou (Murray) explains to a reporter played by Cate Blanchett why there's an antenna on his swim gear helmet (it's for piped-in music). Just a brief moment in the film, not even a scene. But when Murray gyrates in his wetsuit to a tune, it's a visual classic.
Every great actor deserves a great death scene at least once in a career. And in "Zombieland," Murray—appearing in a cameo as himself—gets one of the best, lasting almost two minutes before his final expiration. Shot in the chest when mistaken for a zombie, Murray reacts perfectly in character:"Is that how you say 'Hello' where you come from?"
Slo-Mo Fan Walk (2012)
Murray is legendary for his unexpected interaction with fans—at weddings, at ballgames, on the golf course, in bars, just about everywhere. And when in 2012 some young guys asked Murray for his autograph, the actor suggested something else instead: filming a slow-motion walk down an empty hallway, a la "Reservoir Dogs."
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