Beloved comedian Charlie Murphy, elder brother of the famed comic Eddie Murphy, passed away from leukemia complications Wednesday, April 12. Murphy’s passing comes unexpectedly, as he was a part of an on-going tour with fellow comedians Cedric the Entertainer and George Lopez. Like his counterparts, Murphy’s comedy centered around masculinity, however his stand-up comedy often illustrated normative ideas of Black masculinity and how Black men navigate social situations among each other.
In 1989, Murphy entered the cinematic scene in Harlem Nights,
a black comedy and crime movie directed by his brother. He also held minor roles in Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues
and Jungle Fever
. In the early 2000s, Murphy cemented his status as a comedic figure in Chappelle’s Show
. Fans will remember Murphy and Chappelle’s hilarious sketch series, “True Hollywood Stories,” where they reenacted Murphy’s over-the-top encounters with Rick James and Prince. After Chappelle’s Show
, Murphy acted in various movies and TV shows as well as performing stand-up comedy, notably I Will Not Apologize
and Acid Trip.
Murphy’s stand-up comedy spanned topics such as masculinity, dating, and recreational drug use in the Black community. In “True Hollywood Stories,” Chapelle and Murphy comedically reenacted Murphy’s experience playing basketball with Prince. Murphy’s storytelling, however, recalls some of the heteronormative expressions of Black masculinity. In the skit, he states, “I think it was in ‘85, like when all that androgynous sh*t was going on, and what was wild was that the guy who looked the most like a b*tch was getting all the women.” Murphy was referring to ‘80s fashion and music, which was noted for its eclectic and feminine characteristics. Murphy also marveled at Prince, a figure renowned for his genre-defying music as much as his refutation of gender roles, and his attractivity and popularity with the opposite sex.
In another segment, Murphy and Chapelle act out Murphy’s encounter with music legend Rick James. On Chappelle’s Show
, Murphy explains how his “star-struck” encounter turned violent when James unexpectedly punched Murphy in the forehead. Murphy recalls, “Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I shouldn’t do nothing, but my ghetto side was going, ‘Yo, stomp this muthf*cka out right here.’” Murphy’s reaction revealed the ways in which men react to violence as a form of social emasculation; Murphy decides whether he will “whoop [James’s] ass” because of James’s violent and uncalled for assault. Later, Murphy and James would reconcile, with James offering an olive branch in the form of drugs and/or women. While hysterical and intentionally hyperbolic, Murphy’s skit reveals the ways in which Black men operate in social spaces, as they attempt to impose an alpha presence. Though Murphy presents a hilarious sketch with an amicable resolve, its social implications are troubling, to say the least.
Other comedians, actors, and prominent figures of the Black community expressed their condolences for Murphy and his family. Comedian and actor Kevin Harttook to Instagram to post a photo of Murphy with the caption “Wow….This is crazy. All I can say is RIP.”
Chris Rock tweeted a photo, stating We just lost one of the funniest most real brothers of all time. Charlie Murphy RIP.”
And Paul Mooney tweeted a morose “Terribly Saddened … Charlie.”
While Murphy’s passing adds to the list late of Black legends, we can remember him for his wonderful storytelling and contributions to the Black community, but not overlook the problematic aspects of his legacy.