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October 2, 2014

9 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Bill Murray

Bill Murray is the Madonna of comedic acting. Whereas most other comedic actors from his era faded away long ago—see Aykroyd, Dan—Murray has continuously adapted and reinvented himself over the years to remain as fresh and viable as ever. But really, what’s most interesting about Bill Murray’s career is that he has maintained his popularity while doing everything against the grain. Unlike most celebrities, the man doesn’t even have an agent, let alone a publicist. If you want to pitch a project to him or request an interview, you’ve got to call his 1-800 number. If he’s interested, he or his lawyer will call you back. And right after the huge success of 1984’s Ghostbusters, when he was one of the hottest and most sought-after actors in Hollywood, he took a 4 year break from acting and moved to Paris with his wife and son. Definitely not the typical tinseltown strategy.

So, it’s not exactly overstating it to say that Bill Murray is a bit of an enigma. With that in mind, here’s a list of 9 things you probably didn’t know about the one, the only, Bill Murray.

9. Bill Murray likes big families

The funny man grew up in Wilmette, IL, just outside Chicago, and is one of 9 kids from an Irish Catholic family. Several of his brothers are also actors, the most successful of which is his older brother Brian, who was also an early cast member of Saturday Night Live, wrote the script for Caddyshack, and has appeared in such Bill Murray films as Scrooged and Groundhog Day. Now, Bill himself has 6 kids—all boys—from his two failed marriages. And in case you are wondering, no, this is not his family pictured (above). Those are people he hired to be his family for a stunt on the Late Show with David Letterman.

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8. Went from convicted pot dealer to honorary PhD

After graduating from Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Murray briefly attended Regis University in Denver. I guess tuition was pretty steep, because Billy was arrested at O’Hare International Airport in 1970 for trying to smuggle 10 lbs of marijuana in his suitcase. Convicted and sentenced to 5 years probation by the age of 21, he fortunately was able to get his life on track. Thirty-seven years after his drug bust, in 2007, Bill Murray was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the very college his legal problems forced him to quit.

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7. Got into fist fight with Chevy Chase backstage at SNL

Chevy Chase left Saturday Night Live midway through the second season to pursue a film career, and Bill Murray was hired as his replacement. This turn of events ended up putting a lot of pressure on both of them. For his part, Murray had some pretty big shoes to fill. Chevy Chase was called “the funniest man in America” by New York Magazine in 1975. Chevy, on the other hand, had already considered Bill Murray a rival, and the fact that he so ably replaced him on the popular new sketch comedy show only made things worse. Tensions flared up a bit one January night in 1977. Chevy returned to SNL as guest host for episode during the 3rd season, and things got a little ugly between the two backstage. Fortunately, the whole incident was soon water under the bridge. Though the two aren’t the best of friends these days, they do occasionally see each other and there are no hard feelings.

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6. Wasn’t even supposed to be in Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters is one of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of all time, and Bill Murray was clearly the movie’s brightest star. So you may be surprised to learn that, originally, he wasn’t even supposed to be in the movie. The original script from Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis had characters written specifically for Eddie Murphy, John Candy, and John Belushi. However, Belushi died tragically in 1982, and the other two wouldn’t fully commit to the project. At that point Aykroyd turned to Murray, and the rest was history. Ghostbusters went on to gross over $100 million and become a cultural phenomenon.

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5. Accidentally starred in Garfield

In a rare extended interview Bill Murray did with GQ, the critically acclaimed actor says he signed on to do the combination live action/animation Garfield movie almost accidentally. He explains: “I didn’t make that for the dough! Well, not completely. I thought it would be kind of fun, because doing a voice is challenging, and I’d never done that. Plus, I looked at the script, and it said, “So-and-so and Joel Coen.” And I thought: Christ, well, I love those Coens! They’re funny. So I sorta read a few pages of it and thought, Yeah, I’d like to do that.” Only the script did not say Joel Coen; it said Joel Cohen. The former is responsible for such films as Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men; the latter is responsible for Cheaper by the Dozen and Daddy Day Camp. Murray only realized his mistake when it actually came time to record his dialogue and discovered that it sucked.

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4. Part owner of 4 minor league baseball teams

Bill Murray is part owner of four minor league baseball teams. They are the St. Paul Saints; the Fort Myers Miracle; the Hudson Valley Renegades; and, last but not least, the Charleston Seadogs, with whom his official title is “Director of Fun.” I guess Bill figured he could never own his favorite minor league baseball team (the Chicago Cubs), so he decided he would own as many other minor league baseball teams as he could.

3. Bill and David Letterman really get along

It seems like Bill Murray is on Letterman at least twice a year. That’s a lot, considering he generally seeks to avoid official showbiz publicity gigs. But he obviously has a special rapport with David Letterman. Bill was not only the very first guest Letterman ever had on his original NBC show in 1982; he was also the first guest Letterman had on his show after his famous jump from NBC to CBS in 1993. And of course he has made a number of memorable appearances on the Late Show since then.

2. Bill Murray is likable even when going through a midlife crisis

Starting around 2005, Bill Murray seemed to be having a bit of a midlife crisis, as his second marriage was on the verge of collapse. Of course, it is not uncommon for celebrities—particularly male celebrities—to go through rather embarrassing midlife crises. But then Bill doesn’t do anything like all those other Hollywood clowns. So whereas the Mel Gibsons and Charlie Sheens of the world start spewing ethnic slurs and going on insane rants about tiger blood, good old Bill Murray just starts showing up at random hipster parties. For example, one time Bill was in Scotland when he met a (presumably good-looking) 22-year-old Norwegian exchange student at a bar who brought him to a house party friends of hers were throwing. When they arrived, upon finding a huge pile of dirty dishes in the sink and no clean glasses to drink from, Bill Murray just started washing the dishes like it was no big deal. Afterward he happily drank vodka from a coffee cup. So you see, when Bill Murray has identity issues and lets loose for a while, he does so in a polite, gentlemanly fashion.

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1. Bill Murray is an urban Legend

All of Bill Murray’s wacky antics over the years have turned him into a bona fide urban legend. There are scores of websites and blogs dedicated to reporting Bill Murray encounters, stories, and sightings. There are accounts of Bill hanging out with people at karaoke bars (pictured); showing up at random house parties (pictured); inviting himself for drinks with complete strangers (pictured); and, best of all, sneaking up behind someone on the street, covering their eyes, saying “guess who” and, when they see who it actually is, proclaiming “no one will ever believe you.” Whether or not these stories are true is beside the point. The fact that they even seem plausible tells you all you need to know about the man.

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