Eddie Murphy stars as the wisecracking Detective Axel Foley in the action-comedy Beverly Hills Cop, released in theaters on this day in 1984. The movie marked the first major starring role for Murphy, who went on to become one of the top-grossing actors in Hollywood.
Murphy was born on April 3, 1961, in Brooklyn, New York, and rose to fame in the early 1980s on the TV sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. As a regular cast member of the show from 1980 to 1984, Murphy became known for such memorable characters as Buckwheat, Gumby and an inner-city Mr. Rogers, as well as for his impersonations of celebrities, including Stevie Wonder. In 1982, Murphy made his big-screen debut in the hit action-comedy 48 Hrs., co-starring Nick Nolte, which was followed by another popular comedy, Trading Places (1983), featuring fellow SNLer Dan Aykroyd, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche.
It was the huge box-office success of 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, however, that propelled Murphy to worldwide fame. In the film, Murphy played a police detective from Detroit who winds up in Beverly Hills, where he tracks a man believed responsible for the death of his friend. Beverly Hills Cop earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay and featured a soundtrack with such chart-toppers as “New Attitude” by Patti LaBelle and “The Heat is On” by Glenn Frey. The film spawned the hit sequels Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994).
In 1989, Murphy made his directorial debut with Harlem Nights, which he also wrote and co-starred in, opposite Richard Pryor. The film was panned by critics and Murphy’s career slumped as he went on to appear in a series of box-office duds. Things rebounded for the actor in the mid-1990s, when he starred in such family-friendly box-office hits as The Nutty Professor (1996), in which he played multiple characters, and Dr. Doolittle (1998), in which he played the title role. Murphy scored yet another massive hit when he voiced the character of a donkey in 2001’s animated feature Shrek and its sequels, Shrek 2 (2004) and Shrek the Third (2007).
Murphy earned his first Academy Award nomination, in the Best Supporting Actor category, for his performance as the drug-addicted R&B singer James “Thunder” Early in 2006’s Dreamgirls, based on the award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. Murphy, who had a recording career in the 1980s that included the hit single “Party All the Time,” performed his own musical numbers in Dreamgirls.