Happiness According to Bill Murray
An absurdist’s outlook on life.
Famously fun-loving, and somewhat mysterious, Bill Murray, now sixty-five, has garnered a reputation for being predictably unpredictable. In recent years, that includes everything from showing up unannounced at construction sites to read poetry to the workers, crashing college parties, impromptu bartending at local watering holes, and trying out karaoke anytime he can.
As one of the most legendary eccentrics in modern-day Hollywood, he doesn’t have an agent and maintains a private phone number that only a select few can access. If Hollywood execs are lucky enough to get past the obstacles, further communication often occurs via written notes in lieu of instant email delivery.
“Bill has a certain rare animal, snow-leopard quality,” said Tilda Swinton, Murray’s co-star in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel. “Kinda dangerous as well as exotic.”
While his antics off screen make for legendary tales—there are entire websites dedicated to Bill Murray being Bill Murray—his legend was created through a career of classic movies such as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, and Groundhog Day. As with everything Bill Murray, quirkiness comes with the territory. But if you can get him on set, magic happens.
Therein lies the challenge. Getting him on set is no easy feat. Directors often wait months for him to commit to a project. Even Sofia Coppola wasn’t sure he would show up in Tokyo only days before filming 2003’s Lost in Translation, a project that earned four Oscar nominations including Murray for Best Actor.
On the heels of St. Vincent, fans found him playing a billionaire media mogul in Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, released summer 2015, a film he agreed to mainly because he likes Hawaii and it sounded fun.
Despite the recent slew of pictures, there was a time when the public pressure was too much for the actor.
“The phone started ringing too many times,” Murray told Esquire magazine in 2012. “I had to take it back to what I can handle. I take my chances on a job or a person as opposed to a situation.”
The phone rang too much, so he dropped it. These days, he does admit to carrying a cell phone, but mostly to text his children, whom, according to Murray, “sometimes even text me back.”
Perceived by some as an aging curmudgeon, make no mistake that his wit is sharper than ever. What makes Murray so special is that his madman antics produce valuable results—your laughter. His deadpan demeanor is all just part of the bit. He doesn’t care if you’re laughing at him, or with him, just as long as you’re laughing. As he told Rolling Stone, he believes keeping life light is the key to happiness.
“There’s got to be lightness in your way. You have to be as light as you can be and not get weighed down and stuck in your emotion, stuck in your body, stuck in your head,” explained the comic. “You just want to always be trying to use your time to elevate somehow.”
As Murray’s career progressed through the years, he shifted the way he approached roles, even turning down lucrative offers—like the lead role Tom Hanks would eventually take in Forrest Gump—because they just didn’t fit into where his life was headed at the time.
Early on he auditioned for parts—such as Batman and Hans Solo in Star Wars—that seem like a ridiculous fit for him in retrospect. Around the time he was passed up for the role of Solo, he remembers taking some advice that would forever change how he approached film projects, and life in general.
“Someone told me some secrets early on about living. You have to remind yourself that you can do the very best you can when you’re very, very relaxed. No matter what it is, no matter what your job is, the more relaxed you are, the better you are,” Murray told Vulture in 2014. “No matter what my condition or what my mood is, no matter how I feel about what’s going on in my life, if I can relax myself and enjoy what I’m doing and have fun with it, then I can do my job really well. And it’s changed my life, learning that.”
These days, Murray admittedly is still figuring it out. Twice divorced, he has six children between two marriages. In his new single state, he has shifted his mindset from worrying about others to concentrating on himself. His only goal at this stage in life is keeping his children and himself truly happy.
“I don’t think melancholy is a bad thing,” elaborated Murray about his bouts of depression. “It’s sort of an adult emotion that you get when you realize that the way you see the world and the way you want it to be, isn’t necessarily the way it is. It’s a space in between the ideal and the reality, that’s where the real suffering is. Melancholy is nicer than being depressed though.”
Murray is likely to continue his career in much the same way that’s been working for him lately: by doing the things he likes to do. Whether it’s a low-budget indie film or a big-time blockbuster, he is only interested in what he believes he will most enjoy. His goals are different than they used to be, mainly because he decided he wasn’t all that interested in being a major movie star. The goal rather was to do things that made him happy.
“I’d rather live my life out of the glare of the spotlight doing the kind of little films I want to do than making big studio films that keep your name constantly in the public eye,” he said. “I always hoped that one of the smaller independent films I would do in my career would have some recognition and would connect with audiences. And then lo and behold, Lost In Translation had that kind of success.”
More recently, he demonstrated his dramatic sensibilities in HBO’s Olive Kitteridge, which earned him an Emmy, and St. Vincent, in which he played a bawdy, misanthropic Vietnam war vet romantically involved with Naomi Watts’ character Daka, a pregnant Russian stripper, while also acting as the unlikely babysitter for a neighbor’s (Melissa McCarthy) young boy.
When the film premiered in 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival, Murray showed an emotional side not often seen. As it reached its touching finale, he had to wipe away tears. “It’s an emotional movie. I had to stop crying, because I didn’t want to be caught crying when the lights came up or my career is finished.”
After, the Toronto audience gave the film a five-minute standing ovation, Murray took to the stage with the rest of the cast wearing a plastic crown and a beauty queen sash. The festival had declared it “Bill Murray Day.”
1) In 2006, he crashed a party held by Norwegian students in Scotland, told a few jokes, washed up, and then left.
2) He played air guitar while skydiving over Chicago in 2008.
3) He showed up at the crowded Austin drinking establishment, the Shangri-La bar, during the 2010 South by Southwest festival and decided to spend the night working behind the bar. No matter what anyone ordered, he only served them tequila. Video proof lives on YouTube.
4) He once walked up to a customer at a Wendy’s, ate his fries, and then whispered, “No one is going to believe you.”
5) He only made Garfield because he thought it had been written by the Coen Brothers. He only found out it wasn’t—that it was actually written by Joel Cohen—AFTER signing on.
6) It is rumored that he likes to sneak up on random strangers on the street, put his hands over their eyes, and say, “Guess who?”
7) In the movie Kingpin, Murray’s character bowls three strikes; Murray himself actually did this while filming and the crowd reaction is genuinely for him.
8) He will sign anything he hits you in the face with, whether it be a golf ball, or anything else. It’s his rule.
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