Eddie Murphy

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I recently read an online article that ranked every cast member of Saturday Night Live and it took me all of about five seconds to crown my personal choice for #1. The list itself was pretty fun to scroll through, and at the bottom, I wasn’t at all surprised to find that the writer had oh-so-predictably picked John Belushi as the “best” SNL cast member ever. John Belushi is one of those sacred cows of comedy who is long overdue to be butchered and served up as a bunch of tasty burgers for some protein-deficient Appalachian kids. He’s barely an SNL top ten. A funny guy at times, but completely overrated. That’s what happens when you die at 33. Were the “Samurai Ford Pinto Salesman” and “Immigrant Cheeseburger Man” really that funny? I don’t think so. (That being said, I would have loved to see his impersonation of Lena Dunham.)

What’s all this got to do with one Edward Regan Murphy? Well, in my eyes he’s the most talented and brilliant cast member SNL has ever had. From Gumby to to “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” to Buckwheat to “Kill My Landlord,” he absolutely, well, killed. But Eddie was so much more than just a player on some dumb late night TV show. He pretty much owned the decade. I didn’t even like him that much back then–I thought he was “too popular” or whatever, but to watch his 80s body of work now, without the distortion of whatever warped “underground-only” sensibilities I possessed back then–is to watch someone barely out of his teens pretty much taking over the world.

Here we had an unapologetically profane BLACK man (and, Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson be damned, let’s not pretend White America was all into cuddling up with black people back then, especially dudes in hot red leather pants who talked a lot about their dicks) who fashioned himself into the most popular celebrity in America. This doesn’t happen “because it’s time.” It takes raw talent, hard work and a whole heapin’ help of that hard to quantify element called charisma. Eddie had all that and more. There really wasn’t any branch of entertainment he didn’t make his own. It went something like this:

Television: the aforementioned SNL, several HBO specials that helped put that young network on the map, and of course his unforgettable role as a randy “walker” on that very special two-part episode of The Golden Girls.

Movies: If you had to make a basketball team out of 5 movies, 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop I and II, Trading Places and Coming To America would be like a starting five of Jordan, Magic, Bird, Dr. J and Hakeem the Dream.

Music: Surely you remember “Party All The Time?”

Fashion: 5 trillion Mumford Phys. Ed. Dept. T-shirts sold!

Things have been, how shall we say, “uneven” ever since. But what major star has ever avoided this? Unless you go and run your Porsche 550 Spyder into a big old Ford coupe or die freebasing in some rented West Hollywood chateau, it’s all part of the celebrity arc. Nobody stays #1 box office champ forever. Still, the man remains capable of raking in hundred of millions of dollars for his studio–things like Shrek and The Nutty Professor practically minted money–as well as delivering critically-acclaimed work in films like Dreamgirls and Bowfinger. He’s also been involved in a lot of truly abysmal efforts moviegoers avoided like you would a bum relieving himself into a San Francisco Examiner box. But he’s still around, and I believe he has some good work left in him. Time will tell. But the 80s, man–the guy was untouchable.

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Rob Lowe

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If you were a guy in the 80s, you hated Rob Lowe at first sight. Because you had seen him. If you fancied yourself a good-looker, a real Don Juan of the rollerskating rink, so to speak, you were humbled. If you weren’t good-looking and knew it but had finally come to somehow accept it, laying eyes on Rob was still alarming. It was like God was “rubbing it in.” It was like our Creator saying, “See what I can create when I actually try? See how lazy I was the day I decided to fling you together out of spoiled cold cuts and a bunch of old wire hangers I had sitting around? See?”

Because the guy was downright perfect-looking. As Jim Belushi says to him in …About Last Night: “The best thing that could happen to you is an industrial accident.”

Well, that didn’t happen but a different kind of tragedy did. After impressing Francis Ford Coppola enough to cast him as Sodapop Curtis in The Outsiders–a movie that was basically the giving tree of 80s child actors–Rob, more so than any of them, and that includes Tom Cruise, seemed destined for major stardom. For a short while, he thrived, playing cocky, handsome rakes and smug assholes. Something happened in the late 80s, though, a certain pioneering incident involving a sex tape that sent his career off course for quite a while. Perhaps people really were outraged about his hotel room tape at the time, but now the footage looks as innocent as a Davey and Goliath cartoon compared to the clips that have followed. America seemed to realize this, and Rob slowly worked his way back into the public’s good graces, almost primarily working on television.

A lot of his comeback, I think, had to do with his own good nature. If he had come across like an off-screen dick the way, say, Judd Nelson always had, he may very well have been shunned forever. He hasn’t made any significant forays back onto the big screen yet, and perhaps he never will, but I don’t think he cares. He does television series (I think several at the same time at points, or maybe it just seems that way), made for TV movies (including a highly entertaining one about white trash hottie/murderess Casey Anthony) and even DirecTV ads. In these he plays himself opposite a bizarro world alter-ego, but this latter is one role he doesn’t quite pull off–even in full “super creep” make-up, you can see the sweet, grounded guy behind the mask.

Robin Williams

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He emerged in the late 70s–a stand-up comedian of an undeniable originality and brilliance. His 1978 HBO special was staggering–an explosion of lightning-speed, gear-shifting improv that elbowed its hairy way into the pantheon of great comic performances the second it was recorded. A chance meeting with Arthur Fonzarelli at a Milwaukee leather bar landed him a cameo on a dying (Fonzie had literally jumped the infamous tiger shark earlier that same season) television show and he made enough of an impression to be handed his own show, in which he excelled. As the 80s dawned he, and Steve Martin, were considered the cream of the crop of the new young comedians.

Hollywood beckoned. But even as early as 1984’s Moscow on the Hudson, you could see the cream starting to curdle a bit as Robin hammed it up and chewed on the scenery like it was so many bowls of Bugles left out by craft service. In quality, the 80s were probably his peak, as he managed to give (generally) low-key and nuanced performances–with The World According to Garp, Good Morning, Vietnam and Dead Poets Society the highlights. Even the early 90s granted “us” a brief stay from the ugliness to come as he turned in some solid work in The Fisher King and the beloved zombie movie Awakenings.

Then it all went pear-shaped. His inability to turn his hyperkinetic zaniness “off” was probably pathological. It certainly didn’t do the guy any favors. Witness his enormous three decade body of work as an insufferable, out-of-control talk show guest. If you can. I simply could never watch these psychotic episodes for more than 30 seconds before switching over to QVC’s baseball card show or Tony Little’s latest miracle body-swelling implement infomercial. Whether Robin really was coked up or parodying someone coked up doesn’t matter a bit–leaping around the set treating both the host and any other guest(s) who happened to be around as pieces of furniture while screeching out non sequiturs in the same rote half-dozen “funny voices” he had cooked up in 1975 (flamboyant Stonewall-era hair dresser, stentorian Big Brother/God type, hybrid of the witches from The Wizard of Oz, panicked pilot in a nosediving fighter plane, addled Slavic peasant, feces-flinging monkey gifted with the power of speech) hardly qualified as humor. He simply wasn’t funny. Just sit still and answer the question in a succinct and coherent manner, sir!! But he couldn’t.

As far as his movies go, his greatest shortcoming seemed to be an inability or unwillingness to turn down any script or cinematic concept that came his way, no matter how wretched it was. For every One Hour Photo there were five or six Jakob The Liars. For every Good Will Hunting there were seemingly TWENTY Old Dogs. As long as he got to “do his thing,” as long as the role called for him to be insane, mawkish, vulnerable, uncontrollable, childlike, madcap, tearfully sentimental, filled with unfathomable wonder, or any combination of such, he was all in. The very lowest point was something called Patch Adams–cited by one critic as the worst crime against humanity since the dark days of Europe in the early 1940s. I actually just spent 15 minutes on IMDB and determined that 80% of his filmography is completely unwatchable. This must be a record of some sort. Tor Johnson, the poster child for appearing in worthless dreck, clocks in at only 60% on the same exact scale, for Heaven’s sake!

But back to Robin. Innately talented? Yes. Good-hearted guy? It certainly appears that way. National Treasure? Give me a fucking break.

Donald Trump

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Donald Trump in the 80s was quite a different kettle of rotted fish from the TV personality we (cough) “love” now. First off, he was relatively new and hadn’t yet been given enough time to do much damage. Even then, though, there was already something cartoonish about the fellow. Start with the name, which sounded every bit as manufactured as Stuart Goddard telling some coked-up MTV VJ his name was “Adam Ant.” Ridiculous. Except the Trump name was real–Donald was the baby prince of an already established scuzzball empire built by his father. The surname is an anglicized version of the Low German word “Drumpf.” And yes, just as you might have guessed, that translates to “toadstool” in English.

His two great accomplishments this decade were the construction of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue and the 1989 release of the board game Trump: The Game.  The Trump Tower is everything you’d expect from something that was unveiled in the go-go 80s–tons of the “world’s finest marble” and heaps of the “planet’s rarest brass” all slapped together in the public areas to no memorable effect, but the black monolithic exterior does have a dozen or so live trees growing out of it, so you can give Trump credit for being a brave pioneer of sustainability if you want to. As for Trump: The Game, not enough people ever played it for history to record whether or not it was any fun, but I can say that as far as its name goes, it doesn’t hold a candle to the one released last year by a certain LA rapper called The Game: The Game.

His woman of choice for this decade was Ivana and she was very blond and very tall and liked to tell little fibs about being on the 1972 Czechoslovakian Olympic ski team. I don’t think she ever accomplished anything other than bringing three more Trumps into the world (readers can decide for themselves whether that is an actual accomplishment or something more akin to a criminal act) but her first name does comprise exactly one-half of my all-time favorite drag queen stage name: Ivana Koch.

Since this blog only covers a brief ten year period I am unable to discuss all the mischief he’s caused in the past 30 years or so, like trying to pave over half the Scottish Highlands or threatening to bum rush the White House every four years. He’s a hard man to look at, and recent rumors about him being the object of a new float in the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade are worrisome. It probably won’t come off– The Donald would never cede control of his image to a bunch of mere designers and float makers, but if he does insist on “playing himself” this coming November, organizers will hardly need to pump in any helium in order to send his bloated corporeality skyward.

Patrick Swayze

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“She” was like the wind, and the wind is something you can’t hold onto, but plenty of women wanted to hold onto the man who sang that song, a certain Mr. Patrick Swayze.

I wasn’t one for either Ghost or Dirty Dancing but those movies were huge, taken straight to the top of the box office heap by a predominately female audience ravenous for everything Patrick. And this attraction to him has never abated. A 2013 poll taken by Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP magazine found that a whopping 73% of all newlywed women play the DVD of Dirty Dancing on their wedding night in order to physically prepare themselves for the consummation of their marriage vows. And Gwyneth herself once told Sally Jessy Raphael that her biggest regret in life was that Patrick wasn’t the one who “popped her cherry.” Now that’s a fellow with sex appeal!

But Patrick could also win over the guys in the audience, too–he was the rough and tumble older brother in The Outsiders and bad-ass commie fighter Jed in Red Dawn. And then, of course, we have Road House. There was a certain dwarf-like creature who emerged alongside Patrick in the 80s, a guy who danced around in his underwear, flew fighter jets, and helped drive that retarded dude to Los Angeles in a string of hit movies. Yes, they tried to tell us Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was the biggest star of them all, but I’d like to see Maverick last even 10 minutes in the Double Deuce. It would never happen. Dalton would break him down like a fistful of chowder crackers and not move a hair of that incredible coiffure out of place while doing it.

No, Swayze was the main man in the 80s and the best was yet to come. For we hadn’t even seen Bodhi yet.