Born William J. Murray on September 21, 1950 in Wilmette, Illinois, the fifth of nine children, Murray was a self-proclaimed troublemaker, whether it was getting kicked out of Little League or being arrested at age 20 for attempting to smuggle close to nine pounds of marijuana through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. In an attempt to find direction in his life, he joined his older brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, in the cast of Chicago’s Second City improvisational comedy troupe.
He eventually relocated to New York City where he took his comedic talents on air in National Lampoon Hour alongside Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and John Belushi. In 1975, both Murray brothers were in an off-Broadway spin-off of the radio show when Bill was spotted by sportscaster Howard Cosell, who recruited him for the cast of his ABC variety program, Saturday Night Live With Howard Cosell. On NBC, a program also named Saturday Night Live was creating a much bigger sensation. A year later producer Lorne Michaels tapped Murray to replace Chevy Chase, who had moved on to pursue a film career.
It was on the set of Saturday Night Live that Murray created the sleazy, insincere comedic character that became his calling card for many films to come. He also earned an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for his work on the show. His first major film role was with the 1979 box office hit Meatballs. This was followed by the biography flop Where the Buffalo Roam, where Murray starred as gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. In 1980, he redeemed himself by going back to his comedic roots with the cult classic Caddyshack. The roll continued with the army farce Stripes in 1981, Tootsie in 1982, and Ghostbusters in 1984 with Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. The comedy was one of the decade’s biggest hits, spawning a cartoon series, action figures and even a chart-topping theme song.
Murray’s next move caught loyal fans off guard. He starred in and co-wrote an adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham novel The Razor’s Edge in 1984, which had been a lifelong dream. The hairpin turn from farce to literary drama proved too sharp, and the film was a failure. Murray spent the next several years away from Hollywood, making only a cameo appearance in the 1986 musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors.
He finally made his comeback in 1988 with Scrooged, a darkly comedic version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. While it performed moderately well, it was not the smash many predicted. Nor was 1989’s Ghostbusters II. But in 1991, he starred in What About Bob?, which was an unqualified hit followed by the equally acclaimed Groundhog Day in 1993 and Ed Wood in 1994.
In 1998, Murray played what many believed to be his finest role yet in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. As a business tycoon competing with an eccentric 15-year-old for the affections of a first grade teacher, Murray won Best Supporting Actor from both the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics. The film’s success helped put the actor back in the forefront, and he drew further exposure that year from his appearance as a sleazy lawyer in the controversial Wild Things.
In 1999, he appeared in Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock and in 2000 he played the affably dense Bosley in the Charlie’s Angels remake. In 2001, he once again gained critical praise for his role in The Royal Tenenbaums. In 2003, Murray signed on to voice Garfield in Fox’s live-action adaptation of the comic-strip feline. He has also reteamed with Tenenbaums director Wes Anderson for the offbeat comedy The Life Aquatic. In 2004, Murray received an Oscar nomination for his starring role in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and starred in Broken Flowers(2005).
For his next performance, Murray made a cameo in the Wes Anderson film,The Darjeeling Limited (2007). The next year he starred in the comedy film Get Smart and the children’s adventure film, City of Ember (2008). In 2009 he is set to star in the Jim Jarmusch film, The Limits of Control.
Murray was married to Margaret “Mickey” Kelley from 1981-1994. They have two sons, Homer and Luke. In 1997, he married Jennifer Butler with whom he had four sons: Jackson, Cal, Cooper and Lincoln. They divorced in 2008.