Why Bill Murray is the greatest movie star in the world

Posted at 5:35 PM, Oct 26, 2014
Bill Murray on the red carpet at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

Bill Murray on the red carpet at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.

He doesn’t have an agent. He doesn’t have a publicist. He doesn’t even seem to have a fixed address.

Yet, in by-the-numbers Hollywood, Bill Murray has turned his unpredictability into an asset.

Want to get hold of him? Call his 800 number. Maybe he’ll get back to you. (Maybe he won’t. In fact, he probably won’t.) You almost certainly won’t find him among the glitterati in Los Angeles, but if you’re at a Charleston, South Carolina, birthday party; or a house party in Scotland; or the Salt Lake City airport, you might run into the star.

Indeed, there’s an entire website devoted to “Bill Murray stories.” Such is his impish image that it’s subtitled — after an alleged Murray quote — “No one will ever believe you.” (There’s a Tumblr, too.)

“If his three and a half decades in the public sphere have taught us anything about the actor, it’s that he simply does not give a good goddamn,” wrote GQ’s Dan Fierman in a 2010 interview.

Doesn’t he know better? Doesn’t he realize he should dress in fashionable clothes and not shorts and Hawaiian shirts? Doesn’t he realize that he’s supposed to glide around in limos and Lexi? Doesn’t he realize he’s a celebrity, dammit, and celebrities are supposed to be — arrogant sniff — special?

Here are more than five reasons why he’s the greatest star going:

He does the movies he wants to do.

Some movie stars will do anything for a paycheck. Others, like George Clooney, have a code of sorts: “One (low-budget indie) for me, one (big-budget blockbuster) for them.”

Bill Murray’s code is: I’ll do whatever the hell I want.

His new film, “St. Vincent,” lives up the Murray ethos. It’s an indie film with a rookie writer/director, Theodore Melfi. Murray took the role almost casually after Melfi, a neophyte, left a series of increasingly urgent messages for the performer. His role? A crusty old man — a stroke victim — who befriends a young boy.

There’s no rhyme or reason to what makes a Murray movie. He’s become a part of Wes Anderson’s troupe, appearing in “Rushmore,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” in roles large and small. He made an awards bid, playing Franklin D. Roosevelt in “Hyde Park on Hudson,” and took a small part in an attempted blockbuster, the big-screen version of “Get Smart.”

It’s nothing new for Murray — in the early ’80s, he was uncredited in “Tootsie,” made the biggest comedy of all time in “Ghostbusters” and then turned to a pet project, “The Razor’s Edge.” He’s never looked back.

“I think we’re all sort of imprisoned by — or at least bound to — the choices we make, and I think everyone in the acting business wants to make the right choices,” he told Esquire in 2012. “You want to say no at the right time and you want to say yes more sparingly.”

He works more than people think.

It feels like Murray goes years between movies — and, once upon a time, he did. Except for a small but nice turn in 1986’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” Murray went four years between “Razor’s Edge” and “Scrooged” — he used the downtime to study at the Sorbonne — and he made just a handful of films during the early and mid ’90s.

“I’ve retired a couple of times. It’s great, because you can just say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. I’m retired,’ ” he told GQ’s Fierman. “And people will actually believe that you’ve retired. There are nutters out there that will go, ‘Oh, OK!’ and then leave you alone.”

But since 1998’s “Wild Things” and “Rushmore,” there’s been plenty of Murray, including nine projects in 2014-15 alone, according to the Internet Movie Database.

He won’t be pressured into “Ghostbusters 3.” Or any comedy, actually.

Will Murray pop up in the new “Ghostbusters,” now being helmed by Paul Feig and starring a number of comic actresses? Who knows? In 2010 he was adamant that he wasn’t going to do it for the (presumably substantial) money.

“It’s the studio that really wants this thing. It’s a franchise. It’s a franchise, and they made a whole lot of money on ‘Ghostbusters,’ ” he told Fierman.

And he’s not so keen on a straight comedy, either.

“I think there’s something that I can bring to a comedy today, but I don’t know where to bring it,” he said in 2012. “I know that if I ever feel that I need to make a funny movie, I’ll figure out how to write one. I’ll get it done. If I ever get some ambition, I’m gonna get some s*** done.”

He may look nonchalant, but he takes acting seriously.

Perhaps Murray’s most important teacher was improv great Del Close, with whom he worked at Chicago’s Second City.

“He taught people to commit,” he told Esquire. “Like: ‘Don’t walk out there with one hand in your pocket unless there’s somethin’ in there you’re going to bring out.’ You gotta commit. You’ve gotta go out there and improvise and you’ve gotta be completely unafraid to die. You’ve got to be able to take a chance to die. And you have to die lots. You have to die all the time.”

And he thought he was going to win an Oscar for “Lost in Translation,” which earned him his only Academy Award nomination.

“The one time I got a bunch of prizes, I just assumed I’d win them all,” he told GQ. “Because I’d been winning them all. I wasn’t disappointed or anything, but I was surprised.”

He’s from a big family and he has a big family.

Murray is the fifth child of nine. A number of his siblings are also in show business, including former “SNL” writer and cast member Brian Doyle-Murray, “Mad Men” actor Joel Murray and actor-writer John Murray. (A sister, Nancy, is a Dominican nun but also acts; she put on a one-woman show about St. Catherine of Siena.)

He’s also a father to a brood of six with two wives, and he takes fatherhood seriously — and cheekily.

While preparing for dinner during the Esquire interview, he told his then 10-year-old son, Lincoln, “You’re going to have to get dressed nicely. And you need a shower. That’s an order.” His son responded, “Yes, sir.”

He also accompanied son Jackson to a 2013 Clemson-Florida State game in Clemson, which Jackson attends. As a witness reported on, “As I approached I noticed a young college girl covered in Seminole attire walk over to Murray and hand him an FSU themed football asking if he would sign it. Murray took the football from here, said “Go Tigers”, PUNTED the football over the road into a big group of bushes, and ran off. It was single-handedly the funniest thing I have ever witnessed!”

He likes hanging out with you. (Well, maybe not you personally, but non-celebrity types.)

The “Murricane,” as friend Mitch Glazer calls him, isn’t much for security. He told The Associated Press’ Jake Coyle that he generally trusts the public: “Most people are fine,” he said. The security wasn’t worth it psychologically.

“From the first time I was ever given a bodyguard, I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be assassinated.’ It made me think I was going to be shot. So I never liked it. I never liked the sensation of it,” he told Coyle.

But the 800 number? That exists for a reason.

“When the phone started ringing too many times, 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,” he told Esquire.

Glazer is often his intermediary — and, famously, the butt of one of Murray’s favorite jokes. Glazer is married to actress Kelly Lynch, and when Murray sees Lynch’s film “Road House” on TV, he’ll call Glazer when the Lynch-Patrick Swayze sex scene comes on.

“Bill once called him from Russia,” Lynch told the A.V. Club.

And then there’s … well, you know.

Several more reasons why we love Bill Murray:

He crashed an engagement photo shoot. He did karaoke with complete strangers. He was busted for an allegedly drunken ride … in a golf cart. In Stockholm. He bartended at SXSW. Regardless of what you ordered, you could only get tequila. He read poetry to construction workers.

Perhaps his old friend and “Groundhog Day” director, Harold Ramis, put it best. Murray is “all the Marx Brothers rolled into one: He’s got the wit of Groucho, the pantomimic brilliance and lasciviousness of Harpo, and the Everyman quality of Chico.”

Don’t ever change, Bill.