"Most of them would prosper," Nick de Semlyen writes in his new book about the comedy kings of the '80s. "Some would fade away. A few would destroy themselves."
In the 1980s, Walkmans and slap bracelets were popular, but comedians like Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were king. And a new book reveals that their lives were just as wild as the movies that they starred in.
For instance, Bill Murray, known for both kind and bizarre acts, once reportedly broke a heckler’s arm.
“According to people attending a performance of The National Lampoon Show in New York, after folk singer Martin Mull talked loudly throughout, [Bill] Murray attacked him backstage, bellowing, ‘I’LL KILL HIM! I’LL KILL THAT F—–!'” Nick de Semlyen writes in Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ’80s Changed Hollywood Forever, out Tuesday.
“[Murray] grabbed Mull by the neck and had to be restrained by [John] Belushi. Another night, in Toronto, when the audiences were rowdier, he dragged a drunk heckler out in an alley and pummeled him, breaking the guy’s arm,” de Semlyen continues. “‘[Murray is] fearless and physically strong, so if anybody wants to start a fight with him he’ll go, ‘All right,” says Dave Thomas, who was there. ‘He’s not shy about throwing his fists around.'”
In Wild and Crazy Guys, de Semlyen explores Murray’s antics, and the lives of other great comedians of the era, including Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, John Belushi, John Candy, and Rick Moranis. The author interviewed many of the stars, as well as people in their inner circles, to give an inside look at the creation of iconic films like Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Beverly Hills Cop. He also delves into the comedians’ very human struggles — many grappled with stardom and got caught up in drugs.
“Most of them would prosper,” de Semlyen writes. “Some would fade away. A few would destroy themselves. But as a combined force they would bring about a new golden age of comedy.”
Here are the top highlights from Wild and Crazy Guys.
Bill Murray on punching Chevy Chase in the face.
On February 18, 1978, on the set of Saturday Night Live, everyone was still fuming that Chevy Chase had quit the show for a better paying gig, but had returned as a guest host, de Semlyen explains. Fueled by competitiveness and mutual dislike, a heated conversation between Chase (a known “provocateur”) and Murry turned violent when Murray punched Chase.
“It was a huge altercation,” director John Landis, who witnessed the event, told de Semlyen. “They were big guys and really going at it. They were slapping at each other, screaming at each other, calling each other terrible names. The best insult, which made a huge impression on me, was by Bill. In the heat of anger, he pointed at Chevy and yelled, ‘MEDIUM TALENT!'”
Murray’s recollection of the event was different, according to the book.
“It was really a Hollywood fight; a don’t-touch-my-face kinda thing,” Murray told de Semlyen. “Chevy is a big man, I’m not a small guy, and we were separated by my brother Brian, who comes up to my chest. So it was king of a non-event. It was just the significance of it. It was an Oedipal thing, a rupture. Because we all felt mad he had left us, and somehow I was the anointed avenging angel, who had to speak for everyone.”
Murray has a history of acting on emotion. In 2016, he allegedly threw cellphones of fans snapping pictures of him off a restaurant rooftop, prompting a police investigation. The police confirmed that no charges were being pressed against Murray and that the case was closed after the two broken phones were paid for.
A year after the fight, while at a Hollywood party, Chase brokered a peace of sorts with Murray, according to Chase’s 2008 interview on The Howard Stern Show, cited in the book. (Though Chase and Murray never became friends.)
“Chase put down his drink and marched toward Murray,” the author writes, “a furious glare on his face. Murray tensed up. But just as he reached him, Chase dropped to his knees and began to unzip Murray’s pants, miming preparation for a blowjob. Murray cracked a smile at Chase’s sophomoric bit, then both of them started to laugh.”
The stars react to John Belushi’s death.
When Animal House‘s John Belushi died of a cocaine and heroin overdose in 1982 at the age of 33, his friends and family were saddened, but not surprised.
“After cleaning himself up for Continental Divide, Belushi was back at his worst, hoovering up endless lines of cocaine, the substance he called ‘Hitler’s drug,” the author writes of the Belushi’s behavior leading up to his death. “He was pale, twitchy, talking nonsense, and behaving erratically. On the evening of Valentine’s Day, he talked his way into Steven Spielberg’s house, even though the director was out, taking a drink from the refrigerator and leaving a note.”
Though Belushi has been long dead, his former costar John Landis still isn’t over it. “I genuinely loved him, and I’m still angry with him,” Landis told de Semlyen. “That was my reaction when he died… I thought, ‘You f—-er… I won’t get to see you anymore.”
Murray and Dan Aykroyd mourned in a different way. According to the book, they went to Belushi’s place the night before his funeral and “fired shotguns at the moon.”
Dan Aykroyd remembers his short, but “intense,” romance with Carrie Fisher.
Dan Aykroyd, then 31, was devastated by Belushi’s death, and was also wrecked by his breakup with Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher. (She left him to date Paul Simon.)
In an essay that appeared in Empire, which is cited in the book, Aykroyd explains that he and Fisher took “blood tests for compatibility from an East Indian female doctor.”
“Contemplating marriage, I gave Carrie a sapphire ring and subsequently in the romance she gave me a Donald Roller Wilson oil painting of a monkey in a blue dress next to a tiny floating pencil,” he wrote in tribute to Fisher, after her death in 2016.
At one point, they went to Reno where they took acid and cried for three days while listening to Christmas songs, according to the essay.
“Certainly one of the planet’s greatest occasions where LSD was a factor,” Aykroyd wrote.
Bill Murray’s struggle with stardom.
Overwhelmed by the amount of attention he got from fans after the release of Ghostbusters in 1984, Murray secluded himself, according to the book.
Murray turned down the cover of Time magazine, and then moved to France for six months. Murray also infamously set up a voicemail account through a 800 number, so he wouldn’t have to talk to people who offered him roles.
“I’m famous enough,” Murray once said, according to the book. “Being more famous isn’t going to do anything but cause me more problems.”
Wild and Crazy Guys is on sale now.