WASHINGTON (AP) — Eddie Murphy, famous for his standup routines, films and his early breakout on “Saturday Night Live,” will be awarded the nation's top prize for humor this year by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, officials said Thursday.
Murphy, 54, will receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor on Oct. 18 in a show that will be broadcast nationally. The humor prize honors those who influence society in the tradition of Samuel Clemens, the writer, satirist and social commentator better known as Mark Twain.
Through his work, Murphy “has shown that like Mark Twain, he was years ahead of his time,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter.
Tracy Morgan, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson have all hailed Murphy for his influence and for breaking new ground in films. Morgan has called Murphy his “comic hero” and said Murphy set the tone for the entire industry long ago.
In a written statement, Murphy said he was deeply honored by the recognition and to join the list of past recipients of the Twain Prize. Past honorees include Jay Leno, Carol Burnett, Tina Fey and Whoopi Goldberg.
Murphy has had a “consistently brilliant comedic career” in many different aspects of comedy, said Cappy McGarr, one of the humor prize show's executive producers.
“He is truly a transformative comedian and humorist,” McGarr said. “Like Mark Twain, he talks about provocative issues and he is really, really funny while doing it.
Murphy's films have been among the highest-grossing comedies, including “48 Hours,” ''Trading Places,” ''Dr. Dolittle” and “Coming to America.”
Murphy got his break in comedy in 1980 when he joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” He went on to become one of the film industry's top box office performers as an actor. The Kennedy Center said Murphy is the most commercially successful African-American actor in film history.
The entertainer has insisted he is retired now and only makes rare appearances.
In February, Murphy made his first return to “SNL” since 1984 for the show's 40th anniversary reunion special. But his role was limited. Former “SNL” cast member Norm Macdonald later revealed a plan was scuttled for Murphy to impersonate Bill Cosby behind a bar on the show. The idea came amid Cosby's ongoing accusations that he drugged dozens of women and sexually assaulted them. In the end, Murphy wouldn't make fun of Cosby, who won the Mark Twain Prize in 2009.
“Eddie decides the laughs are not worth it,” Macdonald said in February. “He will not kick a man when he is down.”