Murray received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2016. His comedy is known for its deadpan delivery.
Murray was born on September 21, 1950 in Evanston, Illinois, and was raised in Wilmette, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. He is the son of Lucille (née Collins), a mail room clerk, and Edward Joseph Murray II, a lumber salesman.
Murray and his eight siblings were raised in a Roman Catholic Irish-American family. Three of his siblings, John Murray, Joel Murray, and Brian Doyle-Murray, are also actors. A sister, Nancy, is an Adrian Dominican nun in Michigan, who has traveled the United States in a one-woman program, portraying St. Catherine of Siena. Their father died in 1967 at the age of 46 from complications of diabetes when Bill was 17 years old.
As a youth, Murray read children's biographies of American heroes like Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok, and Davy Crockett. He attended St. Joseph's grade school and Loyola Academy. During his teen years, he worked as a golf caddy to fund his education at the Jesuit high school. One of his sisters had polio and his mother suffered several miscarriages. During his teen years he was the lead singer of a rock band called the Dutch Masters and took part in high school and community theater.
After graduating, Murray attended Regis University in Denver, Colorado, taking pre-medical courses. He quickly dropped out, returning to Illinois. Decades later, in 2007, Regis awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. On September 21, 1970, his 20th birthday, the police arrested Murray at Chicago's O'Hare Airport for trying to smuggle 10 lb (4.5 kg) of cannabis, which he had allegedly intended to sell. The drugs were discovered when Murray joked to the passenger next to him that he was smuggling. Murray was convicted and sentenced to probation.
With an invitation from his older brother, Brian, Murray got his start at The Second City in Chicago, an improvisational comedy troupe, studying under Del Close. In 1974, he moved to New York City and was recruited by John Belushi as a featured player on The National Lampoon Radio Hour.
In 1975, an Off-Broadway version of a Lampoon show led to his first television role as a cast member of the ABC variety show Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell. That same season, another variety show titled NBC's Saturday Night premiered. Cosell's show lasted just one season, canceled in early 1976. After working in Los Angeles with the "guerrilla video" commune TVTV on several projects, Murray rose to prominence in 1976. He officially joined the cast of NBC's Saturday Night Live for the show's second season, following the departure of Chevy Chase, but had been on the premiere episode of the show. Murray was with SNL for three seasons from 1977 to 1980. A Rutland Weekend Television sketch Eric Idle brought for his appearance on SNL developed into the 1978 mockumentary All You Need Is Cash with Murray (alongside other SNL cast members) appearing as "Bill Murray the K", a send-up of New York radio host Murray the K, in a segment of the film that is a parody of the Maysles Brothers's documentary The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit. During the first few seasons of SNL, Murray was in a romantic relationship with fellow cast member Gilda Radner.
Murray landed his first starring role with the film Meatballs in 1979. He followed this up with his portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson in 1980's Where the Buffalo Roam. In the early 1980s, he starred in a string of box-office hits, including Caddyshack, Stripes, and Tootsie. Murray was the first guest on NBC's Late Night with David Letterman on February 1, 1982. He later appeared on the first episode of the Late Show with David Letterman on August 30, 1993, when the show moved to CBS. On January 31, 2012 – 30 years after his first appearance with Letterman – Murray appeared again on his talk show. He appeared as Letterman's final guest when the host retired on May 20, 2015.
Murray began work on a film adaptation of the novel The Razor's Edge. The film, which Murray co-wrote, was his first starring role in a dramatic film. He later agreed with Columbia Pictures to star in Ghostbusters—in a role originally written for John Belushi—to get financing for The Razor's Edge. Ghostbusters became the highest-grossing film of 1984. The Razor's Edge, which was filmed before Ghostbusters but not released until after, was a box-office flop.
Upset over the failure of The Razor's Edge, Murray took four years off from acting to study philosophy and history at the Sorbonne, frequent the Cinémathèque in Paris, and spend time with his family in their Hudson River Valley home. During that time, his second son, Luke, was born. With the exception of a cameo appearance in the 1986 movie Little Shop of Horrors, he did not make any appearances in films, though he did participate in several public readings in Manhattan organized by playwright/director Timothy Mayer and in a stage production of Bertolt Brecht's A Man's a Man.
Murray returned to films with Scrooged in 1988 and Ghostbusters II in 1989. In 1990, Murray made his first and only attempt at directing when he co-directed Quick Change with producer Howard Franklin. His subsequent films What About Bob? (1991) and Groundhog Day (1993) were box-office hits. After Groundhog Day, he appeared in a series of well-received supporting roles in films like Ed Wood, Kingpin, and Space Jam (where he appeared as himself.) However, his starring roles in Larger than Life, and The Man Who Knew Too Little were not as successful with critics or audiences. In 1998, he received much critical acclaim for Wes Anderson's Rushmore, for which he won Best Supporting Actor awards from the New York Film Critics Circle, National Society of Film Critics, and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (tying with Billy Bob Thornton). Murray decided to take a turn towards more dramatic roles and experienced a resurgence in his career, taking on roles in Wild Things, Cradle Will Rock, Hamlet (as Polonius), and The Royal Tenenbaums. In 2003, he appeared in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation and went on to earn a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, and an Independent Spirit Award, as well as Best Actor awards from several film critic organizations. He was considered a favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, but Sean Penn ultimately won the award for his performance in Mystic River. In an interview included on the Lost in Translation DVD, Murray states that it is his favorite movie in which he has appeared. Also in 2003, he appeared in a short cameo for Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, in which he played himself "hiding out" in a local coffee shop.
During this time Murray still appeared in comedic roles such as Charlie's Angels and Osmosis Jones. In 2004, he provided the voice of Garfield in Garfield: The Movie, and again in 2006 for Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties. Murray later said that he only took the role because he was under the mistaken impression the screenplay, co-written by Joel Cohen, was the work of Joel Coen. In 2004, he made his third collaboration with Wes Anderson in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and in 2005 his second collaboration with Jim Jarmusch in Broken Flowers. That same year, Murray announced that he was taking a break from acting as he had not had the time to relax since his new breakthrough in the late 1990s. He did return to the big screen for brief cameos in Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited and in Get Smart as Agent 13, the agent in the tree. In 2008, he played an important role in the post-apocalyptic film City of Ember, and in 2009, played himself in a cameo role in the zombie comedy Zombieland.
Murray provided the voice for the character Mr. Badger for the 2009 animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Since 2010, Murray has been part of ensembles which received several award nominations in two Wes Anderson movies: Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Murray was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in the 2014 film St. Vincent. He played a music manager in Rock the Kasbah in 2015. In 2016, he was the voice of Baloo in Disney's live action remake of The Jungle Book.
Murray appeared as Martin Heiss, a skeptical ghost debunker, in the reboot of Ghostbusters, which was released on July 15, 2016. There had been speculation that he might return to the Ghostbusters franchise for a rumored Ghostbusters 3, he dispelled such rumors in an interview with GQ. In March 2010, Murray appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and talked about his return to Ghostbusters III, stating "I'd do it only if my character was killed off in the first reel." In an interview with GQ, Murray said: "You know, maybe I should just do it. Maybe it'd be fun to do." In the interview, when asked "Is the third Ghostbusters movie happening? What's the story with that?", Murray replied, "It's all a bunch of crock."
Murray is a partner with his brothers in Murray Bros. Caddy Shack, a restaurant located near St. Augustine, Florida. He resides in Charleston, South Carolina, where he is a very active community member.
In 1978, Murray appeared in two at-bats for the Grays Harbor Loggers Minor League Baseball team, credited with one hit and a lifetime batting average of .500.
He is a part-owner of the St. Paul Saints independent baseball team and occasionally travels to Saint Paul, Minnesota to watch the team's games. He also owns part of the Charleston RiverDogs, Hudson Valley Renegades, and the Brockton Rox. He has invested in a number of other minor league teams in the past, including the Utica Blue Sox, Fort Myers Miracle, Salt Lake Sting (APSL), Catskill Cougars and Salt Lake City Trappers. In 2012 he was inducted into the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame for his ownership and investment activities in the league.
Being very detached from the Hollywood scene, Murray does not have an agent or manager and reportedly only fields offers for scripts and roles using a personal telephone number with a voice mailbox that he checks infrequently. This practice has the downside of sometimes preventing him from taking parts in films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Monsters, Inc., The Squid and the Whale, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Little Miss Sunshine. When asked about this practice, however, Murray seemed content with his inaccessibility, stating, "It's not that hard. If you have a good script that's what gets you involved. People say they can't find me. Well, if you can write a good script, that's a lot harder than finding someone. I don't worry about it; it's not my problem."
Murray's popularity has been such that (as of 2017) he holds an iconic status in U.S. popular culture. Murray's eccentric and irreverent style of comedy, both on-screen and in his personal life, has caused him to be seen as a folk hero to many making him a significant meme in various media including books and the internet. In 2016 he was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by the Kennedy Center.
During the filming of Stripes, Murray married Margaret Kelly on Super Bowl Sunday in Las Vegas on January 25, 1981. Later, they remarried in Chicago for their families. Margaret gave birth to two sons, Homer (born 1982) and Luke (born 1985). Luke is an assistant basketball coach at Xavier University. Following Murray's affair with Jennifer Butler, the couple divorced in 1996. In 1997, he married Butler. Together, they have four sons: Caleb (born January 11, 1993), Jackson (born October 6, 1995), Cooper (born January 27, 1997), and Lincoln (born May 30, 2001). Butler filed for divorce on May 12, 2008, accusing Murray of domestic violence, infidelity, and addictions to sex, marijuana, and alcohol. Their divorce was finalized on June 13, 2008.
Murray confirmed in a 1984 interview: "I'm definitely a religious person, but it doesn't have much to do with Catholicism anymore. I don't think about Catholicism as much."
Murray was once pulled over by Swedish police on suspicion of driving a golf cart under the influence of alcohol.
Murray has homes in Los Angeles, California; Rancho Santa Fe (a suburb of San Diego), Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts; Charleston, South Carolina; and Palisades, New York, a suburb of New York City. Between 2008 and 2013, Murray maintained a residence in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, Murray supported Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. He also donated $1,000 to former Governor of Nebraska Bob Kerrey's successful election to the United States Senate in 1988.
Murray is a fan of several Chicago professional sports teams, especially the Chicago Cubs, Chicago Bears, and the Chicago Bulls. (He was once a guest color commentator for a Cubs game during the 1980s.) He was in attendance, along with fellow Cubs fans John Cusack, Eddie Vedder and Bonnie Hunt during the Cubs' historic Game Seven victory during the 2016 World Series. Murray is an avid Quinnipiac University basketball fan, where his son served as head of basketball operations. Murray is a regular fixture at home games. He cheered courtside for the Illinois Fighting Illini's game against the 2004-05 Arizona Wildcats in the Regional Final game in Chicago. He is a fixture at home games of those teams when in his native Chicago. After traveling to Florida during the Cubs playoff run to help "inspire" the team (Murray joked with Cubs slugger Aramis Ramírez he was very ill and needed two home runs to give him the hope to live), he was invited to the champagne party in the Cubs' clubhouse when the team clinched the NL Central in late September 2007, along with fellow actors John Cusack, Bernie Mac, James Belushi, and former Cubs player Ron Santo. Murray appears in Santo's documentary, This Old Cub. In 2006, Murray became the sixth recipient of Baseball Reliquary's annual Hilda Award, established in 2001 "to recognize distinguished service to the game by a fan." He sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during a 2016 World Series game at Wrigley Field.
As a Chicago native, Murray appeared at the 50th annual Chicago Air & Water Show in August 2008. He performed a tandem jump with the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights. He was the emcee for Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival on July 28, 2007, where he dressed in various guises of Clapton as he appeared through the years. He was MC again in 2010.
In 1987, he made a sizable donation to assist in the development and building of the Nathalie Salmon House. This home has been able to provide affordable housing for low-income seniors. Michael and Lilo Salmon, the founders of Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (HOME), have credited Murray with performing "miracles" for them.
Murray has been known for his mood swings, leading Dan Aykroyd to refer to him as "The Murricane".
In the book Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests, Chevy Chase recalls being confronted by Murray shortly before an SNL broadcast in which Chase had returned to guest host. The issue, likely to do with Chase's insistence on doing the "Weekend Update" segment that had been taken over by Jane Curtin, led to Murray and Chase trading insults, with Murray telling Chase to go have sex with Jacqueline Carlin, Chase's wife at the time, while Chase commented that Murray's face looked "like something Neil Armstrong had landed on." The argument eventually turned physical. Murray later said of the incident, "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. But Chevy and I are friends now. It’s all fine.” The two later starred together in Caddyshack in 1980.
According to Den of Geek, Murray did not get along with Sean Young during the production of Stripes and has refused to work with her ever again.
Murray has said in interviews that he did not get along with film director Richard Donner while filming Scrooged, stating that they would disagree with each other. Donner said of Murray: "He's superbly creative but occasionally difficult - as difficult as any actor."
Both Murray and Richard Dreyfuss have confirmed in separate interviews that they did not get along with each other during the making of What About Bob? In addition, the film's producer Laura Ziskin recalled having a disagreement with Murray that led to him tossing her into a lake. Ziskin confirmed in 2003, "Bill also threatened to throw me across the parking lot and then broke my sunglasses and threw them across the parking lot. I was furious and outraged at the time, but having produced a dozen movies, I can safely say it is not common behavior."
Murray also had a falling out with film director and longtime collaborator Harold Ramis during the production of Groundhog Day. According to screenwriter Danny Rubin, "They were like two brothers who weren’t getting along." As a result, Groundhog Day ultimately served as the final film collaboration between Murray and Ramis. Murray eventually reconciled with Ramis just before Ramis' death in February 2014.
During the making of Charlie's Angels, it is said that Lucy Liu threw punches at Murray after he told her that she could not act. However, Murray claims that he and Liu only had an argument rather than a feud and that they have "made peace" since then. Murray has also denied a claim that he head-butted McG, the director of the film.