WASHINGTON (AP) — Though he long ago transitioned from zany comedy into poignant, seriocomic roles, Bill Murray never stopped making people laugh, and now he’s being honored with the nation’s top prize for humor.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Monday that Murray, 65, will be this year’s recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The award goes to those who influence society in the tradition of Samuel Clemens, the writer, satirist and social commentator better known as Mark Twain.
“I’m honored by the award and by its timing,” Murray said in a statement. “I believe Mark Twain has rolled over in his grave so much for so long, that this news won’t disturb his peace.”
Like past Twain prize recipients including Tina Fey, Will Ferrell and last year’s winner, Eddie Murphy, Murray first gained prominence for his work on “Saturday Night Live.” He joined the cast in 1977, replacing the beloved Chevy Chase, and he overcame audience skepticism by creating the iconic character Nick the Lounge Singer.
His first starring movie role was in “Meatballs” (1979), and he scored a major hit the following year with the anarchic golf comedy “Caddyshack.” Murray — an avid golfer who grew up caddying — played Carl Spackler, a deranged groundskeeper who spins tall tales about carrying the Dalai Lama’s golf bag.
Murray went on to become the nation’s most bankable comedy star, playing the lovable smart aleck to perfection in “Ghostbusters” (1984) and “Groundhog Day” (1993). Other hit movies included “Scrooged,” ”Ghostbusters II” and “What About Bob?”
“Since his first performances on ‘Saturday Night Live’ more than three decades ago, Bill Murray has charmed us with unforgettable performances from an eclectic cast of characters that have become ingrained in our cultural vernacular,” Kennedy Center president Deborah Rutter said. “His unique brand of humor seems to defy time itself — always remaining relevant and relatable to new audiences — much like our award’s namesake.”
In the 1990s, Murray began taking more dramatic roles, and he earned acclaim for playing a depressed businessman who starts an absurd rivalry with a prep-school student in Wes Anderson’s “Rushmore.” The eccentric writer-director has cast Murray in all of his movies since.
In 2003, Murray garnered the best reviews of his career and racked up award after award — but not an Oscar — for his soulful turn in Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.”
Famously mercurial, Murray is known for not having an agent and forcing would-be collaborators to leave a voicemail. However, he has worked steadily over the past decade in commercial and independent film and television.
He’s also become legendary in the social-media era for his free-spirited interaction with people outside the Hollywood bubble — popping up unannounced at wedding receptions, house parties and kickball games.
Murray will accept the prize, first handed out in 1998, at an Oct. 23 gala at the Kennedy Center.