Bill Murray has transformed from actor into a pop icon and his image can be found everywhere.
Over the last few years, Mitch Glazer, the screenwriter and producer, has watched with awe and bewilderment what has happened to Bill Murray.
Glazer has been friends with the actor for decades, and they have worked together on several projects, including “A Very Murray Christmas,” his Netflix holiday special. Murray first gained notice during his “Saturday Night Live” days in the late ’70s before shooting to stardom with the 1984 comedy “Ghostbusters.” But in the recent past, his fame transcended mere Hollywood celebrity.
“It’s the feeling of how they make crystals,” Glazer says. “It’s water, it’s water, it’s water, and then it reaches this density, and all of a sudden, it’s this other thing.”
What Glazer means by “this other thing” is the transformation of Bill Murray the actor into a pop icon.
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The kind of figure for whom there is a coloring book, frameable art prints and T-shirts bearing his face in its many moods, from the smirking mug of “Stripes” to the pensive gray-bearded visage of “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”
The bro-centric website theCHIVE.com holds him up as a hero and wise elder, and sells a popular T-shirt featuring his face.
Indeed, he now rivals James Dean, Elvis Presley and Albert Einstein in image appropriated bric-a-brac. On Etsy, you can buy: a “Saint Bill Murray” prayer candle; a galvanized metal planter pot showing the actor as the demented, but possibly enlightened, Carl Spackler in the 1980 comedy “Caddyshack”; a set of Bill Murray coasters; coffee mugs in varying graphics; a baby mobile with dangling felt dolls representing his movie characters; and much, much more.
The actor has little or nothing to do with these products and seems not to have brought legal action. People are strangely moved to make this stuff, and others to purchase it.
As Glazer wrote in his recent Vanity Fair cover article on his old friend, there is no equivalent for the Murray worship, even among A-listers. One aspires to the suaveness of George Clooney or the intensity of Daniel Day-Lewis, and perhaps enjoys their movies, but no one buys the T-shirt.
There are murals of Bill Murray that decorate the interiors of bars from Toronto to Sydney, and tattoos of the actor’s face inked onto the arms and calves of 20- and 30-somethings. Tumblr blogs celebrate his awesomeness.
It’s clear that he has come to symbolize something. But what, exactly?
“There’s a lack of pretense, a lack of phoniness that people respond to,” says Robert Schnakenberg, author of “The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray,” an A to Z of the actor’s life and career published in 2015.
Zach Tutor, who runs one of the Tumblrs devoted to Bill Murray, went further, venturing to say that he embodies “the idea of living life to its fullest” and evokes “the sense of freedom that we all pursue.”
Wearing his face on a T-shirt, Tutor says, “is a reflection of who you are.”
Alexei Dawes, a psychology student in Australia and a Bill Murray fan, thinks the essence of the man is too great to be captured on a T-shirt (or, for that matter, on a leather iPhone case embossed with his face, although Dawes carries one). For him, Bill Murray symbolizes nothing short of “humanity.”
It’s hard to know how much of the fanboy love is a projection of the film roles onto the man. But the Murray mythology is based, to some degree, on his off-screen antics.
The stories are legion: Bill Murray singing at a New York karaoke bar; Bill Murray appearing out of nowhere to join a kickball game; Bill Murray reading poetry to construction workers. His spontaneous way of moving through the world has given him an air of authenticity and independence, and a Garbo-like mystique.
“He dictates when or where he appears,” Schnakenberg says. “There’s ubiquity, but also absence, so people never get tired of him.”