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Things You Didn't Know About Charlie Murphy

After a private battle with leukemia, actor and comedian Charlie Murphy passed away on April 12, 2017 at the age of 57. While many people are perhaps more familiar with his younger brother Eddie, Charlie Murphy was a hilarious talent in his own right—who left his mark on the world as a writer, music producer, actor, comedian and family man. If all you know him for is the iconic "Charlayyy Murphaaaayy!" shouted across a dance floor by Rick James (as played by Dave Chappelle), then you're truly missing out. As we remember Murphy and his legacy, let's take a look back at some of the events that shaped his life.

His childhood

Charlie grew up in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, the eldest son of Lillian, a telephone operator, and Charles Edward Murphy, who was a transit police officer and amateur comedian. His parents broke up when Charlie was only five, and his father was later murdered by a girlfriend, leaving Charlie as the man of the house when he was only 10. His mother would later remarry, but Charlie and his younger brother endured some struggles, particularly when Lillian went into the hospital to be treated for tuberculosis. For a year or so when Charlie was six and Eddie was four, the brothers lived in a foster home while she was hospitalized. Eddie recalled that foster mom "Mrs. Jenkins" didn't treat Charlie particularly well. "She beat on Charlie. She didn't beat on me, I was too little," he explained.

Despite the tough times in his childhood, "Charlie-Wallie" managed to have a little fun along the way. When he was nine, Murphy got to play a small part in the 1970 film The Landlord, directed by Hal Ashby. In his scene, Murphy and another child are caught stealing hubcaps by the lead character, played by Beau Bridges.

Growing up tough

Eddie Murphy told Rolling Stone in 2011 that Charlie was definitely the "tougher" brother as they grew up. "Charlie was in gangs, and even now, Charlie's like extra ultra-macho...He has a black belt in karate. I got through a lot of school because the kids knew I was his brother, 'You don't f— with Eddie, his brother will kill you.' Charlie was a really tough guy."

Charlie was once part of the "King Python's Gang" on Long Island, where he was known as "L'il Boss." During his teenage years, Murphy would join an offshoot of the Nation of Islam called the "Five Percenters" for a time, adopting the name Omar Allah while he was a member. His gang connections would eventually catch up to him, as Charlie recalled in his 2009 memoir, The Making of a Stand-Up Guy. An impulsive decision to commit armed robbery with some buddies would result in 10 months of jail time in the Nassau County jail. The same day he got out of prison, Murphy finally made an effort to straighten out his life, joining the U.S. Navy in 1978 at age 18. "That's when I became a man," he later said. "In the military the reason you take the right path is they eliminate other choices. I needed that. They set me straight."

Becoming a general

After six years in the military, Murphy returned to civilian life, working as a security guard for Eddie, who by then was a worldwide sensation with his stand-up comedy act. Although he loved being there for his little bro, Charlie explained to Metro that the gig wasn't very rewarding. "I was there for the person I loved and the people around him didn't like it. Being there to support someone else is cool if you're a troop but I'm a general. I like being out in front. I left shortly after that happened and wrote my first film script."

According to Charlie, becoming an actor was never his goal. "I started writing first. And I made a little money doing that, but it wasn't enough to sustain me forever. And in the meantime, that's what made me, you know, start trying to get back into acting." While he had some early brief appearances in films like 1989's Harlem Nights alongside his younger brother, Charlie's first major role wouldn't come until 1993, when he played club owner Gusto in the comedic rap send-up CB4, starring Chris Rock. In the years that followed, Murphy appeared in over 50 roles on both television and the big screen.

Get Charlie Murphy in here!

There's no question that Charlie Murphy had some serious writing chops. He started working on screenplays to serve as vehicles for his brother, and helped write both Vampire in Brooklyn and Norbit. According to Charlie, the very first movie he ever wrote, entitled The Peddler, was purchased by Paramount in the '80s. It was intended to be a movie for Eddie, but was never produced.

In 2003, Murphy got a big break when he was tapped to become a writer on a new Comedy Central series, Chappelle's Show. "They said, 'Get Charlie Murphy in here!' They called me up and I wasn't doing anything. I came down and I just did my thing." His "thing" included the hilarious "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories" series, which soon became one of the most popular sketches on the show. After Chappelle's Show rose to prominence, Murphy quickly found new professional avenues opening.

The truth about that basketball game with Prince

In one of the most famous bits from "Charlie Murphy's True Hollywood Stories," Murphy recounts the tale of meeting Prince and being invited to play in an impromptu game of basketball against him—and getting his butt kicked. Was it true? According to Murphy, it was. "He didn't play in his outfit," he admitted, "but that wouldn't have been funny if he had trunks on and sneakers. But we did play ball and he did win." Prince loved the sketch, and there's no question he had a great sense of humor about it. Prince even used a picture of Dave Chappelle dressed as him on the cover of his 2013 single "Breakfast Can Wait," and the video for the single includes a woman dressed like him tossing around pancakes.

Produced a rap album

Before his writing and acting career took off, Murphy dabbled in music during the late '80s. In particular, he worked with the The K-9 Posse, a hip-hop group comprised of Wardell Mahone and Murphy's half-brother, Vernon Lynch, Jr. Murphy would help manage the short-lived group, as well as writing at least two songs on their debut album, which he also produced. If you want a real blast from the past, check out their music video for "This Beat is Military," in which you can spot Murphy as the drill sargeant.

Talented voiceover artist

In addition to his impressive acting and writing resume, Charlie Murphy was also a talented voiceover artist. Over the years, he lent his voice to almost a dozen projects, including Norbit as well as the popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Most notably, Murphy provided the voice of drunken ex-soldier Ed Wuncler III on Cartoon Network's animated series The Boondocks—a largely improvised role partially based on George W. Bush.

Battle with Leukemia

Murphy leaves behind his brother Eddie, half-brother Vernon Lynch, Jr., and a host of other relatives. His wife, Tisha Taylor Murphy, preceded him in death in 2009, following a two-year-long battle with cervical cancer. The couple had two children together, and Charlie also had another child from a previous relationship.

While it's unclear how long Charlie Murphy had been struggling with leukemia, TMZ reported the star had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment for the disease. Reportedly, Murphy had kept his illness a secret from most people, including his co-stars on Power, only letting close friends and family know what was going on. TMZ also reports that Murphy's death came as something of a shock to those who knew about his diagnosis, because they were under the impression that he was getting better.

His last role

Despite his very difficult health issues, Murphy wasn't ready to stop working. Early in 2017, it was announced that he'd been added to the cast of the Starz original series Power as prison guard Marshal Williams. While the fourth season of Power—starring 50 Cent—isn't due to premiere until June 2017, it does appear that Murphy completed filming on at least some of his parts for the series. According to IMDb, he was slated to appear in at least four of the season's episodes.

Not just 'Eddie Murphy's brother'

After Chappelle's Show was cancelled in 2006 following Dave Chappelle's departure, Murphy was left trying to figure out what to do next. His former co-star Donnell Rawlings dared Murphy to try his hand at stand-up comedy, something he'd never attempted before. "I was supposed to do five minutes," he recalled, "[but] I went up for 15 minutes and I haven't stopped doing it ever since." As he explained to VICE, getting started in the stand-up business wasn't easy for him. "It's like, if Michael Jordan all of a sudden had a big brother who plays basketball and he's good, too. That does not compute for most people. So, I had to have anger to do this because there were going to be people saying, 'You can't do this.'"

Since then, Charlie definitely proved that he could do this, as he toured with his comedy act all over the world and even released his own stand-up comedy special in 2010, appropriately titled, "I Will Not Apologize." He told The A.V. Club that year, "Before stand-up, I didn't even have an agent. Once I started doing stand-up—boom. I got an agent. In fact, I got three agents. I got a lawyer. Now I get taken seriously...everyone else in the room, they respect you and they're not looking at you like he's so-and-so's brother. The reality is that I'm not 'Eddie Murphy's brother.' I'm Charlie Murphy."

He was Charlie Murphy. And he will be greatly missed.