Bill Murray: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man

Bill Murray remains somewhat of an enigma.  A veteran of Saturday Night Live and a Hollywood A-Lister over the last 40 years in classic comedies including Meatballs and Scrooged, Bill doesn’t have a large Hollywood entourage, and he consciously chooses not to have an agent, manager or P.A to cater to his every needs.  Preferring to pick up messages (and parts) on his own personal voicemail service, Bill has been known  to keep Directors including Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola in the dark about his involvement in film productions until the first day of shooting. There are also the legendary tales of altercations with  co-stars including Chevy Chase, Lucy Liu and Director McG, whom he is claimed to have headbutted in frustration.

So it comes as a relief to see Tommy Avallone’s quirky and endearing new documentary Bill Murray: Life Lessons Learned From A Mystical Man to look at the man behind the myth. Avallone attempts in vain to reach Bill through his voicemail, so goes instead on a journey to trace his steps by delving into the urban myths surrounding his infamous acts of altruism with the general public.  There are tales of a deadpan Bill casually photo bombing the official engagement pictures of Ashley Donald and Erik Rogers in his hometown of Charlestown, South Carolina; “I turn around and I see Mr. Murray standing there with his shirt pulled up and belly proudly on display which he is patting pretty loudly in an attempt to make the couple laugh.’ remarks the bemused events photographer from Fia Forever Photography. ‘Needless to say I was stunned and I invited Mr. Murray to join the couple for a quick shot. He obliged and congratulated them and went on his way… leaving behind an extremely happy couple and this photo that will be forever remembered.” In 2009, burly construction workers are treated to inspirational poetry, with Bill reciting Emily Dickinson’s ‘Gathering Paradise’ at Poet House, which aptly mirrors the importance of home as a sanctuary:

I dwell in Possibility —
A fairer House than Prose —
More numerous of Windows —
Superior — for Doors —
Of Chambers as the Cedars —
Impregnable of Eye —
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky —

Of Visitors — the fairest —
For Occupation — This —
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise —

Further tales abound, of Bill invited to the student digs of Norwegian students during his stay in St. Andrews after a charity golf tournament, only to end up chastising his guests for their slovenly ways – and cleaning up after them, whilst helping out as a bartender, karaoke singer and tambourine player at private gigs.

What makes the mundane so appealing in Avallone’s documentary is the universal reverence given to Bill,  with all interviewees marvelling at Bill’s approachability and joie de vivre, celebrating life away from the vacuousness and superficiality of Hollywood.

Avallone gets his mother to get Bill to talk, but to no avail. Interviewees talk of Bill as if he is their new best friend, or the cool Uncle who turns up after many years away. They are genuinely delighted to be in the mere presence of the supercool Murray, and for his willingness to take part in their events. Bill is unafraid to muck in with his fans,  generously paying for all their drinks during their social nights together. He takes the time to learn names and small details without acting the ‘big man’. Leaving silently into the night, he maintains a magical aura, proving he’s just a regular, modest guy who has a 9-5 job like everyone else. And for that he remains a true star in every sense of the word.



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