You might have heard that Bill Murray got a big award this past week. It was a star-studded event at the Kennedy Center in New York, and people like Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver and Miley Cyrus were part of the gig. Murray received what’s called the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The event aired on PBS Friday.
What you might not know, unless you’ve been around awhile, is that Bill Murray has a close tie to Manhattan. I happened to be involved with that story at one point, and it seems a good time to re-tell it.
You see, Bill Murray’s brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, lived here for a few years while his wife finished a veterinary degree at K-State. They lived in the Timbercreek neighborhood east of town. Bill came to visit from time to time, occasionally showing up in Aggieville and buying people drinks. Brian was obviously in and out a lot; he was still shooting movies and so forth. Like Bill, Brian was — and is — an entertainer.
Well, in 2007 (and still today) I was involved with the Manhattan High School Alumni Association’s committee on the Wall of Fame. We voted to induct Del Close, a Manhattan High grad who became the godfather of modern improvisational comedy. I knew that the Murray brothers were Close disciples, and I also knew that Brian was in town.
Several months ahead, I tracked him down and called him to give the induction speech, which he agreed to do. It was to be held in the Manhattan High gym between the boys and girls varsity basketball games.
A few weeks before, he called to say he had to be in California on that date because he was shooting a movie with Zac Efron. “But if it’s OK with you, my brother Bill has agreed to do it.”
Uhh, well, yeah. That’ll be fine, I said.
I couldn’t believe it. Bill Murray? Seriously? I mean, I was a big Brian Doyle-Murray fan; he wrote “Caddyshack,” for God’s sake. But, well, Bill Murray was Bill Murray. “Caddyshack” was “Caddyshack” because Carl Spackler gave the speech about the Dalai Lama, you know.
So in January 2008, Bill strolled into the high school. We had some sort of cakeand- punch event for the inductees (or their representatives, in Murray’s case, since Close was dead.) But Bill had no real use for that — with his baseball cap pulled low, he ditched the small talk to sit in the empty bleachers for the girls’ game. At one point, in an otherwise relatively quiet gym, he stood up to yell at the refs for a call against the Indians: “Come on! Ya gotta call it both ways!”
He was dead serious. Deadpan, anyway. Between games, he got up and — without notes, seemingly winging it the whole way — gave what was the best speech I’ve ever heard about the nature of high school and the way to treat people. We at The Mercury took video — you can look it up on YouTube — and I still show it to my kids.
I said a few words to him afterward, thanking him for filling in and for what he said. He made some crack about his brother being at work, and how somebody had to pay the bills or something like that. I remember thinking that I had probably blown my chance to say something profound to one of my favorite actors. But, well, he probably heard that stuff all the time anyway.
A few weeks later, I got hold of Brian again and invited him up to MHS to watch the Indians’ rivalry game against Junction City. We had a good time, and he was as gracious as could be. Walking down the hill along Poyntz, near the intersection with Sunset, we hit a patch of ice and Brian fell flat on his back. Thank God he was OK; I didn’t particularly want Brian Doyle-Murray’s obit to start with “died Friday while walking home with Ned Seaton from a basketball game.”
This comes to mind partly because Bill credited Brian in his acceptance speech the other night in a way he never has before.
As reported by USA Today: Murray took to the stage to accept a bronzed bust of the late, great satirist — which he promptly handed to a member of the audience with instructions to ‘pass it around.’
Murray, the fifth of nine children, paid tribute to his older brother, Brian Doyle-Murray, who had to support the family after their father died. He also helped his younger brother get his start in improvisational theater.
‘My brother had more guts than anyone I ever knew, and the only reason I’m here tonight is because of the guts of my brother Brian,’ Murray said. ‘He’s been waiting a long time to hear that.’