Hollywood Flashback: When Bill Murray Played a Sleazy Lounge Singer on 'Saturday Night Live'

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Bill Murray (center) with Paul Shaffer (on the piano) on 'SNL' in April 1977.

In 1977, the actor — nominated for an Emmy this year for his Netflix Christmas special — gave birth to Nick the Lounge Singer, a crooner whose talents were inversely proportional to his confidence.

Bill Murray never has been a star whose career choices have been easy to pigeonhole or predict. (Garfield, anyone?) So when he announced in October 2014 that he'd be reuniting with his Lost in Translation writer-director Sofia Coppola for a TV Christmas special ("It will have music, it will have texture," he teased in his inscrutable way), the collective reaction was less one of "Why?" than "Why not?" This was, after all, the same Murray who shattered the fourth wall to lead the cast and crew of 1988's Scrooged in a sing-along of "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" during the film's closing credits.

A decade earlier, he was Nick on Saturday Night Live, a sleazy but lovable lounge singer whose talents were inversely proportional to his confidence. Until Nick came along, Murray, who'd joined the cast in January 1977 after Chevy Chase's departure, found himself playing second bananas on the NBC sketch series. "I was just dying on the vine," he later recalled. "Then somebody gave me this shower-soap thing in the shape of a microphone, and I took off with it and wrote this sketch." Murray played the character just 13 times on SNL (including once in 1999 at the 25th anniversary special and again in 2015 for the 40th), always with Paul Shaffer tickling the ivories. The most memorable of the sketches featured Nick's rendition of the Star Wars theme, with ridiculous lyrics added, inside a crowded ski lodge. (Murray shared an Emmy with the SNL writing staff, his first, when the show won outstanding writing in a variety series in 1977.)

Shaffer returned as musical director on A Very Murray Christmas, which landed at Netflix and premiered Dec. 4. The hourlong special, set inside New York's Carlyle Hotel during a snowstorm, is packed with stars and holiday tunes (Miley Cyrus and George Clooney have duets with Murray). It's nominated for an Emmy in the TV movie category. 

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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