I met Mike Murphy in 1981 on a drive from Omaha to Sioux Center, Iowa while I was working my sales territory in a two-state area. A fellow salesmen in Kansas City had mentioned to me I might be able to pick up KCMO 810 radio during my daytime drives across Nebraska and Iowa. I dialed in the scratchy sound of Murphy talking to some guy about water pressure.
“You know what I like?” Murph said to his guest. “I like that water pressure to be dialed up so high that I can stand in my front yard with my hose in hand and cold-cock a squirrel from 30 or 40 feet!” Yeah. I was hooked.
I left work Monday just after 5:00 PM still debating whether or not I should go to the Garbage Star’s funeral. I do not enjoy anything about funerals. They seem to me to be a cruel reminder to those left behind of their loss. I paused at the intersection of College & State Line Road before turning south toward McGilley’s Funeral Chapel.
I was late but despite the large number of attendees I found an open seat amongst many of Murph’s other friends in the large chapel room. Father Jim Hart was beginning his homily. The good father is one of the many radio characters from Murph’s show we had all come to know over the years by reputation if not by face.
“Mike was always after me to be a guest on his show,” recalled Father Hart. “But I always refused. I enjoyed talking to Mike but I knew if he ever got me on the radio one-on-one it would be trouble. I knew if I ever went on the radio with him I would be receiving a phone call from the Bishop the next day asking me, ‘So, are you sure you like being a Catholic priest?’ ”
This was not your average funeral homily. Nor was it your average old guy’s funeral. This was after all, Mike Murphy – and there was absolutely nothing average about Murph.
Father Hart told how Murphy held him in high regard because of his incredible tolerance for holding his liquor. While out to dinner at one of Mike’s favorite watering holes, The Salty Iguana in Prairie Village, Murphy marveled at Father Hart’s ability to toss back gin and tonics and still appear in charge of all of his faculties.
“Father, I don’t believe I have ever seen anyone who can drink like you and still function,” Murphy said to Father Hart. What Murphy didn’t know was that Father Hart had told the waitress to hold the gin from his drinks and just put a slice of lime on the rim to give the appearance it was alcohol based.
“I remember pouring beer after beer out onto the lawn at an outdoor picnic one time,” recalled Father Hart. “Every time I turned around my beer glass would be full again,” said Father Hart. “I inebriated that grass,” chuckled Hart. “Mike saw me walking around upright a bit later and again remarked how amazed he was at my ability to function under the influence.” The room was full of smiles as Father Hart relayed these stories we all found familiar.
Rick Tamblyn was a good friend of Murphy’s from his radio days. The two radio jockeys would often share a beer after work. “Murph always had a plan,” smiled Tamblyn. “He’d say, ‘Today’s plan is we’re gonna get off work and go the Salty Iguana and drink 14 beers. Then we’re gonna go to my house and drink six more.’ And it was a good plan!”
Murphy was not the most prepared radio host. “I would see him walk into the station with a little piece of paper that had six lines scribbled on it,” remembered Tamblyn. “And he would do three hours on the radio on that! … And it was GOOD!”
Tamblyn’s message to the gathering was that Murphy was “just a guy, but what a guy.” I agree. Murphy was as rare a celebrity as there will ever be. Murph was that exceptional well-known personality who would deflect the room’s attention away from him and toward you. Time and again when I ran into Murph he would tell everyone in the room what a great writer I was. “Did you ever read Greg’s stuff in The Star,” he would bellow to the room. “This guy is the best writer who ever wrote for that paper!”
Murph loved to promote the talents of others and downplay his own God-given skills. Mike knew he was good at what he did but he didn’t see the magic in his work that all of us were witness to. To Murphy, what he did was as easy to him as breathing. Maybe easier if you consider the way Murphy smoked. He was always more moved by what he saw in others. If you were a friend of Mike’s, no one pulled more for your success than Murph. I loved him for that.
Tamblyn asked the crowd at the funeral chapel what was the one thing Murphy always carried with him. “Nine-hundred dollars!” shouted a man seated near the middle of the room. “And he would show it to you if you asked him!” So why did Murphy always have $900 on him? “Murph said that when he got to town, Len Dawson told him he should have $900 on him at all times,” said Tamblyn. “So he always carried $900 with him.” That sure sounds like Murphy.
Tamblyn recalled how his good friend would often quiz the wait staff at a restaurant about their salary. “How much they paying you here?” Murphy would ask his waiter. Murphy must have asked me this same question a half dozen times. After hearing the waiter’s paltry salary, Murphy would respond sadly with, “I don’t know if I could live on that.” The waiter would then ask Murphy how much money he made doing radio. “If I told you it would just make you sick,” Murphy would respond.
It is my opinion Murphy never saw himself as much more than a waiter or a bartender. Sure he made big bucks as a radio star but in his mind he was still that kid from Ottumwa, Iowa who stared at the sky and wondered what life held for him – and the UFOs in his future.
When our first son Shannon was born 17 years ago, I brought this newborn downtown to one of Murphy’s remotes at the Hereford House. It was just before St. Patrick’s Day so the place was jammed with Murphy regulars. Michael Wayne, Bebo, Eddie Delahunt, Brian from the Lyric Opera and scores more crowded into the back room. Murphy took a bottle of beer and with great fanfare baptized Shannon on the air. As Murph poured the brew over the dark locks that covered our son’s head, he recited an old Irish prayer and ended it with one of Frank Sinatra’s favorite sayings; “May you live to be 100 and may the last voice you hear be mine.”
That radio voice has now been silenced by the inevitable ‘hard break’ we all are held accountable to called Father Time. As we all readied to leave the funeral chapel, Mike’s voice once again filled the room as they played a portion of his final radio show. It was Mike reciting his favorite Bobby Kennedy quote; “Some people see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not?”
Mike was a dreamer of things. Many things that may never be. He was, as Rick Tamblyn called him, “bat-shit crazy!” May we all be allowed to escape to the other side of sanity now and then when we speak of or hear the name Mike Murphy, our friend The Garbage Star.
GregHall24@yahoo.com and Twitter / greghall24