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Other friends of Murray's speak in similar tones, like jilted lovers angling for the chance to be jilted again. "Getting him to read the script for the [as yet unmade] second sequel to Ghostbusters--I don't think he's ever read it, actually," says Dan Aykroyd, one of Murray's fellow Ghostbusters and oldest friends. "He makes business so difficult that I just relate to him as a friend now. I have to."
"An intimate relationship with him is really something," says Hoffman. "We were getting on a plane to shoot a movie in the Dominican Republic"--Andy Garcia's directorial debut, The Lost City, due out in late 2005--"the first time we've worked together in 20 years, and I'm really looking forward to having him as my seatmate. As we sit down, he leans over and says sotto voce, 'Hope you're not the chatty type.' Then he puts on earmuffs, a blindfold and gives me his ass for the next six hours." Hoffman laughs wildly as he tells the story.
No one who knows Murray doubts his essential goodness. ("He'll do anything for anyone when the chips are down," says Aykroyd.) But the cost of his artistic and personal freedom is a kind of eternal vigilance. He is clearly one of the most willful people on earth, but he is also talented enough to make that seem like a trivial flaw. "As a moviegoer, when you see him, you know you're in the hands of someone who has a set of values that he won't veer away from," says Michaels. "It inspires a lot of trust. Plus he's so good." And with the exception of the odd moment of dissonance on a film set, Murray, unlike the characters he plays, seems fundamentally happy too. His choosiness allows him to spend the bulk of his time as a stay-at-home father to his six sons, ages 3 to 22. "It's my favorite gig," he says, "but it's a little early to say how I've done. You know, John Hinckley's folks thought they were doing an O.K. job at one point too."
Murray grew up in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Ill., the fifth of nine children. Three of his brothers are actors, and a sister Nancy, a Dominican nun, tours the world in a one-woman show as St. Catherine of Sienna. "Bill had to learn how to get attention just to survive," says Murray's older brother, veteran character actor Brian Doyle-Murray. (Doyle-Murray took their grandmother's maiden name because there was already a Brian Murray in Actors' Equity.) "Obviously, he survived."
As a teenager, Bill performed in high school musicals and sang lead in a cover band, the Dutch Masters. ("I thought the name would look good painted on a drumhead," he explains.) Like several of his brothers, he caddied at the Indian Hill Golf Club to help pay his Catholic-school tuition. (Murray's father Edward, a lumber salesman, died in 1967 at age 46 of complications from diabetes; his mother Lucille, a mailroom clerk, died in 1988 of cancer.) It was while caddying that Murray developed his ferocious sense of justice. "As a poor kid carrying a rich guy's bag," says Murray, "you're not supposed to speak unless spoken to--and some people wouldn't even look at you. Then there were others who were extremely gracious, understood where you lived, what your life was like. It was an extraordinary chance to see how the world operates. You learn to spot bad apples real quick."