It was the stuff trophy dreams and news headlines are made of: A beautiful 20-year-old model meets the country’s hottest comedian and movie star. Five years and two children later he finally pops the question, gives her a huge diamond ring, then marries her in Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, vowing till-death-do-they-part before a glittering crowd of five hundred. “It was one of the most elegant, glamorous and classy weddings” he’d ever witnessed, Donald Trump would later say of the ceremony that united Nicole Mitchell, 25, and Eddie Murphy, 31, in holy matrimony on March 18, 1993.
Fast-forward a dozen years. The dreams are long gone and the headlines now blare this sobering news: After 12 years of marriage and five children, Nicole Mitchell Murphy splits from husband Eddie Murphy, moves to the other side of Tinseltown, files for divorce—citing that ubiquitous catchall, “irreconcilable differences”—and begins to plan a new life, post–trophy wife. It may not be the happy ending found in storybooks, but neither is this one of those Hollywood cautionary tales starring a bitter first wife or a revenge-seeking gold digger. Nicole Mitchell isn’t up for either of those roles. At 38 she is a woman simply older and wiser and clear-eyed, who found the courage to leave the prince, along with the fantasies. But of course, in Hollywood, that is no small part to play.
Eddie Murphy was understandably thrown for a loop and no doubt even pissed when his wife left him last June. After all, he was the star whose career had lit up the marquees of Hollywood, with such blockbusters as 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop (I and II), Trading Places and Coming to America, turning him into box-office gold before he reached 30. If anybody was going to do the leaving, you’d think it would be him. So it makes one ask the question: What would make a Hollywood wife with access to fame and wealth and the celebrity good life decide to leave all that?
EXCUSE ME, MRS.
When Nicole Mitchell Murphy meets me in the lobby of a hotel in Los Angeles County’s affluent Manhattan Beach, she looks more Santa Fe laid-back than Hollywood glam. Tall, gray-eyed and ridiculously skinny for a woman who has given birth to five kids, she is wearing an ankle-length, tangerine-colored peasant skirt and white camisole, topped with a cropped denim jacket. Even without makeup, which she seldom wears, and with her hair cut boyishly short, she is striking—and genuinely nice. The only livin’ large giveaway is the big, black Escalade she is driving, which we will tool around in for the next couple of hours. The hotel parking valets, though, have already guessed she is “somebody.” Practically tripping over themselves, they grin and gawk and rush to open the SUV’s doors for both of us. “I know you from somewhere,” one of them says to Nicole as she slides into the driver’s seat. “You think so?” she replies sweetly before putting sandaled foot to the gas pedal and taking off.
It has been eight months since she filed for divorce from Eddie, leaving behind the 35,000-square-foot mansion she’d decorated in luxurious Beverly Park, and moved into a rented place in Manhattan Beach. “It’s been a little fearful,” she says of the split. “I’m starting over, so I know my life is going to be different. I’m used to a certain lifestyle—the mansions, the fancy cars, buying whatever I want.” She pauses and then takes a breath. “But you know what? That doesn’t matter anymore. You can have all the jewelry, you can have all the big houses, but if you’re not happy, it doesn’t mean a thing.”
Read more in the April issue of Essence! On newsstands March 21, 2006.
Credit: Carlo Dall Chiesa
Credit: Carlo Dalla Chiesa
The Murphy Clan: (from left) Bria, Myles, Shayne, Nicole and Bella, Eddie, and Zola attend the L.A. premiere of Shrek 2, May 8, 2004.