Johnny Murphy was an extraordinary talented Dublin artist. He once told me he discovered his talent for performing in the Don Bosco in Crumlin, but I remember seeing Johnny in the many many great productions that the late Deirdre O Connell did at the Focus Theatre. They were the great European classics, Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov. Huge talent on a tiny stage, in a tiny place, bursting at the seams. The passion, the commitment, the drive, the humanity that emanated from Johnny Murphy’s performance was something that I carry to this day. Those days, that stage, that place were shared with other greats, Gabriel Byrne, Ena May, Tom Hickey. These people created a whole new energy which was later harnessed into the Project Arts Centre under the baton of the Sheridan brothers, Jim and Peter who assembled a dynamic bunch of individuals that, in my view, changed the course of Irish acting, Irish performance, Irish playwriting, Irish stage writing and dramatic energy.
Johnny Murphy was a vital part, an essential ingredient, a navigator in all of that.
From Yeats’ work to Beckett’s work to Jim and Peter’s own works, the whole collaboration of the Project Arts Centre all boiled down to one ingredient – the performance of the artist and actors. Johnny Murphy was a star attraction. Not just on that stage, but in people’s lives. He was a very generous, no bullshit person who could cut to the chase. I had some fantastic times with Johnny during my time at the Project and in the many plays and tours that we all did as a company.
I deeply respected and appreciated his guidance, his consideration, his understanding and his generous love and what a funny guy. He was blessed with a marvelous wit and a comic genius. He could hold a stage and an audience anywhere. He could mesmerize with a look.
Nobody, that I know of, has ever forgotten a Johnny Murphy performance. Throughout the last number of years of his life he was as active as you possibly could be, particularly after giving what I believe was one of the most definitive performances in the history of Waiting for Godot, when he played the tragic, fabulous Estragon alongside Barry Mc Govern’s Vladimir at the Gate Theatre. It was way back in the Project Arts Centre’s production of Waiting for Godot that Johnny first unleashed that performance and interpretation of Estragon to packed houses.
Drimnagh and Dublin are proud of Johnny Murphy. An artist, a father, a brother and a son. Many of us who also loved Johnny, and I mean loved Johnny Murphy, will grieve and miss him. But we will always be reminded of Johnny as we pass his many haunts, his many theatres, and when his many friends gather in different groups, both now and into the future, to talk and remember. It was Samuel Beckett who coined the phrase ‘we are born astride the grave, the light gleams for an instant, and then it is night once more’. John Murphy’s light gleamed brightly in our hearts and in the limelight of the stage forever. We are obliged to you Mr Murphy.
My deep condolences to his daughter, his family, his many friends and his many audiences.
“Johnny, your cue. You’re on.”