Thinking of this gig brought to mind the last two films I saw him in -- Get Low and The Limits of Control -- and ultimately led me to the question: What sort of careers would Murray's comedy co-stars have if they'd taken a cue from ol' Bill? For Murray, nothing really has changed over the years -- the actor has always used his humor to grace both large and small productions, mainstream and quirk fare. This is the man who followed up Meatballs with a turn as Hunter S. Thompson in Where the Buffalo Roam ... Who intermingled big comedy like Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day with The Razor's Edge and Ed Wood, before finding Wes Anderson with Rushmore and balancing a few high-profile roles with Anderson and Jarmusch gigs, plus gems like Lost in Translation.
Still, would it be possible that other funny men of his generation could have had continually strong careers? Could Caddyshack's Chevy Chase have fared better? Maybe, maybe not, since he followed up huge comedic gigs with films like Nothing But Trouble, and then a much quieter career peppered with cameos and side gigs. Little Shop of Horror's Rick Moranis chose to shrink himself into nothingness and disappear from Hollywood entirely, only inspired back by Brother Bear. Harold Ramis' big focus was on the pen, one that dried up as the years progressed -- Year One being a far cry from Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes... The closest trajectory is Dan Aykroyd, who may be best known for his comedies, but has diversified his roster a bit with films like Twilight Zone: The Movie, Driving Miss Daisy, Chaplin, and Bright Young Things.
Perhaps Murray's humor just fares better in a myriad of genres, but I'd argue that he knew how to apply his comedy to many areas, and had a marked interest in doing so. He's a great example of the brilliance that comes from unlikely choices (Danny Huston in The Proposition, Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight), and even moreso -- the importance of indies and creative thinking. Would Murray be as successful today if he never played Thompson, and never embraced the indie world of the late '90s and 2000's? Doubt it.
Could those other funny men of the '80s have followed suit? Or is there just something about Murray that makes him perfect for this diversity?