How Hunter S. Thompson and John Prine helped Bill Murray fight depression
(Credit: Aaron Poole / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

The 19th-century painting that saved Bill Murray’s life

The wondrous talent of Bill Murray extends beyond his on-screen roles and appearances. More so than any other star in recent memory, Murray has transcended the glitz and glam of Hollywood and become a beloved man of the people.

Much of that is because, unlike his Hollywood counterparts, Murray is able to connect with people on a human level. Whether it’s through humour or sadness, Murray’s own vulnerability has always meant that he’s a beloved figure of the entertainment scene. It’s a joy that we were almost not afforded if it weren’t for one particular painting.

In the clip below, Murray opens up about a particular night, his first on stage, and how a dreadful performance nearly pushed him towards suicide. That is if it weren’t for one painting from Jules Breton named ‘The Song of the Lark’, voted in 1934 as America’s favourite.

During the panel, assembled as part of the promotional run for The Monument’s Men, Murray is asked if he can pinpoint a moment in time when art really has mattered and made in a difference in your life. After a shrug of the shoulders and a summing up of courage, Murray reveals: “Well, I think it would be back when I started acting in Chicago.

“I wasn’t very good and I remember my first experience on the stage. I was so bad I just walked out on the street and started walking. I walked for a couple of hours and I realised that I had walked the wrong direction. Not just the wrong direction in the terms of where I lived but the wrong direction in terms of a desire to stay alive.” It’s a shocking reminder of how mental health can be an issue for literally anyone.”

Taking in his surroundings, Murray seemingly accepted his fate, “I then thought ‘Well, if I’m gonna die where I am, I may as well walk towards the lake and maybe I will float for a while after I’m dead. So I walked over towards the lake and as I got there I realised I had hit Michigan Avenue. I thought ‘Michigan Avenue, that runs North too, so I started walking north and ended up in front of the art institute in Chicago.”

An inspiring piece of the city, the art institute is a thing of pride for all Chicagoans. For Murray, it represented a refuge of sorts, “I just walked inside and I didn’t feel like I had any place being in there. They used to ask you for a donation and I just walked right through it because I was ready to die. I walked in and there’s a painting there, and I don’t even know who painted it, I think it’s called ‘The Song of the Lark’.”

Murray added: “I’ve always loved this painting and I saw it that day and I thought ‘Well, there’s a girl who doesn’t have a whole lot of prospects but the sun’s coming up anyway and she’s got another chance at it. So, I think that gave me some sort of feeling that I too am a person and get another chance when the sun comes up.”

It’s a simple sentiment that is as heartening to hear now as we’re sure it was for Murray when he gazed upon the painting. It’s not the first time that art has saved Murray either. The acclaimed actor also turned to John Prine when dealing with mental health issues, after a suggestion from Hunter S. Thompson.

Murray told the New York Post: “John Prine can make you laugh like no else can make you laugh.” He made Bill Murray laugh enough with his song ‘Linda Goes to Mars’ to pull him from a bout of poor mental health and that is most definitely good enough for us.

See Murray describe the life-changing moment he witnessed ‘The Song of the Lark’ below:

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