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Eddie Murphy Drops Out of Oscars Telecast

Eddie Murphy
Photo: Getty Images
Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy is dropping out as the host of the Oscars telecast, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences said Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the show’s producer Brett Ratner stepped aside amid a storm of criticism over his use of an anti-gay slur over the weekend.

The hasty departures represented an embarrassing collapse of the Academy’s plans for the Oscar presentation and left it with just over three months to fill key roles for one of the most elaborately staged television shows of the year.

Mr. Ratner, who was named the Oscar co-producer on Aug. 4, resigned on Tuesday morning because of the furor over anti-gay slur and a subsequent, salacious discussion of his own sexual habits on Howard Stern’s radio program on Sirius XM Radio show.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation strongly objected to the derisive remark about gays, and a flood of objections by academy members and media commentators quickly made clear that the Academy’s Feb. 26 Oscar show on ABC , if Mr. Ratner remained in charge, was going to be as much about Mr. Ratner as the movies.

Mr. Murphy on Wednesday followed Mr. Ratner — his friend, and the director of his latest film “Tower Heist” — out the door.

"I appreciate how Eddie feels about losing his creative partner, Brett Ratner, and we all wish him well," Tom Sherak, the president of the academy, said in a statement.

On Tuesday evening, Mr. Sherak tried to salvage something by casting Mr. Ratner’s resignation as a teachable moment. “It is our sincere belief — as well as Brett’s — that this terrible event may ultimately raise awareness and yield some good,” Mr. Sherak wrote in an email sent directly to the academy’s approximately 6,000 members.

In an industry where relationships often fracture quickly, Mr. Ratner’s connection to the show at least lasted longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage (by 24 days), But if the Academy is squinting for a silver lining, it might find another bright spot. With Mr. Ratner and Mr. Murphy moving on, the academy and its governors get another shot, sooner rather than later, at rebooting an annual ritual that still draws around 40 million viewers in the United States (and many more abroad), and remains one of television’s biggest events, despite a widespread sense that it is losing its connection with an audience that wants to love it.

Mr. Ratner was to co-produce the show with Don Mischer, a past Oscar producer who remains in place. Though plans for the program were still being formed, the two producers had made clear that they intended to bring an extra-heavy dollop of comedy — hence Mr. Murphy— to a ceremony that might not have looked much different than the variety show-style ceremonies of years past. Whether that approach will endure with Mr. Murphy’s exit is unclear.