For years now, the cast and crew of Parks And Recreation have been trying to lure Bill Murray to appear on the show by the usual means: flattery, cajoling, staging fake bachelorette parties and waiting patiently for him to crash them, hanging banners that said “NOT GHOSTBUSTERS 3,” etc. And last night, it all finally paid off when the show got to live out its dream of seeing Bill Murray dead, lying in state as the late Mayor Gunderson.
As creator Michael Schur explains to Entertainment Weekly, getting Murray to do it was a years-long process of pursuits, near misses, and cryptic voice mails—the process of casting Bill Murray, in other words. Most memorably, Amy Poehler offered him $250 for his services on a Late Night With Jimmy Fallon appearance in 2011, then kept up the public lobbying thereafter. Aubrey Plaza and Rashida Jones both apparently urged him to do it in person, which at least got him to watch the show. And when writers finally began prepping the episode where the Mayor dies—and considered the Plan B of just always having his face comically obscured—Poehler and Plaza made a last-ditch effort to get Murray to come play a corpse. That finally proved irresistible: Schur says he received a short voice mail that said, “Hey, this is Bill Murray. I hear you might have some dead work for me.”
Anyway, Murray was reportedly a perfectly lovely dead man, taking the time to compliment every actor on set and naming specific scenes he’d enjoyed, while also submitting to around 30 different versions of the mayor’s farewell video message. (The one in the show is mostly his own improvisation.) And somehow they kept the entire a thing a secret, reshooting just Murray’s part in the coffin and folding it into footage of the memorial service that had already been completed. And that’s how Parks And Recreation managed to pull off its biggest surprise until the moment it aired—or until the moment you blundered into this article and had it spoiled for you.
One other interesting side note: Murray wasn’t the producers’ first choice. In the third season, Rob Lowe reportedly reached out to his pal Arnold Schwarzenegger, then the Governor of California, and asked him to come play the role where they would “never explain why he had an Austrian accent,” as is de rigueur for every Schwarzenegger role. Fortunately, Schwarzenegger said he could never do it (the show, that is) while still in office, so here we are. However, there is still time for Schwarzenegger to cameo as Mayor Gunderson’s beloved dog, Rufus.