Forty nine years ago today, Hollywood legend Bill Murray took the heart-wrenching decision to pull out of his beloved college days – all over a massive stash of weed he smuggled on to an aircraft.
A little more than two weeks previous, the comedy movie star was boarding a flight following a family celebration to mark his 20th birthday in Chicago. Murray was heading back to Regis college in Denver to return to his pre-med studies.
As he queued for the plane at O’Hare International Airport, the film funnyman couldn’t help playing the clown with his fellow passengers, foolishly joking with one of them that he was carrying two bombs in his suitcase.
Unfortunately for the wannabe doctor, check-in staff overheard the quip and alerted a pair of US marshals.
The future star of epic classics like Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Lost in Translation and Groundhog Day knew instantly he may have just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life. For, not only was Murray studying hard for a medical degree, he was also supplementing his student life by running drugs.
He stood, ashen-faced as he watched the two marshals rifle through his bags as they made an obligatory rummage through the luggage of a youngster who just joked about taking explosives onto an aircraft.
While they all knew full-well they wouldn’t find any ordnance, Murray knew what they were about to discover… and they did. As one of the gloved hands of a marshal withdrew from the suitcase it had in its grasp a two-pound ‘brick’ of cannabis.
It was quickly followed by another, then another and so on until five bricks were laid out on the table in front of a sweating Bill Murray. The birthday boy knew the game was up as the marshals radioed for the vice squad and, in a panic, he managed to swallow, unnoticed, a cheque from one of his customers.
“That guy owes me his life and reputation,” he would later write in an autobiography.
Murray was charged on-the-spot with possession of cannabis before being forced to appear in court the following day. He was placed on probation for five years, luckily avoiding a custodial sentence as it was his first offence.
A few days later he returned to college, fearful for his medical career and oblivious to where his stellar life would eventually take him.
Fearing news of his criminal record would soon reach college chiefs and force them to kick him out of school, he chose to make the decision first and drop out of Regis.
On this day – October 17 1970 – Bill Murray walked away from a promising career in medicine and towards a path that would eventually lead to him becoming one of the most recognisable film stars of his generation.
As he looked back at the college, lamenting what he had thrown away, he heaved a bag over his shoulder. A bag which – just 21 days earlier – had been packed full of weed.
The rest, as they say, is history.