Bleeding Gums Murphy had a small but important role in the earlier years of The Simpsons. He first appeared in just the sixth episode ever, ‘Moaning Lisa’, and his riches-to-rags story struck a chord with Lisa, who idolised this washed-up jazz saxophonist.
Bleeding Gums’s story goes that he only ever recorded one album, Sax on the Beach, which was a raging success and catapulted Murphy to jazz stardom. However, he went broke by spending too much money on Faberge eggs and was eventually confined to playing his sax on the bridge in the middle of the night, waking up half of Springfield in the process. He also once sang a twenty-six minute version of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ at an Isotopes game, so it’s fair to say he had his detractors as well as fans.
Then, in a later episode, when Bart is admitted to Springfield General Hospital for eating a jagged metal Krusty-O, Lisa finds Bleeding Gums in a ward nearby. Gums gives Lisa some advice about performing in front of her school. She nails it and returns to the hospital, only to discover that he had passed away. Although Reverend Lovejoy paid him no respect in calling him “Blood and Guts Murphy” and a fine “sousaphone player,” he was blasted over Springfield when a lightning bolt struck a radio station playing his album. It is also hinted that he and Dr Hibbert are long-lost brothers, but it’s never expanded upon.
While we like to think of Murphy as a hero for Lisa and a great talent who sadly lost his way, Redditor Motherstep has concocted an elaborate theory that explains his demise and death in rather dark circumstances. Here’s what he has to say: “In the 22nd episode of season 6, ‘Round Springfield, we discover Bleeding Gums’ health has taken a turn for the worst and ultimately dies whilst Lisa takes part in a school band recital. She understandably takes this badly as she considers Murphy to be her hero and one of the only people who understood music like she did. However, whilst the nature of his death is unclear we are given clues as to what really happened… Bleeding Gums Murphy was a drug addict.
“Let’s look back to his first appearance all the way back in Moaning Lisa, the 6th episode of the first season. He is shown playing his saxophone alone on a bridge late at night. He introduces himself to Lisa and she questions his name. He brushes this off, quipping that he doesn’t visit dentists and we don’t hear much more about it. For those in the know, one of the many side effects from taking heroin is gingival bleeding. Murphy may pick up that Lisa is smart for her young age, but he isn’t callous enough to explain that his bleeding gums are a result of heroin abuse. This is alluded to further when we discover that the inspiration for Murphy’s character was Sonny Rollins, and Rollins himself was found violating his parole by using heroin.
“Jump forward to the episode ‘Round Springfield, and we see Bleeding Gums Murphy recount a brief summary of his life and career, which is less than glamorous. From being upstaged on his own guest slot by Steve Allen too a baffling cameo on The Cosby Show, Murphy hasn’t had the most enriching experience. Even his album cover is morose, featuring Bleeding Gums looking crestfallen in the background whilst a beautiful woman straddles a saxophone. It has the hallmarks of a musician who is seldom appreciated and never understood, which could be considered a stepping stone to drug abuse.
“One glaring detail of Bleeding Gums’ career is his addiction to faberge eggs, and we are shown a comical exchange between a shop keeper telling Murphy he’s had enough. He flies off the handle and is promptly shown dejected in an alleyway, surrounded by broken eggs. In his frustration, he casts one against the wall which shatters instantly. The scene works well as a tragic parody of drug addiction, but remember, Murphy knows better than to go into details with Lisa. He may be down on himself, but he knows he has a friend in Lisa and surely recognises she looks up to him. His “faberge egg” addiction is either Lisa filling in her own blanks to a concept she doesn’t understand, or it’s deliberate censorship from Murphy who replaces heroin and needles with something as innocuous and luxurious as faberge eggs. It could go either way, but either way, it wasn’t eggs Bleeding Gums couldn’t resist.
So, what do you think about that? It’s entirely possible that, given just how adept The Simpsons writers were, they insinuated a darker, even more emotional backstory for Lisa’s hero.