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Michael J. Murphy

Pasco man's music, generosity played well worldwide

The piano man was discovered a year and a half ago in Beacon Woods, a community in Pasco County's Bayonet Point.

A neighborhood association officer out canvassing knocked on Michael Murphy's door. Before long, the thickly set man with the big laugh had sat down to play the piano.

A world opened up. The man called two friends in the neighborhood. They had to hear this guy.

A little while later, Beacon Woods Civic Association president Bob Ryan was sitting in Mr. Murphy's living room, near the piano. The man who was built like a middle linebacker reeled off Broadway show tunes on command, for an hour and a half. He could play anything they asked. He chatted as he played.

Ryan dialed his wife's number and held open the cell phone. "Listen," he whispered.

Mr. Murphy died April 30 of congestive heart failure. He was 64.

He had lived in the neighborhood for 18 years, but few people there knew him, Ryan said.

But in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Mr. Murphy had hundreds of friends, including Canadian hockey players and American movie stars.

The son of a widely known Ohio surgeon, Mr. Murphy quickly stood out as a musical prodigy, the subject of a story in House & Garden magazine. While in elementary school, he played at the request of one of his father's house guests, a composer named Oscar Hammerstein. He impressed everyone.

He played hockey in prep school and fell in love with the sport. As an adult, he ran a successful international construction company before devoting his time to philanthropy. Mr. Murphy returned many times to India, where on the piano and over the phone he raised money for the India Project. The money bought medical supplies for the surgeons who correct birth defects among children who would otherwise have been shunned.

Friends remember his generosity of time and spirit. "He instilled an appreciation for my talent that no audience has ever given me," said Bill Gilinsky, 58, an understudy to Robert Goulet in several Broadway musicals. Many times, Mr. Murphy convinced Gilinsky to pay his own way to Israel, Switzerland or some other country to perform benefits with Mr. Murphy.

All of Mr. Murphy's many concerts were benefits, Gilinsky said. He never took a dime.

"When people heard him play, they forgave him for any preconceptions they might have had about what a pianist looks like," Gilinsky said.

Strangers and relatives talk about Mr. Murphy's phenomenal musical memory, his ability to hear a song once and play it. Gilinsky said he thinks that's why Mr. Murphy never made small talk while watching a performance.

"He was memorizing the music."

A regret: The pair were to repeat their 2006 performance in Jerusalem, which raised $25,000 for a school for children from Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other religious backgrounds.

Mr. Murphy left a lasting impression among organizers of the India Project, where he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to correct twisted noses, cleft lips and large facial birthmarks.

Louisiana plastic surgeon Paul Dreschnack recalled Mr. Murphy's unobtrusive presence, declining to seek credit.

"I've been all over the world," Dreschnack said, "and I've never met a better man."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (813) 661-2431 or


Michael J. Murphy

Born: Nov. 24, 1942.

Died: April 30, 2008.

Survivors: wife, Connie; sister, Susie M. Armistead (William); brother, John A. Murphy Jr. (Judy); nieces, Dr. Stephanie Murphy, Dr. Peggy Ward.

Memorial Mass: 11 a.m. June 4, Espiritu Santo Catholic Church, 2405 Phillippe Parkway, Safety Harbor.

Memorial celebration: 5 p.m. June 4, Performing Arts Center, Pasco-Hernando Community College, West Campus; 10230 Ridge Road, New Port Richey.

Pasco man's music, generosity played well worldwide 05/07/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 13, 2008 6:46pm]
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