A lot of great comedies have characters that are constantly mentioned but never seen. “Frasier” had Maris, “Cheers” had Vera, “Charlie’s Angles” had Charlie, “Home Improvement” had the lower half of Wilson’s face and, until last week’s penultimate episode, “Parks and Recreation” had Mayor Gunderson.
For years, the show’s creators were content to let the mayor of Pawnee hide in the shadows, never to be seen, as a cavalcade of outrageous city managers, town councilmen and executives came and went in front of the camera. However, with the show drawing to a close, the cast and crew turned to a little star power to bring the character to life.
[SPOILER ALERT] In the Season 7 episode “Two Funerals,” it was revealed that Mayor Walter Gunderson had died; Bill Murray stepped in to play the corpse. That’s right, comedy legend, and all around American treasure, Bill Murray was such a fan of the show that he was willing to lay motionless in a casket to play the dearly departed mayor.
“It’s such an unexpected thing, and it’s a thing we never ever really thought was going to happen, so it’s about as big as it gets,” executive producer Michael Schur told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s something that we were dreaming about for so long.”
— Parks and Recreation (@parksandrecnbc) February 18, 2015
Schur told the outlet that the decision to include Mayor Gunderson went through a lot of phases. They originally wanted to get Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the then-Governor of California politely declined to do the role while still in office. That’s when the cast began asking Murray to play the role every chance they got. Ultimately, their persistence got the 64-year-old comedian to watch the show and agree to cameo on the final season.
Although it was hilarious to see Murray just play a corpse, “Parks” didn’t waste the opportunity to have the iconic funnyman on the series Before he died, Vulture notes that Mayor Gunderson recorded a video message to the people of Pawnee confessing that he wasn’t really paying attention during his time in office because most of the town wasn’t paying attention either. This lights a fire under Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) to seek out a new beginning in the wake of her whole world changing around her. She runs into Tom (Aziz Ansari) who confesses that he’s thinking about proposing to his girlfriend and Leslie jumps at the chance to help.
According to Schur, Murray hung around the set for three hours after finishing his work. It turns out Murray is as much of a fan of “Parks and Recreation” as the rest of us.
“He was just the most delightful person,” reports Schur. “Not only was he incredibly complimentary of the show, he went around to every one of the actors and told them how great they were and cited specific episodes and moments. He hung out on the set for three hours, watching us shoot the show.”
“Two Funerals” was the penultimate episode of the final season of the hit comedy series. Leslie Knope and the rest of the gang from the Pawnee Parks Department will come together one last time next week for the finale titled “One Last Ride." The episode airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. EST on NBC.