The original 'Saturday Night Live' cast member, who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on his 87th birthday, opens up to PEOPLE about his wild ride to success
Garrett Morris has had quite the Hollywood ride.
In 1975, he was cast as one of the original players in Saturday Night Live, becoming the first-ever Black cast member — although he was originally hired as a writer.
"Some producers didn't want a Black cast member but Lorne Michaels knew the show needed one," Morris, who just received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on his 87th birthday, tells PEOPLE. "I dealt with some racism there, but never with Lorne. He doesn't have a racist bone in his body."
Morris says that during his five-year tenure on the show, he was also heavily addicted to cocaine — not unlike his costar John Belushi.
"We lost one of the greatest talents in the country," Morris says of his former costar's untimely death. "But John and I never really partied together. I was more introverted, After they wrapped up the show, usually they'd all go to a bar but I'd just go home. I'm not sure the cocaine helped with being introverted."
His addiction didn't end after he left the show in 1980, and Morris went on to play memorable roles in shows like The Jeffersons, Martin, The Jamie Foxx Show, and 2 Broke Girls. It wasn't until 10 years ago that he finally got fully sober and stopped using the drug.
"I went to alcoholics anonymous," he explains. "And they give you a sponsor. And that guy calls you all day long, but it works. Within six months to a year, I felt like I could stay sober forever."
Besides his cocaine addiction, Morris went through other tough times during his showbiz career. Early on, when he was in his 20s and a singer with the Harry Belafonte Folk Singers, he says there were times he wasn't allowed to stay in the same hotel as the White singers.
"The Black guys had to go to the Black part of town to try and find a hotel there," he recalls.
One time in L.A., when he was about to sing at the Greek Theater with Harry Belafonte, he was arrested for WWB. "Walking while Black," he says of the acronym.
He says racism was a common theme throughout his Hollywood tenure, although it wasn't as overt as it was when he grew up in segregated New Orleans.
"I thought Hollywood would be all progressives," he says of being naive, noting that the racism he encountered in New York and Hollywood was "hidden."
"It surprised me," he adds.
In 1994, Morris also survived being shot. "I had run the New York City marathon in 1993," he says, before sharing that he accidentally got caught up in an attempted robbery while going to the store for juice the following year.
Two men demanded money from him, and Morris says he always had a problem with running his mouth. "I said, 'Oh, somebody's looking for a fight,' but then the guy shot me. It ricocheted into my lumbar number five. That's the only reason I survived. The doctors told me I might not walk or run again," he recalls.
Morris recovered, though now, at 87, he says he now needs a walker to get around, but that's mainly due to arthritis.
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Now he's looking forward to the upcoming Saturday Night Live film 1975, which is being directed by Jason Reitman. It was just announced that New Girl star Lamorne Morris (no relation) will play a young Garrett.
"Michael B. Jordan could play me," Morris joked before the casting news was announced.
50 years after he rose to fame on SNL, Morris says he's nothing but grateful for everything, and hopes to tell his full story in an autobiography.
"I'm working on it now," he says, adding, "There's a lot more to talk about!"
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