MONTANA AVENUE — It’s easy to think big.
To dream of becoming a professional athlete, traveling the world, or helping to cure an incurable disease can be a snap. What’s harder, though, is turning grand ambitions like these into reality. It’s a feat that few people can boast of.
One exception, though, is Santa Monica resident Murphy Jensen. Following a high-powered career as a tennis player and, later, a television personality, Jensen is using his fame in a new fight: Helping find a cure for prostate cancer.
Raised on a Christmas tree farm in northern Michigan, Jensen and his siblings grew up as “barefoot country kids.” He took up tennis at the age of four, crying the first time he picked up a tennis racket “because I was so scared.”
The fear left him quickly enough. By the time he was 18, Jensen was playing tennis for the men’s team at USC — a short-lived endeavor, as he left school at 22 to play professionally.
Jensen spent his tennis career playing doubles with his brother, Luke. They became known for their colorful and sometimes outrageous behavior on the tennis courts; behavior that they called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Tennis.”
The brothers won the men’s doubles title at the French Open in 1993, an experience that Jensen lists among the most fulfilling of his life.
“Winning the French Open with my brother — with my mother in the crowd and my grandma and grandpa … crying over the phone back in Michigan — it was such a huge feat,” Jensen said.
After his professional tennis career ended, Jensen began to pursue a career in television, confident that he could succeed because, “I could entertain people on the tennis court, which was really just a huge stage.”
He worked with two successful television shows: “Open Access,” an inside look into the lives of various famous tennis players, and “Murphy’s Guide,” in which Jensen led viewers on not-for-tourists tours of some of the world’s most illustrious cities.
Prostate cancer made its first appearance in Jensen’s life when his father was diagnosed with the disease. “I became his right-hand man through the treatments,” said Jensen, who recently celebrated his 40th birthday by taking his father to chemotherapy.
About a year after his father’s diagnosis, Jensen participated in a fundraiser held by Santa Monica resident Michael Milken, founder of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. It proved to be a pivotal event in Jensen’s life. After meeting Milken, he became extremely involved with the Prostate Cancer Foundation, using his tennis fame to help spread awareness about prostate cancer and raise funds for research.
Jensen said watching his father’s struggle with cancer has inspired him to commit his life to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
“It breaks my heart … that I can’t tell him ‘I’ve got it, I’ve got the drug for you, and you’re going to be cancer-free within the year.’ It’s devastating. I don’t want any other son or daughter to ever, ever have to do that,” Jensen said. He is confident, he added, that “we can find the cure. It’s not far off.”
Jensen will continue working to bring the cure closer this month, working as a spokesman for Movember. This global movement, which is appearing in the United States for its third year, aims to fight prostate cancer through the unusual vehicle of facial hair.
Movember’s name — contraction of “mustache” and “November” — tells all there is to know about the event. Around the world, men put down their razors for the month of November and allow their mustaches to serve as a “pink ribbon.” Participants raise money for prostate cancer research through sponsors; more importantly, though, Movember promotes awareness about prostate cancer, which affects 1 in 6 men.
“When they asked me to help out with Movember, all I could think was ‘What took you so long?’” said Jensen, whose mustache is already apparent on his face. “I can grow a great mustache. I’m thinking about dying mine.”
As important as the fight against prostate cancer is to Jensen, it isn’t the only thing occupying his mind. Even more important to him is William, his 10-year-old son.
Jensen said adapting to the responsibilities of fatherhood proved to be one of his most life-changing experiences.
“Learning to be responsible for someone else was huge for me,” Jensen said, explaining that, “tennis is an extremely selfish sport … It takes a real tunnel vision and extreme focus. I went from ‘me, me, me,’ to ‘Billy, Billy, Billy.’ Now it’s all about what I can give to this little boy.”
Now, though he remains firmly rooted in Santa Monica, Jensen regularly travels to Florida in order to spend time with his son, who is following in his father’s footsteps, attending a tennis academy.
Jensen’s work — in tennis, television, and now with the Prostate Cancer Foundation — has taken him around the world. However, he seems to have found his niche here in Santa Monica. Since moving from Hollywood four years ago, he has become a bona fide Santa Monican. He is a regular patron of the Main Street and Arizona Avenue Farmers’ Markets, rides a skateboard around town running errands, and met “Kate the Great,” his girlfriend of three years, on a walk down Montana Avenue. The city’s laid back atmosphere is a perfect match for Jensen, who calls himself “the biggest 10-year-old in the world.”
“In this town, you could go to a fancy dinner and wear surf shorts if you wanted to. That’s a nice thing for a guy like me,” said Jensen, adding, “I don’t think I have a bad day living over here.”
Living in a city he loves and working for a cause he is passionate about seems to be enough to make Jensen happy.
“I’m living the dream,” he said. “I’m absolutely living an amazing dream.”