IN ONE of the most painful ordeals of his life, a tearful Eddie Murphy clutched his dying dad in his arms and watched him slip away.

Heartbroken Eddie is reeling from the June 16 death of Vernon Lynch Sr., the stepfather who lovingly raised him. “After all these years of Vernon being there for Eddie, there was no way Eddie wasn’t going to be there in the end for his father,” disclosed a family friend.

“As Vernon’s breathing became more and more shallow, Eddie started to cry and leaned over and whispered in his ear: ‘You’ve been a wonderful father, and I hope I’m half the father to my kids that you’ve been to me. I love you, man.’

“At that moment, Vernon quietly slipped away.”

Vernon’s death from cancer has cast a pall over what should be a wonderful time in the comedian’s life. His new film “Dr. Dolittle II” is hitting the theaters and his wife Nicole is expecting their fifth child.

Vernon, who just turned 68 June 7, stepped in when Eddie was a small boy and raised him like he was his own. Eddie’s mother and biological father Charles split when Eddie was only 3 — and Charles was murdered by a girlfriend when Eddie was 8.

“When Vernon married Eddie’s mother Lillian, he immediately stepped up to the plate to be the father Eddie and his brother needed,” disclosed an insider.

“He discliplined his boys and spent a lot of quality time with them.

Before hitting it big in showbiz, Eddie Murphy was a shoe salesman.

“One of the most memorable times for Eddie was when Vernon, a prizefighter, taught him how to box. He spent a lot of time in the gym teaching his kids self-defense and pride. Vernon used to joke, ‘My kids are gonna make something out of their lives — or I’ll kill ’em!’

“At Vernon’s funeral, Eddie was overcome with grief and tears filled his eyes.

“He told the mourners, ‘I didn’t think I was going to be able to stand before you all today, but my father’s life was an inspiration for strength.’

“From the moment Vernon had been diagnosed with lung cancer in November, Eddie kept up a brave front,” divulged the family friend.

“Eddie missed the wedding of Keenan Wayans — one of his best friends — so he could stay by Vernon’s side.”

The grieving funnyman has not yet recovered from the ordeal, revealed the insider.

“Eddie used to crack jokes all the time, played with his kids until they were exhausted and pulled funny pranks on friends, but lately he is just going through the motions. Compared to the way Eddie used to be, he’s almost comatose in comparison.”