Catherine Evelyn Smith (born on 25 Apr 1947) is an occasional backup singer, rock groupie and drug dealer, who served 15 months in the California state prison system for injecting John Belushi with a fatal dose of heroin and cocaine in 1982.
Smith had been paid for a front page headline story in the Hollywood tabloid the National Enquirer, where she stated she was the person who injected the actor with a fatal drug overdose. In 1984, Smith co-wrote a book entitled Chasing the Dragon which told her life story. The title is an allusion to Smith's heroin addiction. Smith appeared prominently in the Bob Woodward book Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi, and was played by Patti D'Arbanville in the film version.
Levon Helm and The Band
Smith became notorious in the Belushi case, but her association with well-known performers goes back at least 20 years prior to her confession in the National Enquirer. Her earliest association was with Levon Helm, later a member of The Band in 1963. In Helm's autobiography, he recalls that Smith first met him in Hamilton, Ontario. Helm, with friend and bandmate Rick Danko, was in a band called The Hawks at the time (see Ronnie Hawkins). At one point, the musicians were in Toronto facing a drug bust.
Smith has been connected to The Band's famous song, "The Weight", released in 1968. Smith says in Rock and Roll Toronto: From Alanis to Zeppelin, that Richard Manuel offered to marry her but she refused. Nevertheless, she continued to tour and party with Helm, Rick Danko and Manuel through the 1960s, at one point becoming pregnant with a child known as "the band baby", as its paternity was unclear. She later had an affair with Gordon Lightfoot. After the affair ended, Smith returned to Levon Helm and the circle who comprised The Band.
The Smith-Lightfoot affair was volatile and illustrated in the lyrics of "Sundown", Lightfoot's Number One hit and most financially lucrative song. It reflects the dark feelings Lightfoot was experiencing at the time, with lyrics such "Sometimes I think it's a shame / When I get feeling better when I'm feeling no pain." Drinking too much and married to another woman, he on one occasion broke Smith's cheekbone in a fight. Lightfoot has stated of his three-year relationship with Smith, "I was sometimes crazy with jealousy".
Bluegrass musicians Bruce and Brian Good, The Good Brothers, who were one of Lightfoot's opening acts during that time, got fired by Lightfoot for "flirting" with Smith. Smith was cited in divorce papers, and shortly after his affair with Smith ended, Lightfoot was a party to the most expensive divorce settlement in Canadian history to that date.
In a 1975 interview, Lightfoot expanded upon Sundown and hinted at the worry he experienced in his relationship with Smith:
"All it is, is a thought about a situation where someone is wondering what his loved one is doing at the moment. He doesn't quite know where she is. He's not ready to give up on her, either, and that's about all I got to say about that."
Lightfoot gave another insight into his relationship with Smith in a 2000 interview when he remarked upon "Sundown" being:
"a back-alley kind of tune. It's based on infidelity -- I've seen both sides of that."
In 2008, Lightfoot gave an interview confirming that "Sundown" was written with his then-girlfriend in mind:
"I think my girlfriend was out with her friends one night at a bar while I was at home writing songs. I thought, 'I wonder what she’s doing with her friends at that bar!' It’s that kind of a feeling. 'Where is my true love tonight? What is my true love doing?'
After Lightfoot and The Band, around 1976 Smith became a backup singer for Hoyt Axton, who was struggling with cocaine addiction at the time. She sang on his song "Fearless" (1976) and co-wrote "Flash of Fire" with Axton (1976).
Smith became involved with heroin use in the late 1970s. In Bob Woodward's Wired, she appears as a drug dealer to Rolling Stones band members Ron Wood and Keith Richards during their touring and rehearsals as The New Barbarians. She moved to Los Angeles and as her addiction increased she became a full-time drug dealer and courier to Wood, Richards and others in the entertainment world. Smith first met comedian John Belushi on the set of Saturday Night Live in 1976 when The Band were the musical guests.
She later met Belushi again through Wood and Richards and was contacted by Belushi to purchase the drugs that eventually killed him. Smith alleges that she injected Belushi with 11 speedballs (a combination of cocaine and heroin) at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, California in 1982, and that this injection led to his death. According to Woodward, Robin Williams was on the scene at the time, and was "creeped out" by Smith, whom he thought to be a "lowlife". Belushi had been battling cocaine addiction for years. He was not a heroin addict, though he had used the drug infrequently before his death.
Released after initial questioning on the morning of Belushi's death, Smith spoke briefly to freelance writer Chris Van Ness. Then, two National Enquirer reporters, Tony Brenna and Larry Haley, spoke with her and published their lengthy in-person interviews with her under the headline: "I killed John Belushi. I didn't mean to, but I am responsible." This led to the charge against Smith in Belushi's murder and 13 counts of administering cocaine and heroin. The National Enquirer reporters refused to testify at the subsequent trial and were threatened with incarceration by Judge Brian Crahan; however, he later vacated the contempt order.
After her release by the police on March 5, Smith went to St. Louis on the advice of her lawyer, Robert Sheahen, to avoid reporters. Discovered there, she flew back to Los Angeles. Then she traveled to New York, and eventually returned to Toronto. Smith eventually returned to the United States, in June 1986 where she accepted a plea bargain by pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and several drug charges. She served 15 months in prison at California Institution for Women between December 1986 and March 1988. She was deported to Canada after release and moved to Toronto where she worked as a legal secretary and spoke to teenagers about the dangers of drugs.
Smith was arrested in July 1991 with two grams of heroin in her purse in Vancouver, British Columbia, for which she received a fine of CDN$2000 and 12 months' probation. She appeared in the E! television network show True Hollywood Story episode on Belushi's death which first aired in 1998.
- Cathy Smith: Chasing the Dragon (Key Porter Books, January 1984) ISBN 0-919493-50-5
- today.msnbc.msn.com : Gone 25 years, Belushi’s impact still felt
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