John Belushi

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John Belushi
John Belushi.jpg
Belushi in Animal House, 1978
Birth name John Adam Belushi
Born (1949-01-24)January 24, 1949
Humboldt Park, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died March 5, 1982(1982-03-05) (aged 33)
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Medium
Years active 1971–1982
Genres Comedy
Music
Influenced Chris Farley
Artie Lange
Horatio Sanz
Spouse Judith Jacklin Belushi (1976–82; his death)
Parent(s) Adam Belushi (father)
Agnes Belushi (mother)
Relative(s) James Belushi (brother)

John Adam Belushi (/bəˈlʃi/; January 24, 1949 – March 5, 1982) was an American comedian, actor, and musician. He is best known as one of the original cast members of the hit NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live. The older brother of James "Jim" Belushi, he was known for his daring and energetic comedy style and his magnetic, larger than life personality. During his career he had a close personal and artistic partnership with fellow SNL actor and author Dan Aykroyd.

Belushi died on the morning of March 5, 1982 in Hollywood, California at the Chateau Marmont, after being injected with and accidentally overdosing on a mixture of cocaine and heroin (a "speedball") at the age of 33. He was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on April 1, 2004.

Early life[edit]

John Belushi was born in Humboldt Park, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. His mother, Agnes Demetri (Samaras), was the daughter of Albanian immigrants, and his father, Adam Anastos Belushi, was an Albanian immigrant, from Qytezë.[1][2] John was raised in Wheaton, a Chicago suburb, along with his three siblings: younger brothers Billy and Jim and his sister, Marian.[3][4][5][6] The family's name at the time of immigration was Belliors, or Bellios.[6] Belushi was raised in the Albanian Orthodox church. He attended Wheaton Central High School, where in addition to meeting his future wife, Judith Jacklin, was voted prom king, most popular and was captain of the Varsity football team

Early Career[edit]

Belushi's first big break as an actor occurred in 1971, when he joined The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. Here he studied under Del Close, whom most credit with molding him into the unrelenting physical performer he later became. He was cast in National Lampoon Lemmings. A revue centred around a fictional event, 'Woodshuck- A Concert for Peace, Love and Death' a parody of Woodstock, in which one million young people gathered to commit mass suicide. It was performed Off-Broadway in 1973 and featured future Saturday Night Live (SNL) performers and writers Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest and Anne Beatts performing original music in the vain of several popular artists. Among the contemporary musical acts parodied were John Denver (with the song 'Colorado'), Bob Dylan (with the song 'Positively Wall Street') and James Taylor (with the song ' Highway Toes'). Along with co-writing and serving as the MC of the production, it was here that Belushi created and perfected his Joe Cocker impersonation (with the song 'Lonely at the Bottom of the Barrel') that he'd perform to great acclaim on Saturday Night Live, two years later.

In 1973, Belushi and Jacklin moved together to New York. From 1973 to 1975, National Lampoon magazine aired The National Lampoon Radio Hour, a half-hour comedy program syndicated across the country on approximately 600 stations. Belushi was a regular player on the show. Other players included future SNL regulars Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, Christopher Guest and Chevy Chase. Jacklin became an associate producer for the show, and she and Belushi were married on December 31, 1976. A number of comic segments first performed on The Radio Hour were transformed into SNL sketches in the show's early seasons.

1975–1979[edit]

In late 1974, under then programming director Dick Ebersol, rookie Canadian television producer Lorne Michaels, began casting for his new NBC late night program, 'Saturday Night'. Belushi was suggested to Michaels by fellow Second City alum and first hired cast member, Gilda Radner. Despite initial hesitation and concerns by Michaels that Belushi was "too wild and unpredictable" to be trusted in a live setting on national television (as well as outspoken objections by newly hired series writer and fellow former National Lampoon player, Chevy Chase), after auditioning the then 25 year old actor, he was hired for the inaugural season.

Throughout his relatively short 4 year run on the show, John is responsible for some of the most memorable sketches ('Little Chocolate Donuts', 'The Final Days', Olympia Cafe) and characters (Henry Kissinger, Marlon Brando's Godfather, Killer Bees, Beethoven, Jake Blues) in the shows 39 year history. As well as Samurai Futaba, Saturday Night Live's very first reoccurring character.

When interviewed for retrospectives on John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd told stories of John, exhausted after finishing SNL rehearsals, shows or film shoots, often simply walking unannounced into nearby homes of friends or strangers, scrounging around for food and often falling asleep, unable to be located for the following day's work, earning the nickname "America's Guest".[7] This was the impetus for the SNL horror-spoof sketch "The Thing That Wouldn't Leave,"[8] in which Belushi torments a couple (played by Jane Curtin and Bill Murray) in their home looking for snacks, newspapers and magazines to read, making long-distance phone calls and taking control of their television. SNL also featured a short film by writer Tom Schiller called "Don't Look Back In Anger",where Belushi, playing himself as a 90 year old man and the last-surviving SNL cast member, visits then dances on the graves of his now-former cast members.

Belushi left Saturday Night Live in 1979 to pursue a film career. Belushi made four more movies; three of them, 1941, Neighbors, and most notably The Blues Brothers, were made with fellow SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd.

Other movie projects[edit]

Dan Aykroyd wrote the roles of Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters and Emmett Fitz-Hume in Spies Like Us with Belushi in mind. The roles were eventually played by Belushi's former SNL castmates Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, respectively.

Released in September 1981, the romantic comedy Continental Divide starred Belushi as Chicago home town hero writer Ernie Souchack, who gets put on assignment researching a scientist studying birds of prey in the remote Rocky Mountains.

At the time of his death, Belushi was pursuing several movie projects, including "Moons Over Miami" and "Noble Rot". While the first was being shopped around to different studios and producers, the latter was a script that had been adapted and extensively rewritten by himself and (mostly) former Saturday Night Live writer, Don Novello in the weeks leading up to his death.

Starting in 1980, after seeing them perform in several after hours New York City bars, Belushi had become a fan and advocate of the punk rock band Fear and brought them to Cherokee Studios to record songs for the soundtrack of what turned out to be his final film,' Neighbors. Cherokee Studios was a regular haunt for the original Blues Brothers back in the early days of the band. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd became fixtures at the recording studio, while fellow Blues Brother and guitar player Steve Cropper called Cherokee his producing home. Whenever they needed a bass player, they were joined by another Blues Brother, Donald "Duck" Dunn. During this time Cropper, along with producing partner and Cherokee owner Bruce Robb, worked on a number of music projects with the two comedian/musicians, including the band Fear and later Aykroyd's movie Dragnet. "What can I say? John was excessively talented, and I guess you could say he sort of lived life 'excessively", said music producer Bruce Robb. "I think what happened to John had a sobering effect on a lot of people, me included."

Death[edit]

On March 5, 1982, after showing up at his hotel for a scheduled workout, Bill Wallace found Belushi dead in his room, Bungalow 3 at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.[9] He was 33 years old. The cause of death was an overdose of cocaine and heroin, a drug combination also known as a speedball. In the early morning hours on the day of his death, he was visited separately by friends Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, each of whom left the premises, leaving Belushi in the company of assorted others, including Catherine Evelyn Smith.[10][11] His death was investigated by forensic pathologist Dr. Ryan Norris among others, and while the findings were disputed, it was officially ruled a drug-related accident.

A day before Belushi's death he was being pressured by Paramount Pictures head of production Michael Eisner to star in the film National Lampoon's Joy of Sex. During the meeting his best friend Dan Aykroyd called and advised him not to do it because he felt that they were just using him as a vehicle to get this picture made and make it successful since Belushi was a bankable star. Aykroyd said, "Dont do it. Get out, get away! Come back home, it's the spring, something will happen over the summer or fall". Aykroyd was writing Ghostbusters at the time, a film in which Belushi would have starred. Belushi then refused to appear in Joy of Sex, then asked his manager Bernie Brillstein for $1,800, claiming it would be used to buy Bill Haley's guitar; the funds were used to purchase the heroin which was a contributing factor in his death. After Belushi left the meeting, he went to a friend's house where Smith happened to be. At Belushi's request, Smith injected him with cocaine and then went with John back to his room at the Marmont. Smith took $600 of the $1,800 to buy heroin. He then made four calls, first to Brillstein telling him that he had decided to do 'The Joy of Sex' after all, the second to Eisner telling him the same thing, the third to Jeff Katzenberg (Eisner's senior vice president at Paramount) to arrange a meeting for the film on that Friday and also to give him a wake up call at noon (which was an atypical Belushi move to him), and lastly to Smith to find out the status of the heroin. They then went to both The Roxy, a bar on the Sunset Strip and then 'On The Rox', an ultra exclusive lounge located directly upstairs. Smith, Belushi and one other guest spent five hours there, making numerous trips to the bathroom where Smith started injecting multiple cocaine shots into Belushi's veins. He ate a final meal of lentil soup. They then went back to the Marmont where Smith began to give Belushi injections of heroin, along with the injections of cocaine. Belushi vomited then passed out temporarily. After he woke up, he smoked a joint with her, strummed a few chords on his guitar, and then had Smith give him at least two more combination cocaine/heroin injections. He then complained of being cold, so she put Belushi to bed and turned the heat on. She ordered coffee and toast from room service and then reportedly checked on Belushi one more time to find him snoring. She later told police that at 10:30am, she checked on Belushi for the final time. She said she noticed he was "breathing funny". After asking him if he was alright, Belushi said "Please don't leave me.". Despite this, Smith told him that she was taking his car out but assured him that she would be back soon and that he should get some sleep. Before leaving, Smith removed any drugs from the room, in fear that they would be discovered by a maid while the room was being cleaned. Then at 12:45 pm, Bill Wallace arrived with a typewriter which Belushi had requested for script writing. He found Belushi in bed, curled up on his right side in bed, discolored and not responsive or breathing. After throwing Belushi onto the floor and attempting CPR, he first called Brillstein and said, "We're in trouble, John is not breathing!" While Wallace continued in vain to revive his friend, Brillstein called 911 but Belushi was already dead.[12]

Two months later, Smith admitted in an interview with the National Enquirer that she had been with Belushi the night of his death and had given him the fatal speedball shot. After the appearance of the article "I Killed Belushi" in the Enquirer edition of June 29, 1982, the case was reopened. Smith was extradited from Toronto, Ontario, arrested and charged with first-degree murder. A plea bargain reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter, and she served fifteen months in prison.[13]

Shortly before Belushi's death, he appeared in a cameo for the comedy series Police Squad! At the suggestion of the show's producer, Robert K. Weiss, Belushi was filmed face down in a swimming pool, playing dead. The footage was part of a running gag wherein an episode's special guest star would not survive past the opening credits without meeting some gruesome end. The scene was cut after his death and the footage is believed to have been lost.

Belushi and his friend Dan Aykroyd were slated to present the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects at the 54th Academy Awards, an event held less than four weeks after his death. On stage that night, Aykroyd told the crowd, "My partner would've loved to be here tonight... he was a something of a visual effect himself."

Belushi was slated to appear on the Canadian comedy show Second City Television (SCTV), which was by then being shown on NBC in the United States, but according to Dave Thomas, one of whose best-known characters on SCTV was Doug McKenzie in the "Great White North" sketches, they were "planning him into their set, when suddenly, they received a phone call that Belushi had died in his hotel room. We stopped our work and just stared at each other, not being able to believe what had happened. John Candy began to cry, for Belushi as a friend, but also because it, to him, signaled the end of that era of comedy TV, now that one of their greats was dead." The segments he was to be in were scrapped, and the show continued without him. An earlier SCTV sketch had starred Tony Rosato as Belushi.

Belushi's wife arranged for a traditional Orthodox Christian funeral which was conducted by an Albanian Orthodox priest.[14] She also recruited the couples good friend, James Taylor who postponed the European leg of his current tour to come and sing his haunting ballad, 'That Lonesome Road' at the morning gravesite service. He has been interred twice at Abel's Hill Cemetery in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. A tombstone marking the original burial location has a New England classic slate design, complete with skull and crossbones, that reads, "I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on."[15] An unmarked tombstone in an undisclosed location marks the final burial location. He also is remembered on the Belushi family stone marking his mother's grave at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois. This stone reads, "HE GAVE US LAUGHTER."[16]

Tributes and legacy[edit]

Belushi as a senior in high school, 1967.

Belushi's life is detailed in the 1984 biography Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi by Bob Woodward. Many friends and relatives of Belushi, including his widow, Judy, Dan Aykroyd and James Belushi, agreed to be interviewed at length for the book, but later felt the final product was exploitative and not representative of the John Belushi they knew. The book was later adapted into a feature film in which Belushi was played by Michael Chiklis. Belushi's friends and family boycotted the film, the publicity from which helped cause the movie to be a box-office flop. The Grateful Dead started performing the song "West L.A. Fadeaway" beginning in October of 1982. The song, penned by band members Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter contains what appear to be references to Belushi's death, including the lines "Looking for a chateau, twenty-one rooms, but one will do," (possibly referring to the Chateau Marmont, where Belushi died) and the "little red light on the highway, big green light on the speedway," (possibly referring to the fact that Belushi died from injecting a drug combination of cocaine and heroin known as a "speedball"). In addition, the "West LA Girl" referred to in the song as "hauling items for the mob" may refer to Cathy Smith, rumored to have given John the fatal injection and to have mob connections that spawned a few conspiracy theories questioning if the overdose was actually accidental. Also, the lyrics "Said you treat other people right, other people probably treat you cool" is in reference to a quote given by Cathy Smith. When she was questioned by the LAPD the day of his death, she said "I really liked how he talked to his wife, always treated her right; called her everyday to say he loved her and all of that." [17] Although on August 2, 2014, at a concert in New York City, Robert Hunter denied that the song was written about Belushi's death, the majority of the songs lyrics were written by Jerry Garcia. Before his death, John had befriended Jerry. He along with Dan Aykroyd, in an early incarnation of the Blues Brothers, performed live onstage with the Grateful Dead in New York on at least one occasion. Because of this on and offstage friendship, which spanned at least 3 years, most experts agree that the song is indeed an ode to Belushi's demise. [18]

When Belushi passed away, his writing partner Dan Aykroyd was working on their latest joint project. The then underdeveloped futuristic, paranormal thriller, Ghostbusters was set to star Aykroyd, Belushi and a relatively unknown 20 year old actor, Eddie Murphy, who had just begun his second season at SNL. After Belushi's death, fellow SNL alum Bill Murray was cast in his place. And while Belushi couldn't himself be in the film, both Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis have been quoted as saying the personality of the ghost, Slimer, was developed with Johns mannerisms and essence in mind.

Belushi has been portrayed by actors Eric Siegel in Gilda Radner: It's Always Something, Tyler Labine in Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy (which also features his friendship with Robin Williams), and Michael Chiklis in Wired. Chris Farley, whose work was influenced by Belushi, also died at age 33 due to a drug overdose, contributing to comparisons between Belushi and Farley.[19]

His widow later remarried and is now Judith Belushi Pisano. She and co-biographer Tanner Colby produced Belushi: A Biography, a collection of first-person interviews and photographs of John Belushi's life that was published in 2005.

In 2004, Belushi was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, after a ten-year lobbying effort by James Belushi and Judith Belushi Pisano. Among those present at the ceremony were Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, and Tom Arnold. In 2006, Biography Channel aired the "John Belushi" episode of Final 24, a documentary following Belushi in the last twenty-four hours leading to his death. In 2010, Biography aired a full biography documentation of Belushi's life.

After years of difficulty with casting, a biopic of John Belushi's life is currently in preproduction. As of October 2013, Emile Hirsch is slated to portray Belushi and as of January 2014, Ellen Page and Miles Teller are reportedly signed on to portray his widow, Judith Belushi Pisano (whose 2005 oral history biography 'Belushi: A Biography' will serve as foundation for the film) and Dan Aykroyd, respectively. The project is to be directed by Steve Conrad.

Credits[edit]

SNL characters[edit]

  • Samurai Futaba
  • Captain Ned, one of Miles Cowperthwaite's cronies
  • Jacob Papageorge alias "Joliet" Jake Blues, from the Blues Brothers
  • Jeff Widette, from the Widettes
  • Kevin (from The Mall sketches)
  • Kuldorth (from The Coneheads)
  • Larry Farber (one half of the Farber couple (the wife, Bobbi, was played by Gilda Radner))
  • Lowell Brock, from the H&L Brock commercials
  • Matt Cooper, from the Land Shark sketches
  • Pete, from the Olympia Cafe
  • Steve Beshekas (who in real life was a good friend of Belushi's since community college)
  • Frank Leary, one of St. Mickey's Knights of Columbus

Controversy[edit]

Jane Curtin, who had worked with Belushi in his SNL days, had accused him of being "sexist" while dealing with women scriptwriters on the show during the 1970s. She made her comments during her appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in April 2011.[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jderereim Belushi Biography". Jimbelushi.ws. 1954-06-15. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  2. ^ http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/m/a/h/Denny-Mahoney/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0529.html
  3. ^ Belushi's SNL Bio from NBC.com
  4. ^ John Belushi Biography (1949–1982) from filmreference.com
  5. ^ Books Of The Times; Close-Up Of John Belushi from the New York Times
  6. ^ a b Before They Were Belushis (or Blues Brothers) from genealogywise.com
  7. ^ Judith Belushi Pisano/Tanner Colby (2005). Belushi (p. 188).
  8. ^ "SNL Archives | Episode 3.15 (#61)". Snl.jt.org. 1978-03-25. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  9. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (March 6, 1982). "John Belushi, Manic Comic of TV and Films Dies.". New York Times. Retrieved September 25, 2007. "John Belushi, the manic, rotund comedian whose outrageous antics and spastic impersonations on the Saturday Night Live television show propelled him to stardom in the 1970s, was found dead yesterday in a rented bungalow in Hollywood, where he had launched a film career in recent years. The 33-year-old actor ..." 
  10. ^ Robin Williams. Television biography from the Biography Channel, July 7, 2006.
  11. ^ "John Belushi Dies at the Chateau Marmont" from franksreelreviews.com
  12. ^ The Final 24: John Belushi; Discovery Channel Documentary
  13. ^ "Figure in John Belushi Case Freed From California Prison". New York Times. 1988-03-17. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  14. ^ At her request, the couples good friend James Taylor put his European tour on hold, flew to Martha's Vineyard and sang 'That Lonesome Road' at the early moring gravesite service."Cape Cod History — 1982: John Belushi buried on the Vineyard", Retrieved 2011-07-20
  15. ^ "John Belushi (1949 - 1982) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  16. ^ Judith Belushi Pisano (2007). Belushi
  17. ^ "The Annotated "West L.A. Fadeaway"". Artsites.ucsc.edu. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  18. ^ "Robert Hunter Live at City Winery on 2014-08-02 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". 
  19. ^ Goldblatt, Henry (2008-05-07). "'Chris Farley Show' stuffed with gossip". CNN.com. Retrieved 2008-06-08. 
  20. ^ "John Belushi A Misogynist? Jane Curtin Tells Oprah Star Sabotaged Women's Work". The Huffington Post. 2011-04-13. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 

External links[edit]