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
Influenced Chris Farley
Artie Lange
Spouse Judith 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 brash, energetic comedy style and raunchy humor. During his career he had a close personal and artistic partnership with fellow SNL comedian and author Dan Aykroyd.

Belushi died on March 5, 1982 in Hollywood, California after 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 Chicago. 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 he met his future wife, Judy Jacklin.

Career[edit]

Belushi's first big break as a comedian occurred in 1971, when he joined The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. He was cast in National Lampoon Lemmings, a parody of Woodstock, which played Off-Broadway in 1972 and showcased future Saturday Night Live (SNL) performers Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest.

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 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]

Belushi achieved national fame for his work on Saturday Night Live, which he joined as an original cast member in 1975. Between seasons of the show, he made one of his best-known movies, Animal House.

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.[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, and taking control of their television. During the opening of the SNL episode that aired on December 17, 1977, Belushi, while in character as himself, quipped, "I plan to be dead by the time I'm 30."[9] SNL also featured a short film by writer Tom Schiller called "Don't Look Back In Anger",[10] where Belushi, playing himself as an old man and the last-surviving SNL cast member, visits 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 Noble Rot, an adaptation of a script by former Mary Tyler Moore Show writer and producer Jay Sandrich entitled Sweet Deception.

Belushi recruited the band Fear and brought them to Cherokee Studios to record songs for the soundtrack of Neighbors, a film he and Aykroyd were starring in. 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. "John was a crazy guy, but a heavy drinker. At times, he would drink an entire fifth of Jack Daniel's in less than five minutes," Aykroyd commented. 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, 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.' I think what happened to John had a sobering effect on a lot of people, me included," said music producer Bruce Robb.

Death[edit]

On March 5, 1982, Bill Wallace found Belushi dead in his room, Bungalow 3 at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.[11] He was 33 years old. The cause of death was a cocaine and heroin overdose, 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.[12][13] 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, "Oh don't do that piece, are you kidding me? Get out, get away! Come 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 appeared. Belushi then refused to appear in Joy of Sex, then asked his manager Bernie Brillstein for $1,800 to buy what he claimed was 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. They dosed cocaine and John then went back to his apartment at the Marmont. Smith took some of the $1,800 to buy heroin. He then made four calls, first to Brillstein telling him he would 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 The Roxy Theatre and spent five hours there, making numerous trips to the bathroom where Smith started injecting multiple speedballs into Belushi's veins. They then went back to the Marmont where Belushi "threw up", passed out temporarily, smoked a joint with her, strummed a few chords on his guitar, and then had Smith inject one more speedball into him. 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 checked on Belushi one more time to find him snoring. Then at noon on March 5, Bill Wallace arrived with a typewriter which Belushi had requested for script writing. He found Belushi curled up on his right side in bed and not responsive or breathing. He called Brillstein and said, "We're in trouble, John is not breathing!" Brillstein then called 911 but Belushi was already dead.[14]

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.[15]

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.

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.[16] 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."[17] 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."[18]

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 performed the song "West L.A. Fadeaway" beginning in late 1982. The song, penned by long time lyricist Robert Hunter and sung by Jerry Garcia, contains fairly explicit references to Belushi's death, especially the line "Looking for a chateau, twenty-one rooms, but one will do." (referring to the Chateau Marmont, where Belushi died) and the line "little red light on the highway, big green light on the speedway" (referring to the fact that Belushi died from injecting a drug combination known as a "speedball", cocaine and heroin.) In addition, the "West LA Girl" referred to in the song as "hauling items for the mob" refers 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. [19] 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.[20]

His widow later remarried and is now Judith Belushi Pisano. Her biography (with co-biographer Tanner Colby) of John, Belushi: A Biography is a collection of first-person interviews and photographs, and 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.

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.[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Jim 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. ^ "Saturday Night Live: Season 3, Episode 8 "Saturday Night Live (SNL) December 17, 1977 - Miskel Spillman / Elvis Costello": Amazon Instant Video". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  10. ^ "SNL Archives | Episode 3.13 (#59)". Snl.jt.org. 1978-03-11. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  11. ^ 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 ..." 
  12. ^ Robin Williams. Television biography from the Biography Channel, July 7, 2006.
  13. ^ "John Belushi Dies at the Chateau Marmont" from franksreelreviews.com
  14. ^ The Final 24: John Belushi; Discovery Channel Documentary
  15. ^ "Figure in John Belushi Case Freed From California Prison". New York Times. 1988-03-17. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  16. ^ "Cape Cod History — 1982: John Belushi buried on the Vineyard", Retrieved 2011-07-20
  17. ^ "John Belushi (1949 - 1982) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  18. ^ Judith Belushi Pisano (2007). Belushi
  19. ^ "The Annotated "West L.A. Fadeaway"". Artsites.ucsc.edu. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  20. ^ Goldblatt, Henry (2008-05-07). "'Chris Farley Show' stuffed with gossip". CNN.com. Retrieved 2008-06-08. 
  21. ^ "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]