Belushi in 1973
|Birth name||John Adam Belushi|
January 24, 1949|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
March 5, 1982 (aged 33)|
Chateau Marmont, Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Abel's Hill Cemetery|
|Medium||Film, Television, Music, Stage|
|Alma mater||College of DuPage|
|Genres||Improvisational Comedy, Musical comedy, Physical comedy, Variety, Music|
Judith Jacklin Belushi
(m. 1976; his death 1982)
|Parent(s)||Adam and Agnes Belushi|
Jim Belushi (brother)|
Robert Belushi (nephew)
John Adam Belushi (January 24, 1949 – March 5, 1982) was an American comedian, actor, and singer. Belushi is best known for his "intense energy and raucous attitude" which he displayed as one of the seven original cast members of the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL). Throughout his career, Belushi had a close personal and artistic partnership with his fellow SNL star Dan Aykroyd, whom he met while they were both working at Chicago's The Second City comedy club.
Born in Chicago to Albanian American parents, Belushi started his own comedy troupe with Tino Insana and Steve Beshekas, called "The West Compass Trio", which was met with success. Belushi was offered a chance to perform with The Second City after being discovered by Bernard Sahlins. There, he met Brian Doyle-Murray and Harold Ramis. He also met Aykroyd, who would later become one of his close associates.
In 1975, Belushi was recommended to SNL creator/showrunner Lorne Michaels by Chevy Chase and Michael O'Donoghue, who accepted Belushi as a new cast member of the show after an audition. He developed a series of characters on the show that reached high success, including his notable performances such as Henry Kissinger and Ludwig van Beethoven. After his breakout and best-known film role as John "Bluto" Blutarsky, the lead in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), Belushi later took an interest in films such as 1941, The Blues Brothers, and Neighbors. He also pursued interests in music, creating with Aykroyd, Lou Marini, Tom Malone, Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Paul Shaffer, the Blues Brothers, from which the film received its name.
In his personal life, Belushi struggled with heavy drug use that affected his comedy career, and was dismissed and rehired by Michaels on several occasions due to his behavior. In 1982, Belushi died from combined drug intoxication caused by an injection of a heroin and cocaine mixture, known as a speedball. He was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004.
Belushi's mother, Agnes Demetri (Samaras), was the daughter of Albanian immigrants, and his father, Adam Anastos Belushi, was an Albanian emigrant from Qytezë. Born in Humboldt Park, a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois, John was raised in Wheaton, a suburb west of Chicago, along with his three siblings: younger brothers Billy and Jim, and sister Marian. Belushi was raised in the Albanian Orthodox Church and attended Wheaton Community High School, where he met his future wife, Judith Jacklin.
In 1965, Belushi formed a band, the Ravens, together with four fellow high school students (Dick Blasucci, Michael Blasucci, Tony Pavolonis, and Phil Special). They recorded one single, "Listen to Me Now"/"Jolly Green Giant". Belushi played drums and sang vocals. The record was not successful, and the band broke up when he enrolled at the College of DuPage.
The Second City and National Lampoon
Belushi started his own comedy troupe in Chicago, The West Compass Trio (named after the improvisational cabaret revue Compass Players active from 1955–1958 in Chicago), with Tino Insana and Steve Beshekas. Their success piqued the interest of Bernard Sahlins, the founder of The Second City improvised comedy enterprise, who went to see them performing in 1971 and immediately asked Belushi to join the cast. At Second City, he met and began working with Harold Ramis and Brian Doyle-Murray.
In 1972 Belushi was offered a role, together with Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest, in National Lampoon Lemmings, a parody of Woodstock, which played off Broadway in 1972. Belushi and Jacklin moved to New York City. Belushi started working as a writer, director and actor for The National Lampoon Radio Hour, a comedy radio show which was created, produced and written by staff from National Lampoon magazine. During a trip to Toronto to check out the local Second City cast in 1974, he met Dan Aykroyd. Jacklin became an associate producer for the show, and she and Belushi were married on December 31, 1976.
Saturday Night Live
In 1975 Chevy Chase and writer Michael O'Donoghue recommended Belushi to Lorne Michaels as a potential member for a television show Michaels was about to produce called Saturday Night a.k.a. Saturday Night Live (SNL). Michaels was initially undecided, as he was not sure if Belushi's physical humor would fit with what he was envisioning, but he changed his mind after giving Belushi an audition.
Over his four-year tenure at SNL, Belushi developed a series of successful characters, including the belligerent Samurai Futaba, Henry Kissinger, Ludwig van Beethoven, the Greek owner of the Olympia Café, Captain James T. Kirk, and a contributor of furious opinion pieces on Weekend Update, during which he coined his catchphrase, "But N-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O!" With Aykroyd, Belushi created Jake and Elwood, the Blues Brothers. Originally intended to warm up the crowd before the show, the Blues Brothers were eventually featured as music guests. Belushi also reprised his Lemmings imitation of Joe Cocker. Cocker himself joined Belushi in 1976 to sing Feeling Alright together.
Like many of his fellow SNL cast members, Belushi began experimenting heavily with drugs to deal with the constant pressure. His unpredictable temper caused him to be fired (and immediately re-hired) by Michaels a number of times. In Rolling Stone's February 2015 appraisal of all 141 SNL cast members to that time, Belushi received the top ranking. "Belushi was the 'live' in Saturday Night Live", they wrote, "the one who made the show happen on the edge ... Nobody embodied the highs and lows of SNL like Belushi."
Expansion into films
In 1978, he performed in the films Old Boyfriends (directed by Joan Tewkesbury), Goin' South (directed by Jack Nicholson), and Animal House (directed by John Landis). Upon its initial release, Animal House received generally mixed reviews from critics, but Time and Roger Ebert proclaimed it one of the year's best. Filmed for $2.8 million, it is one of the most profitable movies of all time, garnering an estimated gross of more than $141 million in the form of theatrical rentals and home video, not including merchandising. Animal House was also largely responsible for defining and launching the gross-out genre of films, which became one of Hollywood's staples.
Following the success of The Blues Brothers on SNL, Belushi and Aykroyd, with the help of pianist-arranger Paul Shaffer, started assembling studio talents to form a proper band. These included SNL saxophonist "Blue" Lou Marini and trombonist-saxophonist Tom Malone, who had previously played in Blood, Sweat & Tears. At Shaffer's suggestion, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, the powerhouse combo from Booker T and the M.G.'s and subsequently almost every hit out of Memphis's Stax Records during the 1960s, were signed as well. In 1978 The Blues Brothers released their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, with Atlantic Records. The album reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and went double platinum. Two singles were released, "Rubber Biscuit", which reached number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and "Soul Man", which reached number 14.
In 1979, Belushi left Saturday Night Live with Aykroyd to pursue a film career. They made three movies together, 1941 (directed by Steven Spielberg), Neighbors (directed by John Avildsen), and most notably The Blues Brothers (directed by John Landis). Released in the United States on June 20, 1980, The Blues Brothers received generally positive reviews. It earned just under $5 million in its opening weekend and went on to gross $115.2 million in theaters worldwide before its release on home video. The Blues Brothers band toured to promote the film, which led to a third album (and second live album), Made in America, recorded at the Universal Amphitheatre in 1980. The track "Who's Making Love" peaked at No 39.
The only film Belushi made without Aykroyd following his departure from SNL was the romantic comedy Continental Divide (directed by Michael Apted). Released in September 1981, it starred Belushi as Chicago home town hero writer Ernie Souchack (loosely based on newspaper columnist and long-time family friend Mike Royko), who gets an assignment researching a scientist (played by Blair Brown) who studies birds of prey in the remote Rocky Mountains.
By 1980, Belushi had become a fan and advocate of the punk rock band Fear after seeing them perform in several after-hours New York City bars, and brought them to Cherokee Studios to record songs for the soundtrack of Neighbors. Blues Brother band member and sax player Tom Scott, along with producing partner and Cherokee owner Bruce Robb, initially helped with the session but later pulled out due to conflicts with Belushi. The session was eventually produced by Steve Cropper.
At the time of his death, Belushi was pursuing several movie projects, including Moon Over Miami with Louis Malle, National Lampoon's The Joy of Sex with Penny Marshall, and Noble Rot with Jay Sandrich, based on a script he adapted and rewrote with former SNL writer Don Novello. He was also scheduled to work with Aykroyd on Ghostbusters and Spies Like Us.
Belushi also made a "Guest Star Appearance" on an episode of the television series Police Squad! (1982), which showed him underwater wearing cement shoes. He died shortly before the episode aired, so the scene was cut and replaced by a segment with William Conrad.
The day before Belushi's death, he visited his longtime manager Bernie Brillstein and asked for money. Brillstein said no, suspecting Belushi wanted money for drugs. Later in the day, when Brillstein had another visitor, Belushi returned and again asked for money. Brillstein complied, reluctant to rebuke Belushi in front of another person.
On March 5, 1982, upon arriving for a scheduled workout, Belushi's trainer Bill Wallace found him dead in Bungalow 3 at the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Belushi was 33 years old. The cause of death was combined drug intoxication involving cocaine and heroin, a drug combination 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, as well as Catherine Evelyn Smith. His death was investigated by forensic pathologist Michael Baden, among others, and, while the findings were disputed, it was officially ruled a drug-related accident.
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 Ontario, Canada, arrested, and charged with first-degree murder. A plea bargain reduced the charge to involuntary manslaughter, and she served 15 months in prison.
Belushi's wife arranged for a traditional Orthodox Christian funeral which was conducted by an Albanian Orthodox priest. He is interred at Abel's Hill Cemetery (a.k.a. Chilmark Cemetery) in Chilmark, Massachusetts on Martha's Vineyard. His tombstone has a skull and crossbones with the inscription, "I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on." His mother's tombstone at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois, has John's name inscribed on it and thus serves as a cenotaph.
Tributes, legacy, and popular culture
Belushi's life was detailed in the 1984 biography Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi by Bob Woodward and 1990's Samurai Widow by his wife Judith.
The thrash metal group Anthrax penned a song about Belushi on their 1987 album Among the Living, titled "Efilnikufesin (N.F.L.)." Polish rock band Lady Pank recorded a song "John Belushi" for their 1988 "Tacy sami" album, with references to his Albanian ancestry.
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), Michael Chiklis in Wired and John Gemberling in A Futile and Stupid Gesture. Future SNL star Chris Farley, whose humor was heavily influenced by Belushi, died in 1997 at age 33 due to a drug overdose, similar to combined drug intoxication, contributing to comparisons between Belushi and Farley.
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.
Belushi's career and death were prominently featured in the 1999 memoir of his manager Bernie Brillstein, who wrote that he was haunted by the comedian's overdose and learned how to better deal with clients who abuse drugs or alcohol from handling Belushi.
In 2004, Belushi was posthumously inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with a motion pictures star located at 6355 Hollywood Boulevard. In 2006, Biography Channel aired an episode of Final 24, a documentary following Belushi during the last twenty-four hours leading to his death. Four years later, Biography aired a full biography documentation of Belushi's life.
According to his SNL fellow, Jane Curtin, who appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2011, Belushi was a misogynist who would deliberately sabotage the work of women writers and comics while working on SNL. "So you'd go to a table read, and if a woman writer had written a piece for John, he would not read it in his full voice. He felt as though it was his duty to sabotage pieces written by women."
During the pre-production of Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman remarked Slimer was sort of like Bluto in the film Animal House, like the ghost of John Belushi. Since then, Slimer has been described as "The Ghost of John Belushi" by Dan Aykroyd in many interviews.
At the conclusion of the very first live SNL episode (Robert Urich/Mink DeVille on March 20, 1982) two weeks after Belushi's death, Brian Doyle-Murray gave a tribute to him. The ABC Network's similar sketch comedy series Fridays aired a live episode the night of Belushi's death. Just before the final credits rolled cast member Maryedith Burrell paid tribute to him by saying, "We're all going to miss John Belushi".
Belushi was scheduled to present the first annual Best Visual Effects Oscar at the 1982 Academy Awards with Dan Aykroyd. Aykroyd presented the award alone, and stated from the lectern: "My partner would have loved to have been here tonight to present this award, since he was a bit of a Visual Effect himself."
In 2015, Belushi was ranked by Rolling Stone as the greatest SNL cast member of all time.
- Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle (1975) – Craig Baker (English version, voice)
- National Lampoon's Animal House (1978) – John Blutarsky
- Goin' South (1978) – Deputy Hector
- Old Boyfriends (1979) – Eric Katz
- 1941 (1979) – Capt. Wild Bill Kelso
- The Blues Brothers (1980) – "Joliet" Jake Blues
- Continental Divide (1981) – Ernie Souchak
- Neighbors (1981) – Earl Keese (final film role)
- Saturday Night Live (1975–1979) (1980, 1981) (TV) – guest-appearances
- The Beach Boys: It's OK (1976) (TV) – Cop #2
- The Richard Pryor Special? (1977) (TV) – cameo appearance
- The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978) (TV film) – Ron Decline, The most feared promoter in the world
- National Lampoon Lemmings (1973) (Stage)
- The National Lampoon Radio Hour (1973–1974) (Radio) (also Creative Director)
- The National Lampoon Show (1975) (Stage)
- Listen to Me Now/Jolly Green Giant (Alonas Dream Records, 1965) (with the Ravens)
- National Lampoon's Lemmings (Blue Thumb Records, 1973) (bass guitar, lead vocals on Lonely At The Bottom)
- Old Boyfriends: Original Soundtrack (Columbia, 1978) (lead vocals on Jailhouse Rock, You Belong to Me, Get Up and Down and Tush)
- National Lampoon's Animal House: Original Soundtrack (Universal, 1978) (lead vocals on Money (That's What I Want) and Louie Louie)
- Briefcase Full of Blues (Atlantic, 1978) US #1 (with the Blues Brothers)
- The Blues Brothers: Music from the Soundtrack (Atlantic, 1980) US #13 (with the Blues Brothers)
- Made in America (Atlantic, 1980) US #49 (with the Blues Brothers)
- Best of The Blues Brothers (Atlantic, 1981) US #143 (with the Blues Brothers)
- Dancin' wid da Blues Brothers (Atlantic, 1983) (with the Blues Brothers)
- Everybody Needs the Blues Brothers (Atlantic, 1988) (with the Blues Brothers)
- The Definitive Collection (Atlantic, 1992) (with the Blues Brothers)
- The Very Best of The Blues Brothers (Atlantic, 1995) (with the Blues Brothers)
- The Blues Brothers Complete (Atlantic, 2000) (with the Blues Brothers)
- The Essentials (Atlantic, 2003) (with the Blues Brothers)
- Neighbors (Fear Records, 2015) (with Fear)
- The Missing White House Tapes (National Lampoon, 1974)
- National Lampoon Gold Turkey (National Lampoon, 1975)
- NBC's Saturday Night Live (Arista, 1976)
- National Lampoon That's Not Funny, That's Sick (National Lampoon, 1977)
- Greatest Hits of the National Lampoon (National Lampoon, 1978)
- National Lampoon White Album (National Lampoon, 1979).
- The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise
- Olympia Café
- List of deaths from drug overdose and intoxication
- Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Pat (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Popular Press. pp. 78–. ISBN 9780879728212. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
- Sellers, Robert (May 20, 2010). An A-Z of Hellraisers: A Comprehensive Compendium of Outrageous Insobriety. Random House. pp. 53–. ISBN 9781409051008. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
- Marion, Nancy E; Oliver, Willard M. (December 16, 2014). Drugs in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law. ABC-CLIO. pp. 224–. ISBN 9781610695961. Retrieved May 28, 2015.
- "John Belushi". NBC.com. Archived from the original on February 6, 2009.
- "60 Books Of The Times; Close-Up Of John Belushi". The New York Times.[permanent dead link]
- "'The National Lampoon Radio Hour'". NPR. November 17, 2003.
- Epstein, Lawrence Jeffrey (2004). Mixed Nuts: America's Love Affair with Comedy Teams : from Burns and Allen to Belushi and Aykroyd. PublicAffairs. pp. 223–. ISBN 9781586481902. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
- Parish, James Robert (January 6, 2011). The Hollywood Book of Extravagance: The Totally Infamous, Mostly Disastrous, and Always Compelling Excesses of America's Film and TV Idols. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 102–. ISBN 9781118039021. Retrieved September 10, 2014.
- "'Saturday Night Live': All 145 Cast Members Ranked". Rolling Stone (1229): 32. February 26, 2015. Retrieved February 3, 2018.
- In his biography of Belushi, Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi, Bob Woodward learned, from the numerous interviews he conducted, that Belushi recruited Cropper and Dunn by "alternating good-natured jokes and hard sell."
- Evans, Bradford (March 3, 2011). "The Lost Roles of John Belushi". Splitsider.
- "John Belushi". IMDb.
- Bernie Brillstein, Where Did I Go Right? You're No One in Hollywood Unless Someone Wants You Dead (1999, Little, Brown and Company)
- McFadden, Robert D. (March 6, 1982). "John Belushi, Manic Comic of TV and Films Dies". The 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 ...
- "Robin Williams". Biography. Biography Channel. July 7, 2006.
- "John Belushi Dies at the Chateau Marmont". franksreelreviews.com.
- "PATHOLOGIST CITES HEROIN IN DEATH OF BELUSHI". The New York Times. September 19, 1985.
- "John Belushi's Find-A-Grave memorial".
- "John Belushi's Find-A-Grave cenotaph memorial".
- Prato, Prato (February 26, 2013). "Songfacts Interview with Charlie Benante by Greg Prato". Songfacts.com. Retrieved January 31, 2016.
- Goldblatt, Henry (May 7, 2008). "'Chris Farley Show' stuffed with gossip". CNN.com. Retrieved June 8, 2008.
- Brillstein, 1999
- "Hollywood Walk of Fame – John Belushi". walkoffame.com. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved November 16, 2017.
- Huffingtonpost, Huffingtonpost (May 7, 2008). "John Belushi A Misogynist". Huffingtonpost. Retrieved June 8, 2008.
- Shay, Don (November 1985). Making Ghostbusters, p. 78 annotation. New York Zoetrope, New York NY USA, ISBN 0918432685. Joe Medjuck says: "One day, during preproduction, we were all sitting around talking about the Onionhead concept, and Ivan remarked that the character was sort of like Bluto in Animal House – like the ghost of John Belushi, in a way, Danny, who was obviously a good friend of John's, never argued with that. Even so, we never officially said that and we never mentioned it in the script. It was just one way to look at the character, because Onionhead's grossness is like Bluto's in Animal House. We certainly never expected anyone to recognize him as such, although somehow the word did get out and we received some calls from a few newspapers saying they'd heard we had the ghost of John Belushi in our movie."
- "81n: Robert Urich / Mink De Ville". Saturday Night Live Transcripts.
- Sheffield, Rob (February 11, 2015). "'Saturday Night Live': All 141 Cast Members Ranked". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
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