Belushi in 1967
John Adam Belushi
January 24, 1949
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||March 5, 1982 (aged 33)|
|Cause of death||Combined drug intoxication|
|Resting place||Abel's Hill Cemetery|
|Alma mater||College of DuPage|
|Known for||One of seven original cast members of Saturday Night Live|
Judith Jacklin Belushi (m. 1976)
|Relatives||Jim Belushi (brother)|
Billy Belushi (brother)
Marian Miles (sister)
Robert Belushi (nephew)
|Awards||Hollywood Walk of Fame (2004, posthumously)|
|Medium||Film, television, music, stage|
|Genres||Improvisational comedy, musical comedy, physical comedy, variety|
John Adam Belushi (January 24, 1949 - March 5, 1982) was an American comedian, actor, singer, and 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 successful comedy troupe with Tino Insana and Steve Beshekas, called "The West Compass Trio". Belushi performed with The Second City after Bernard Sahlins discovered him. He met Brian Doyle-Murray and Harold Ramis there and also met Aykroyd, who would later become one of his close associates.
In 1975, Belushi was recommended to SNL creator and 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 performances as Henry Kissinger and Ludwig van Beethoven. After his breakout film role as John "Bluto" Blutarsky in National Lampoon's Animal House (1978), Belushi later appeared 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; he was dismissed and rehired by Michaels on several occasions due to his behavior. In 1982, Belushi died from combined drug intoxication caused by a woman who injected him with a mixture of heroin and cocaine 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, Belushi 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 Central 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.
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 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.
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, later 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 in order to deal with the constant pressure of comedy. His unpredictable temper caused him to be fired (and immediately re-hired) by Michaels a number of times. In Rolling Stones 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."
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 [clarify] 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.
"Belushi spent his final week in the environs of Hollywood's Sunset Strip," says Biography.com. "By the time he checked in at the front desk of the Chateau Marmont on the night of February 28, 1982, Belushi was 'a time bomb, a waste site, a mess. Sweaty, flabby, edgy, pale, disheveled, worn to a stump at 33,' author Shawn Levy writes in The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art and Scandal at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont.
"Struggling to get his movie career back on track following lackluster critical and box office reception to recent roles in Continental Divide and Neighbors, Belushi had ensconced himself in bungalow number three in order to work on the script for, and take meetings about Noble Rot, a romantic comedy set in the early years of the California wine industry. But the work was not going well, according to Levy's book, and Paramount was keen for him to do a film based on The Joy of Sex before Noble Rot. Belushi's attention span was limited and his speech often incoherent, his clothes were dirty and he appeared unbathed, his bungalow was in a constant state of disarray."
The day before he died, Belushi visited his long-time 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.
At approximately noon Pacific Standard Time on Friday, March 5, 1982, Belushi's fitness trainer and occasional bodyguard Bill Wallace arrived at bungalow number three of the Chateau Marmont to deliver a typewriter and audiocassette recorder to Belushi, who had requested that he do so. Wallace found him dead, and no one else was present in the bungalow. 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.
In an interview with the National Enquirer two months later, Smith admitted 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 National Enquirer edition of June 29, 1982, the case was reopened. Smith was arrested, extradited from Ontario, Canada, 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 that was conducted by an Albanian Orthodox priest. He was interred at Abel's Hill 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 Belushi's name inscribed on it and thus serves as a cenotaph.
Six years after Belushi died, a book by actress Elizabeth Taylor was published in which she referred to a 1978 Weekend Update segment in which Belushi had appeared in drag to ridicule her obesity in light of a then-current (1978) news report of her almost choking to death on a chicken bone at a public event. "How sad that that man went to such great lengths to satirize my excesses and then died of his own."
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 album Tacy sami, 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. Chris Farley, whose life was heavily influenced by Belushi, died in 1997 at age 33 due to a drug overdose, similar to combined drug intoxication, which contribute to the 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 first live SNL episode after Belushi's death (Robert Urich/Mink DeVille on March 20, 1982), 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.
|1975||Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle||Craig Baker||English version, Voice|
|1978||National Lampoon's Animal House||John Blutarsky|
|Goin' South||Deputy Hector|
|1979||Old Boyfriends||Eric Katz|
|1941||Capt. Wild Bill Kelso|
|1980||The Blues Brothers||"Joliet" Jake Blues|
|1981||Continental Divide||Ernie Souchak|
|Neighbors||Earl Keese||(final film role)|
|1975-1979||Saturday Night Live||Various roles||78 episodes; also writer|
|1976||The Beach Boys: It's OK||Cop #2||TV movie; also writer|
|1978||The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash||Ron Decline||TV movie|
|1973||National Lampoon Lemmings||Stage|
|1973-1974||The National Lampoon Radio Hour||Radio, also Creative Director|
|1975||The National Lampoon Show||Stage|