Second City photo of Belushi in 1973
|Born||John Adam Belushi
January 24, 1949
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||March 5, 1982
Hollywood, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Combined drug intoxication|
|Resting place||Abel's Hill Cemetery|
|Residence||West Village, Manhattan, U.S.|
|Alma mater||College of DuPage|
|Occupation||Comedian, actor, musician|
|Known for||Original cast member of Saturday Night Live, Animal House, The Blues Brothers|
|Judith Jacklin Belushi (m. 1976; his death 1982)|
|Parent(s)||Adam and Agnes Belushi|
|Relatives||Jim Belushi and Billy Belushi (brothers), Marian Belushi Miles (sister), Robert Belushi (nephew)|
|Medium||Film, Television, Music, Stage|
|Genres||Improvisational Comedy, Musical comedy, Physical comedy, Variety, Music|
John Adam Belushi (; January 24, 1949 - March 5, 1982) was an American comedian, actor and musician. 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.
On March 5, 1982, Belushi was found dead in his hotel room at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, having been injected with a "speedball", a mixture of heroin and cocaine. 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 immigrant 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 in 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 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 together to New York, where he started working as a writer, director and actor for National Lampoon magazine's The National Lampoon Radio Hour, a half-hour syndicated comedy program. During a trip to Toronto to check 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 Live (SNL). Michaels was initially unsure 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 on The Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise 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 imitation of Joe Cocker from Lemmings. Cocker himself joined Belushi in 1976 and they sang together Feeling Alright.
Like many of his SNL fellow 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 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 made 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.
On March 5, 1982, after showing up at his hotel for a scheduled workout, his trainer Bill Wallace found Belushi dead in his room, Bungalow 3 at the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. He was 33 years old. The cause of death was combined drug intoxication involving 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, 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 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 skull and crossbones, that reads, "I may be gone but Rock and Roll lives on." He is also 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."
Belushi's life is 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), and Michael Chiklis in Wired. Future SNL star Chris Farley, whose work 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.
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 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.
According to Jane Curtin, who appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2011, John 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.
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.
On May 23, 2016, cable network Showtime announced that a documentary directed by filmmaker R. J. Cutler and produced by British documentary producer John Battsek is in pre-production and will begin filming in fall 2016.
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 ...