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John Belushi

John Belushi
Belushi at Second City, 1973
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 Film
Years active 1971–1982
Genres Musical comedy, Physical comedy, Improvisational Comedy, Variety, 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 for his "intense energy and raucous attitude"[1] which he displayed as one of the original cast members of the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, in his role in the film Animal House and in his recordings and performances as one of The Blues Brothers.

During his career he had a close personal and artistic partnership with fellow SNL actor and writer Dan Aykroyd whom he met while they were both working at Chicago's Second City comedy club.[2]

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

File:John Belushi HS Yearbook.jpeg
Belushi as a senior in high school, 1967

John Belushi was born in Humboldt Park, a neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago, Illinois. His mother, Agnes Demetri (Samaras), was the daughter of Albanian immigrants, and his father, Adam Anastos Belushi, was an Albanian immigrant,[3] from Qytezë. John was raised in Wheaton, a Chicago suburb, along with his three siblings: younger brothers Billy and Jim and his sister, Marian.[4][5] Belushi was raised in the Albanian Orthodox Church. He attended Wheaton Central High School where he met his future wife, Judith Jacklin.

Early career

After starting his own comedy troupe, The West Compass Trio, with Tino Insana and Steve Beshekas, in 1971 Belushi was asked to join the cast of The Second City.[2] At Second City, he met and began working with Harold Ramis.[2] He was subsequently cast with Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest in National Lampoon Lemmings,[1] a parody of Woodstock, which played Off-Broadway in 1972.

In 1973, Belushi and Judith Jacklin moved together to New York where Belushi worked for National Lampoon magazine's The National Lampoon Radio Hour, a half-hour syndicated comedy program where he was a writer, director and actor. During a trip to Toronto to check the local Second City cast in 1974, he met Dan Aykroyd.[1] Jacklin became an associate producer for the show, and she and Belushi were married on December 31, 1976.


Belushi became an original cast member of the new television show Saturday Night Live (SNL) in 1975.[1] His most memorable characters at SNL included belligerent Samurai Futaba,[1] and an imitation of British singer Joe Cocker that was so accurate Cocker himself briefly believed Belushi was lip synching to a Cocker vocal track rather than singing live.[6] With Aykroyd, Belushi created the characters Jake and Elwood Blues, also known as The Blues Brothers.[7]

During his tenure at SNL, Belushi was heavily using drugs and alcohol which affected his performance and caused SNL to fire him (and promptly re-hire him) a number of times.[8]

Following Chevy Chase's departure from the show in 1976, Belushi gained a more prominent role and his talent became in considerable demand. 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.[9]

Following the success of The Blues Brothers on the show, Belushi and Aykroyd, with the help of pianist-arranger Paul Shaffer, started assembling a collection of studio talents to form a proper band. These included SNL band members, 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.[10] 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. In Rolling Stone Magazine's February, 2015 appraisal of all 141 SNL cast members to date, 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."[11]

Aykroyd and Belushi 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.

Other movie projects

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, who gets put on assignment researching a scientist (played by Blair Brown) studying birds of prey in the remote Rocky Mountains.

In 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.

At the time of his death, Belushi was pursuing several movie projects,[12] including Moons Over Miami with Louis Malle, National Lampoon's The Joy of Sex and Noble Rot, a script that had been adapted and rewritten by himself and former Saturday Night Live writer, Don Novello in the weeks leading up to his death. 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.[13]


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 on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.[14] 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.[15][16] 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.

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.[17]

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."[18] An unmarked tombstone in an undisclosed location marks the final burial location.[citation needed] 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."[19]

Tributes and legacy

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. Wired was later adapted into a feature film in which Belushi was played by Michael Chiklis.

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 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. 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. 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."[21]

At the conclusion of the very first live SNL episode (Robert Urich/Mink DeVille on March 20, 1982) following Belushi's death, Brian Doyle-Murray gave a tribute to him.[22]

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 podium: "My partner would have loved to have been here tonight to present this award, since he was a bit of a Visual Effect himself."[13]

In 2015, Belushi was ranked by Rolling Stone as the greatest SNL cast member of all-time.[23]

Film credits

TV credits



Comedy albums


  1. ^ a b c d e Browne, Ray Broadus; Browne, Pat (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. Popular Press. pp. 78–. ISBN 9780879728212. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Sellers, Robert (2010-05-20). An A-Z of Hellraisers: A Comprehensive Compendium of Outrageous Insobriety. Random House. pp. 53–. ISBN 9781409051008. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  3. ^ Marion, Nancy E; Oliver, Willard M. (2014-12-16). Drugs in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law. ABC-CLIO. pp. 224–. ISBN 9781610695961. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Belushi's SNL Bio from
  5. ^ Books Of The Times; Close-Up Of John Belushi from the New York Times
  6. ^
  7. ^ 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 10 September 2014. 
  8. ^ Parish, James Robert (2011-01-06). 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 10 September 2014. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ 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."
  11. ^ Rolling Stone, issue 1229, February 26, 2015, p. 32.
  12. ^ Evans, Bradford (3 March 2011). "The Lost Roles of John Belushi". Splitsider. 
  13. ^ a b
  14. ^ 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 ... 
  15. ^ Robin Williams. Television biography from the Biography Channel, July 7, 2006.
  16. ^ "John Belushi Dies at the Chateau Marmont" from
  17. ^ "Figure in John Belushi Case Freed From California Prison". New York Times. 1988-03-17. Retrieved 2011-08-02. 
  18. ^ "John Belushi (1949 - 1982) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2013-03-15. 
  19. ^ Judith Belushi Pisano (2007). Belushi
  20. ^ Goldblatt, Henry (2008-05-07). "'Chris Farley Show' stuffed with gossip". Retrieved 2008-06-08. 
  21. ^ Huffingtonpost, Huffingtonpost (2008-05-07). "John Belushi A Misogynist". Huffingtonpost. Retrieved 2008-06-08. 
  22. ^ "81n: Robert Urich / Mink De Ville". Saturday Night Live Transcripts. 
  23. ^ Sheffield, Rob (February 11, 2015). "'Saturday Night Live': All 141 Cast Members Ranked". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 25, 2015. 

External links

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