Affectionately known as "America's Guest", John Adam Belushi (January 24, 1949 — March 5, 1982) was a Chicago-born actor and comedian of Albanian descent. He rose to fame in 1971, after joining the Second City comedy troupe, where he became well known for his impersonations of Joe Cocker, resulting in his being cast in National Lampoon's Lemmings, a parody of Woodstock. It was while he was with the National Lampoon that John would meet fellow future Saturday Night Live regulars such as Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, and Brian Doyle-Murray. His high school sweetheart Judith Jacklin, whom he later married, also worked for National Lampoon — and, as a fun fact, can be seen dancing with him in Animal House, which he starred in.
In 1975, John Belushi was accepted into Saturday Night Live, alongside Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, Laraine Newman, and Garrett Morris. (In fact, Belushi was the first Not Ready For Prime-Time Player to appear in the show, as part of the first episode's first sketch.) From here, he went on to work with Dan Aykroyd on a film based off their already highly successful musical act and band, The Blues Brothers, which gained cult status, and a gross revenue of $115,229,890. John and Dan worked together in two other movies, 1941 (1979) and Neighbors.
Belushi is hailed as a benevolent figure, often lending a helping hand to any who needed it. This ranged from aiding his little brother, James Belushi, in getting started in comedy, through to helping friends setting up businesses, and delivering an epiphany speech to Tim Kazurinsky (a cast member during Dick Ebersol's era who often felt frustrated and underused about being on the show due to the Spotlight-Stealing Squad that was Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo) and assisting him in getting help when the stress of working at Saturday Night Live became too much. He is also credited with choosing music for The Blues Brothers because he thought the original artists could do with the royalties.
Unfortunately, he didn't survive the lifestyle of the entertainment industry. Belushi was very into drugs during his career, and it was very severe to the point that it kept negatively impacting his career and his life. Tim Matheson, who co-starred with Belushi in Animal House, stated that he believed that Belushi actually got introduced to drugs as a result of being exposed to the music industry, which was very drug-heavy at the time, on a regular basis due to frequently dealing with music while performing on Saturday Night Live. Belushi eventually passed away on March 5, 1982, following the administration of a cocaine-heroin mix known as a "speedball" (making that famous SNL short film about John Belushi being the last cast member to die and visiting the graves of his former cast members a much sadder watch). Former singer Cathy Smith later admitted to giving Belushi the injection that killed him and served 15 months for involuntary manslaughter.
Belushi's legacy lives on, however — for better and worse. He has since been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Aykroyd also affectionately refers to Slimer in Ghostbusters (1984) as, "the ghost of John Belushi". note Chris Farley, another SNL cast member known for being a Big Fun party animal whose life was cut short due to drug abuse, was a fan of Belushi while he was a teenager, and a lot of similarities can be drawn between the two. Further, John's work still draws audiences and provides an influence to young and upcoming comedy talent such as Danny McBride. In the wake of the dramatic political and medical crises of 2020 in the United States, John's little brother wondered on Twitter what John would think of modern times.
Some of the films he appeared in includes:
- The Beach Boys: It's OK (1976).
- The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (1978).
- Animal House (1978).
- Grateful Dead: The Closing of Winterland (1978).
- 1941 (1979)
- The Blues Brothers (1980).
- Neighbors (1981)
My advice to you is to start troping heavily:
- Acrofatic: Chubby guy, but he could really dance and he could engage well in physical comedy too, such as his Joe Cocker impersonation and the "Little Chocolate Donuts" sketch. He was also captain of his football team in high school.
- Big Ol' Eyebrows: He had thick but very expressive eyebrows which helped make his performance as Bluto a masterclass in silent comic acting.
- Biopic: As of 2014, he has been the only SNL castmember to be the basis of a biopicnote , the 1989 film Wired that was based on Bob Woodward's 1984 tell-all biography and starred Michael Chiklis. It was lambasted as a hatchet job by just about everyone who knew him, many of whom refused to let their names be used. Chiklis would later blame the film for derailing his career until The Commish pulled it back into place.
- One of the very few people who did allow his name to be used was Dan Aykroyd, who was so offended at the movie's portrayal of Belushi as nothing more than a strung-out addict that he blacklisted everyone who appeared in the film. When Aykroyd learned that J.T. Walsh (who played Woodward) was involved with the 1990 production of Loose Cannons, he had him thrown out. (Ironically, not participating in the project probably helped Walsh in the long run, since Loose Cannons bombed hard and currently holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.) Aykroyd did, however, eventually patch things up with Chiklis, who hated the film as well.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Dan Aykroyd, very much so.
- Large Ham: He was a very energetic performer.
- Nice Guy: He was apparently very benevolent and generous.
- Platonic Life-Partners: He started off with Gilda Radner as his first one, though Laraine Newman would become a second one during his SNL years.
- Please, Don't Leave Me: Cruelly subverted, as the one who was with him the night before his death left the bungalow he was in.
- Reality Subtext: The bad blood between John and Jane Curtin was in part due to her own worst experiences with him and Dan Aykroyd, categorizing them as the bully boys of SNL and that in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, claimed Belushi said that women didn't belong on SNL due to heated tensions between him, Anne Beatts and Rosie Shuster. The bad blood got worse by Curtin sneering at him whenever he misbehaved, though when words flew from him it turned into a point of verbal Unstoppable Rage by both of them, forcing Lorne Michaels to pair them together as punishment in some sketches. It got bad to the point where Jane and Lorne didn't speak to each other unless Gilda was the intermediary.
- However, Belushi confirms that John was willing to put effort into female-written sketches by his family and on one occasion, saved Marilyn Miller's (one of the SNL female writers at the time) life by getting her somewhere safe, reinforcing his Nice Guy trope. Despite him hanging around with the other males in the writing room who didn't like women, he could be considered a Hidden Heart of Gold as well.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: The red to Dan Aykroyd's blue, most of the time.
- Sad Clown: He started doing drugs because being as funny as he was got exhausting.
- We Used to Be Friends: He's had this with both Chevy Chase and Jane Curtin.
- It's invoked with Chevy and he has been pretty remorseful on the subject of John, but...
- In Jane Curtin's case, she became a full-blown Arch-Enemy to him from SNL's second season onward up until his death. It's even more heartbreaking that she really did not get along with him, as evidenced by his wife's book ''Samurai Widow''.