John Belushi was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Agnes Belushi (née Samaras), a cashier and first-generation Albanian-American, and Adam Belushi (b. 1919), an Albanian immigrant and restaurant operator who left his native village, Qytezë, in 1934 at the age of sixteen. The family's name at the time of immigration was Bellios, or Belliors. Belushi was raised in the Albanian Orthodox church and grew up outside Chicago in Wheaton with a brother Jim, five-and-a-half years his junior. He attended Wheaton Central High School, where he met his future wife, Judy Jacklin, and was a middle linebacker for the school's football team. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater and the College of DuPage near Chicago.
Belushi's first big break as a comedian occurred in 1971, when he joined The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago. Thanks to a caricature of singer Joe Cocker's intense and jerky stage presence, he was cast in National Lampoon's Lemmings, a parody of Woodstock, which played Off-Broadway in 1972 and also showcased future Saturday Night Live (SNL) performers Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest.
From 1973 to 1975, National Lampoon Inc. aired The National Lampoon Radio Hour, a half-hour comedy program syndicated across the country on approximately 600 stations. When original director Michael O'Donoghue quit in 1974, Belushi took over the reins until the show was canceled. Other players on the show included future SNL regulars Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray and Chevy Chase. Belushi married Judy Jacklin (Judy Pisano), an associate producer of The Radio Hour. A number of comic segments first performed on The Radio Hour would be translated into SNL sketches in the show's early seasons.
Belushi achieved national fame for his work on Saturday Night Live, which he joined as an original cast member in 1975. Between seasons of the show, he made one of his best-known movies, Animal House. As several Belushi biographies have noted, on John's 30th birthday (in 1979), he had the number one film in the U.S. (Animal House), the number one album in the U.S. (The Blues Brothers: Briefcase Full of Blues) and Saturday Night Live was the highest-rated late night television program. In the toga party scene in the basement of the fraternity house in Animal House, the uncredited coed dancing with Bluto (Belushi) is his wife. While filming Animal House, Belushi made an appearance at Ithaca College in 1976. When introduced, he came onstage with a chainsaw and cut up the podium.
When interviewed for retrospectives on John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd told stories of John often finishing SNL rehearsals, shows or film shoots and, exhausted, simply walking unannounced into nearby homes of friends or strangers, scrounging around for food and often falling asleep, unable to be located for the following day's work. This was the impetus for the SNL horror-spoof sketch "The Thing That Wouldn't Leave," in which Belushi torments a couple (played by Jane Curtin and Bill Murray) in their home looking for snacks, newspapers and magazines to read, and taking control of their television. SNL also featured a short film by writer Tom Schiller called "Don't Look Back In Anger," where Belushi playing himself as an old man, visits the graves of his now-former cast-members, the last to survive. Ironically, Belushi was the first SNL cast member to die.
Belushi left Saturday Night Live in 1979 to pursue a film career. Belushi would make four more movies; three of them, 1941, Neighbors, and most notably The Blues Brothers were made with fellow SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd.
Other movie projects
Dan Aykroyd wrote the roles of Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters and Emmett Fitz-Hume in Spies Like Us with Belushi in mind, and the roles were actually played by Belushi's former SNL castmates Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, respectively. Aykroyd used to joke that the green ghost Slimer in Ghostbusters was "the ghost of John Belushi," given that he had a similar party animal personality.
Released in September 1981, the romantic comedy Continental Divide starred Belushi as Chicago home town hero writer Ernie Souchack who gets put on assignment researching a scientist studying birds of prey in the remote rocky mountains. Belushi's character "Ernie Souchak" was loosely based on popular, now deceased Chicago columnist Mike Royko.
At the time of his death, Belushi was pursuing several movie projects, including Noble Rot, an adaptation of a script by former The Mary Tyler Moore Show writer/producer Jay Sandrich entitled Sweet Deception; noble rot is a benevolent fungus that can infect wine grapes on the vine, helping to produce high quality sweet wines. Belushi was rewriting the script with former Saturday Night Live colleague Don Novello.
The "College" sweatshirt Belushi wore in National Lampoon's Animal House was purchased in Carbondale, Illinois, when his brother, Jim, was a student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
According to writer/actor Tim Kazurinsky in the book Live From New York, mentor and close friend Belushi was instrumental in getting fellow Second City alumnus Kazurinsky onto Saturday Night Live in 1981. But during his run on the show, Kazurinsky became very stressed out by its demands. He later called Belushi and said that he needed a ride to the airport because he was quitting and moving back to Chicago. Belushi and his wife picked him up but refused to bring him to the airport, at which Belushi told Kazurinsky that the show's atmosphere can get bad, but that he still had access to major broadcasting airwaves. Instead, Belushi took the performer to a psychiatrist whom he saw for a year, while staying with the show during his run.
It was Belushi who recruited the band Fear and brought them to Cherokee Studios to record songs for the soundtrack of Neighbors, a film he and Aykroyd were starring in. Music producing partners Steve Cropper and Bruce Robb remember recording the music, but nobody knows exactly what happened with the final soundtrack, which was ultimately replaced in the film by a traditional movie score. Cherokee Studios was a regular haunt for the original Blues Brothers back in the early days of the band. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd became fixtures at the recording studio, while fellow Blues Brother and guitar player Steve Cropper called Cherokee his producing home. Whenever they needed a bass player, they were joined by another Blues Brother, Donald "Duck" Dunn. During this time, Cropper along with producing partner and Cherokee owner Bruce Robb worked on a number of music projects with the two comedian/musicians, the band Fear and later Aykroyd's movie "Dragnet." "What can I say? John was excessively talented, and I guess you could say he sort of lived life 'excessively.' I think what happened to John had a sobering effect on a lot of people, me included," said music producer Bruce Robb.
Belushi was generous to his friends and family, often lending them money when they asked. He bought his father a ranch near San Diego, and helped set up his old friends in Chicago with their own businesses. He helped his brother Jim find a spot at Second City, where he himself acted in the early days of his career. His generous side also showed during his time in the Blues Brothers; he often played songs by blues artists he thought could use the money from the royalties.
On March 5, 1982, Belushi was found dead in his room at Bungalow #3 of the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. The cause of death was a speedball, a combined injection of cocaine and heroin. On the night of his death, he was visited separately by friends Robin Williams (at the height of his own drug exploits) and Robert De Niro, each of whom left the premises, leaving Belushi in the company of assorted others, including Cathy Smith. 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, arrested and charged with first-degree murder. A plea bargain arrangement reduced the charges to involuntary manslaughter, and she served 15 months in prison.
In one of Belushi's last TV appearances, he filmed a cameo for the comedy series Police Squad!. At the suggestion of the show's producer, Robert K. Weiss, Belushi was filmed, face down in a swimming pool, dead. The footage was part of a running gag where the episode's guest-star would not survive past the opening credit sequence without meeting some gruesome end. Also, as noted in one of the commentary tracks on the DVD, John nearly drowned during the filming of the scene. The scene never aired.
Belushi and his friend Dan Aykroyd were slated to present the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects at the 54th Academy Awards, an event held less than four weeks after his death. Aykroyd presented the award alone, commenting on the stage "My partner would have loved to have been here to present this award, given that he was something of a visual effect himself."
Belushi is interred in Abel's Hill Cemetery on Martha's Vineyard Chilmark, Massachusetts. His tombstone reads "I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on." His gravestone is not above his body. It was moved after operators of the cemetery had found many signs of vandalism and rowdiness where his body lies. He also has a cenotaph at Elmwood Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois.
If you stop by the Chateau Marmont, don't expect to be able to visit the scene of Belushi's demise - unless you plan on staying the night. Belushi was riding a crest of popularity in 1982, and had more than enough money to hole up in one of the hotel's exclusive bungalows, which are accessible only to guests holding room keys.
But if you slip around behind the hotel and walk the sidewalk along Monteel Road, you can peer down into the area of the tree-shaded bungalows. Belushi's last binge occurred either in Bungalow 3 or Bungalow 2 - there seems to be an equal number of contentions for each locale.
-- The Dark Side of Hollywood - LA Daily News
John Belushi's life is detailed in the 1985 biography Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi by Bob Woodward. Many friends and relatives of Belushi, including his wife Judy, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, agreed to be interviewed at length for the book, but later felt the final product was exploitative and not representative of the John Belushi they knew. The book was later adapted into a feature film in which Belushi was played by Michael Chiklis. Belushi's friends and family boycotted the film, which proved to be critical and caused the movie to be a box-office flop.
Belushi was portrayed by actors Eric Siegel in Gilda Radner: It's Always Something, Tyler Labine in Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Mork and Mindy (which also features his friendship with Robin Williams), and Michael Chiklis in Wired.
His widow later remarried and is now Judith Belushi Pisano. Her biography (with co-biographer Tanner Colby) of John, Belushi: A Biography is a collection of first-person interviews and photographs, and was published in 2005.
On April 1, 2004, 22 years after his death, Belushi was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, after a ten-year lobby by James Belushi and Judith Belushi Pisano. Among those present at the ceremony were Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, and Tom Arnold.
In 2006, Biography Channel aired the "John Belushi" episode of Final 24, a documentary following Belushi in the last 24 hours leading to his death.
Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle (1975) (voice) (1979 American dubbed version)
Animal House (1978)
The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (1978)
Goin' South (1978)
Old Boyfriends (1979)
The Blues Brothers (1980)
Continental Divide (1981)
SNL characters and impersonations
Captain Ned, one of Miles Cowperthwaite's cronies
Jacob Papageorge alias 'Joliet' Jake Blues, from the Blues Brothers
Jeff Widette, from the Widettes
Kevin (from The Mall sketches)
Kuldorth (from The Coneheads)
Larry Farber (one half of the Farber couple [the wife, Bobbi, was played by Gilda Radner])
Lowell Brock, from the HandL Brock commercials
Matt Cooper, from the Land Shark sketches
Pete, from the Olympia Cafe
Steve Beshekas (who was in real life a good friend of Belushi's since community college)
Frank Leary, one of St. Mickey's Knights of Columbus
Dino De Laurentiis
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Ludwig van Beethoven
Sun Myung Moon
1.^ It’s The Artie Talkin’ - DIMP interviews Artie Lange from dvdinmypants.com
2.^ Belushi's SNL Bio from NBC.com
3.^ John Belushi Biography (1949-1982) from filmreference.com
4.^ Books Of The Times; Close-Up Of John Belushi from the New York Times
5.^ They Were Belushis (or Blues Brothers) from genealogywise.com
6.^ The religion of John Belushi, actor, comedian from adherents.com
7.^ The party's over: Some say SIUC has finally shed rowdy school image, a May 8, 2006 article from The Southern Illinoisan
8.^ "John Belushi, Manic Comic of TV and Films Dies.". New York Times. "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 1970's, 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 ..."
9.^ Robin Williams, television biography from the Biography Channel, 7/7/06.
10.^ John Belushi Dies at the Chateau Marmont from franksreelreviews.com
11.^ Figure in John Belushi Case Freed From California Prison - New York Times