It’s safe to say that John Belushi was one of the first big stars to emerge from Saturday Night Live, as well as being part of its original line-up. Of course, as with many comedians, life wasn’t always happy for Belushi, and his checkered personal life led him down some twisted pathways that would end up in tragedy. Still, we can’t forget his legacy.
1. He Was A Mid-Western Boy
Belushi was born on January 24, 1949. He was raised in Wheaton, Illinois, which is just a handful of miles from Chicago.
2. He Was The Popular Kid
Not only was Belushi the captain of the football team when he attended Wheaton Central High School, he was also voted the homecoming king.
3. He Was Part Of A Legendary Duo
Belushi’s constant partner in comedy was undoubtedly Dan Aykroyd. The two of them became stars together on Saturday Night Live and would co-star in several films together, including their biggest success The Blues Brothers.
4. He Was A Beach Boy
One of the more bizarre collaborations that Belushi and Dan Aykroyd worked on was a TV special focused around the Beach Boys. The details are strange. Belushi and Aykroyd not only appeared as police officers in The Beach Boys: It’s OK, they were also credited as co-writers of the special due to the comedy sketches filmed for the production.
5. He’s A True Star
In 2004, Belushi was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Anyone interested in finding it should go to 6355 Hollywood Boulevard.
6. He Had a High School Sweetheart
Belushi was at Wheaton Community High School when he met a young woman named Judith Jacklin. Jacklin and Belushi would get married in 1976 and remained so until Belushi’s passing.
7. He Got A Big Break
Belushi’s first venture into comedy was The West Compass Trio. It was a date with destiny. In 1971, the troupe’s act caught the eye of Bernard Sahlins. In case you don’t know who that is, Sahlins founded the Chicago-founded improvisational comedy show The Second City. He asked Belushi to join, where Belushi would become friends with Harold Ramis and Brian Doyle-Murray .
8. He Didn’t Get Awards Love
Despite his popularity on SNL as a performer, the only Emmy Belushi ever won was as a co-writer on the show.
9. He Improvised His Most Famous Moment
Belushi was so talented, he actually improvised some of the film’s most memorable scenes. In Animal House, Blutarsky’s journey through the cafeteria was unscripted, as was his “I’m a zit!” scene, much to the horror of his unprepared co-stars.
10. He Had To Work For Success
SNL founder and producer Lorne Michaels was very hesitant about including Belushi in his original line-up of comedians, even though he came with a recommendation from his star, Chevy Chase. It wasn’t until a face-to-face audition that Michaels relented and gave Belushi his spot.
11. He Almost Never Became A Star
As if persuading Lorne Michaels via audition wasn’t enough, another snag hit Belushi’s stardom. See, Belushi himself needed to be persuaded to audition for SNL in the first place! Belushi was no fan of television and only agreed to try out for the comedy show at the urging of writer Michael O’Donoghue. We can only imagine how many times Belushi later thanked O’Donoghue for that bit of persuasion!
12. He Had A Famous Guest Star
Aside from his writing and physical comedy, Belushi was also famous for his musical talents, as anyone who’s seen The Blues Brothers will know. During his time on SNL, Belushi performed a pastiche of English singer Joe Cocker, and Cocker himself showed his sense of humor by joining Belushi onstage in 1976.
13. He Had An On-Set Disaster
The same year that Animal House came out, Belushi also co-starred in the comedic Western film Goin’ South, which Jack Nicholson directed and starred in. Sadly for Belushi, he didn’t have a good time on the film, later claiming that Nicholson treated him badly. But it gets worse. Bizarrely, his other co-star, Christopher Lloyd, named the film as his personal favorite. Did Belushi and Lloyd make the same film?
14. He Had A Colossal Triumph
Belushi’s college comedy Animal House launched the “gross-out genre,” which still exists to this day and came to include such films as There’s Something About Mary and American Pie. Not only that, Animal House remains one of the most profitable American comedies ever made.
15. He Switched Places With His Co-Star
Belushi developed a reputation for playing loud, obnoxious characters, while his frequent co-star Dan Aykroyd would often play more of a straight man to Belushi’s character. This changed when it came to their last film together, Neighbors. To the surprise (and frustration) of their director, Belushi and Aykroyd decided to switch their roles for a bit of diversity to their act. Watch Neighbors and decide for yourself if they were right.
16. He Almost Had An Iconic Role
Belushi was the original actor that Dan Aykroyd had in mind to play Dr. Venkman in Ghostbusters. Due to Belushi’s passing, however, the role went to Bill Murray instead. Murray, Aykroyd, and Belushi had all been on SNL at the same time.
17. He Was A Good Judge Of Character
Belushi allegedly used an interesting strategy to read the natures of the people around him. Whenever he would meet them for the first time, Belushi would ask to borrow $20 from them. Their reactions to his question would give him insight into their character.
18. He Was Generous To A Fault
Before you judge Belushi too harshly with this ploy of borrowing money, we’ll note that Belushi himself was well-known for his generosity when it came to loaning money. This led to a sticky situation. His business manager even once had to beg that all Belushi’s friends and family pay up for their loans. Against his own personal interests, Belushi refused to insist the matter and pinch pennies.
19. He Was Worth Two Dan Aykroyds
Perhaps because Belushi had already made the hit comedy Animal House, Belushi got twice as much for his role in The Blues Brothers as his co-star, Dan Aykroyd.
20. He Was Going To Be Opposite Steve Martin
Before Belushi’s passing, he and his frequent co-star Dan Aykroyd were set to act in Three Amigos opposite Steve Martin. If they had been able to do the film, according to Martin at the time, the film would have been “The Three Caballeros.”
21. There Was One Movie He Hated
In 1979, Belushi starred in the drama Old Boyfriends opposite Talia Shire. Despite Shire’s admiration for Belushi, he didn’t enjoy working on the film. In fact, he was so disappointed with the film that he didn’t even go and see it when it premiered. Though his wife returned from the screening of Old Boyfriends with praise for his role, Belushi would still die never having seen it.
22. His Memory Lives On
Actors Eric Siegel and Michael Chiklis have played Belushi in films; in Gilda Radner: It’s Always Something and Wired, respectively.
23. He Passed Too Young
On March 5, 1982, Belushi’s trainer and bodyguard found his cold body in his room at the Chateau Marmont. The comedic icon had succumbed to a fatal dose from a “speedball” shot.
24. He Almost Took A Dramatic Turn
In one of the more bizarre casting choices that we’ve heard of, Belushi was allegedly cast in the sprawling gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America alongside Robert De Niro. Belushi’s early passing, however, meant that James Woods took his role instead.
25. He Was Number One
We all have our own opinions on who was funniest on SNL. In 2015, no less a publication than Rolling Stone tried their hand at a definitive list and ranked everyone who had, up to that point, been cast members of SNL. The results surprised some people. Belushi snagged the #1 spot above all the others. And in case you’re wondering who Rolling Stone chose as last, that “honor” goes to Robert Downey Jr.!
26. He Got Revenge On A Famous Director
Despite being directed by Steven Spielberg and starring a plethora of talented actors (including Belushi), the war comedy 1941 was a critical and commercial disappointment. Allegedly, Belushi later wore a T-shirt that said, “Steven Spielberg 1946-1941.” We can assume he also brought a mike to drop every time someone new read his shirt.
27. He Had A Strange Idol
In 2006, Belushi’s friend and frequent collaborator Harold Ramis hosted an episode of At the Movies with Richard Roeper. During that episode, Ramis confided that one of Belushi’s biggest ambitions in his life was to play German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven in a film. Before you scoff too loudly, keep in mind that Belushi had famously spoofed Beethoven on SNL as one of his signature acts, so the idea isn’t quite as outlandish as you’d think.
28. He’s Involved In An Eerie Coincidence
Belushi was one of comedian Chris Farley’s idols. Fittingly, Farley was also infamous for his physical comedy despite his overweight physique, as well as his successful run on SNL. Tragically, he would pass of an overdose at the same age as Belushi had been when he died.
29. He Had A Cursed Project
One other thing that Belushi shares with Chris Farley is the fact that they were both set to star in the lead role of a film project titled Atuk. The film would follow an Alaskan Inuit travelling to New York City in a wacky fish-out-of-water story. However, no one has ever made the film; in a rather sinister pattern, many of the actors who thought about starring in the film passed.
30. He Had A Final Encounter
Two of the last people to see Belushi alive were actors Robin De Niro and Robin Williams. Williams was close to Belushi, and though his own substance use had never been on Belushi’s level, Williams gave them up in the wake of Belushi’s overdose.
31. His Tombstone Is Missing An Important Detail
Belushi’s grave is in Massachusetts, but it doesn’t actually contain his name. There’s only a tombstone that says, “I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on.” To further emphasize this point, a skull and crossbones is also on the tombstone.
32. There Was A Cruel Irony To His Passing
Belushi was the first of his SNL line-up to pass. In a case of tragic irony, Belushi had once starred in a skit on SNL where he portrayed himself as the last survivor, visiting the graves of his former co-stars.
33. His Wife Paid Him A Heartbreaking Tribute
Belushi’s widow Judith eventually remarried, but she still worked to cement Belushi’s legacy. In 2005, she released a series of interviews and photographs to shed light on Belushi’s life. The book was fittingly titled Belushi: A Biography.
34. His Friends Sorely Missed Him
Belushi, along with Dan Aykroyd, was going to appear at the 1982 Academy Awards and present the Best Visual Effects Oscar, but Belushi’s unexpected passing ruined these plans. Instead, Aykroyd presented the award by himself, and his speech was a total tear-jerker. He made sure to comment, “My partner would have loved to have been here tonight to present this award, since he was a bit of a Visual Effect himself.” No doubt Belushi would have appreciated that.
35. He Was A Loyal Friend
When he and Dan Aykroyd left SNL in 1979, Belushi wanted to build a film career for himself. Interestingly, between 1979 and his passing, Belushi only made one film without Aykroyd. This was the romantic comedy Continental Divide.
36. He Was A Runaway Star
Belushi’s partying and addictions were especially troublesome to the production of The Blues Brothers, especially since they filmed in Belushi’s home state of Illinois. As a result, Belushi would frequently disappear from the productions with acquaintances, leading his co-star Dan Aykroyd to go out, find him, and drag him back to wherever they were filming.
37. He Almost Saved Himself
You might be wondering if there was ever a solution to Belushi’s substance rampages while shooting a movie. The Blues Brothers director John Landis had actually done that years before with Animal House. Aware of Belushi’s reputation at that time, Landis kept the star of the college frat film in a suburban house from the production and temptation. It worked…for a bit, at least.
38. He Almost Got In A College Fist Fight
As brilliant as this strategy was to keep Belushi in check, the Animal House production didn’t need Belushi’s help for crazy parties to get out of hand. In one incident, Belushi came to set and found out that the night before, the rest of his cast mates had crashed a local college frat party. The college boys, surprisingly, didn’t take kindly to the actors going method for their roles, and a fight had erupted which led to bruises and black eyes.
39. He Had A More Disturbing Side Than People Know
One of the more negative aspects of Belushi’s character came out on the set of Saturday Night Live. Belushi held an extremely horrific opinion. He believed that women weren’t funny. Indeed, he actively tried to get female writers fired from the show. He would also openly insult female hosts of the show when they were barely within earshot.
SNL alumni Jane Curtin has publicly gone on record talking about how Belushi would sabotage any skits that woman writers had written.
40. One Woman Admitted To Killing Him
After Belushi’s passing, Canadian rocker and dealer Cathy Smith admitted that not only was she the last person to see Belushi alive, but she was the one who injected Belushi with the fatal dose. This admission led to charges, and the courts eventually convicted her for “involuntary manslaughter.” Smith served 15 months in California Institution for Women.