We look back at the life of John Belushi on what would have been his 71st birthday
Actor and comedian John Belushi was born on this day in 1949
Actor and comedian John Belushi was born on January 24, 1949, in Wheaton, Illinois. Known for his legendary characters and skits on “Saturday Night Live”, John Belushi imbued his brilliant performances with a manic, boisterous energy that has never seen before or since. One of four children born to Albanian immigrants, he was good at getting laughs in high school. Belushi was also captain of his school’s football team and played in a rock band as a drummer. More than anything, however, he wanted to be an actor. He attended the University of Wisconsin and the College of DuPage where he graduated with an associate degree in 1970. The next year, Belushi made a big splash in the Chicago comedy scene as a member of the legendary Second City improvisational troupe. He wowed audiences with his over-the-top impressions of Marlon Brando, singer Joe Cocker, and others. Comedy Career. In 1973, Belushi was selected to appear in an off-Broadway production of Lemmings, a collection of comedy sketches by the staff of National Lampoon, a popular, but offbeat humor magazine. He received great reviews for his work on the show. Two years later, producer Lorne Michaels asked Belushi to join the cast of his new late night comedy show, “Saturday Night Live”. Premiering on October 11, 1975, “Saturday Night Live” featured nine talented comedians boldly going where television had not gone before. Along with Belushi, there was Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, George Coe, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman, and Gilda Radner. The show soon became a hit and Belushi became one of its emerging stars. Some of his most famous characters were a sword-wielding samurai, a killer bee, and a Coneheaded alien named Kuldroth. Belushi also continued making fun of the famous with hilarious takes on the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Henry Kissinger, Truman Capote, and William Shatner. While he was on “Saturday Night Live”, there were many stories going around about rampant drug use by the members of the cast. To deal with pressures and his own insecurities, Belushi is said to have done cocaine and other drugs. Not long after starting the show, Belushi married his high school sweetheart, Judith Jacklin, in 1976. Two years later, he made the move to the big screen with the hit comedy “National Lampoon’s Animal House”. Playing Bluto Blutarsky, Belushi created one of the film’s most memorable characters-the thoroughly gross, barely verbal frat brother whose immortal lines included “toga, toga, toga” and “food fight.” The havoc created by Bluto and the rest of his Delta House brothers against their school has become one of the most famous college comedies of all time. In real life, Belushi and Aykroyd were good friends. While on Saturday Night Live, the two of them developed a blues parody act known as the “Blues Brothers”. The duo recorded an album, 1978’s “Briefcase Full of Blues”, which had some success, and toured the country with a backup band. While Belushi and Aykroyd left “Saturday Night Live” in 1979, they continued working together as their musical alter egos. They brought Jake and Elwood Blues to the big screen in 1980. The “Blues Brothers” begin when “Joliet” Jake Blues (Belushi) is released from prison. His brother Elwood (Aykroyd) picks him up and the two visit the Chicago orphanage where they grew up. There they learn that they are on “a mission from God” to save the orphanage. The Blues brothers work on reuniting the members of their old band in order to raise money to fulfill their mission. The outlandish comedy had crazy car chases, neo-Nazis, and nearly everything else but the kitchen sink into it. The film also featured several musical cameos by such talented recording artists as Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Cab Calloway, and James Brown. In the months leading up to his death, he was reportedly spending about $2,500 a week on his drug habit, according to People magazine. Belushi was traveling back and forth between his home in New York City and California to work on the script for Noble Rot. During the final week of his life, Belushi rented a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont, a popular hotel for the Hollywood set.On the night of March 4, he was reportedly partying with the likes of Robin Williams. The next day Belushi was found dead in his hotel room. Only thirty-three years old, he died from a drug overdose of a combination of cocaine and heroin, also known as a “speedball.” The woman who was with him and had supplied him with drugs, Cathy Smith, was questioned by the police and released. On March 9, 1982, Belushi was buried near his home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Many were shocked and saddened by the comedian’s sudden death. “Hollywood was toxic to him. “People wanted him to be the Belushi they’d seen on screen,” said “Saturday Night Live” created and producer Lorne Michaels.
By Ken Warren, 2018
Watch John Belushi on Weekend Update on Saturday Night Lives
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