John Belushi burst onto the national stage with his brash, physical style of humor, namely, his “Saturday Night Live” skits involving the volatile samurai/sushi chef and the anchorman filled with inchoate rage. It would be this visceral take-no-prisoners approach to performance that would become Belushi’s comedic trademark. Unfortunately, Belushi’s career and life, both full of promise, would be cut short at the age of 33 by a drug overdose. But his one-of-a-kind legacy continues to be cherished by fellow performers and audiences alike.
John Belushi was born on January 29, 1949, in Chicago, IL, to Albanian immigrant parents who went into the restaurant business. When Belushi was a boy, his family moved to Wheaton, where the actor-to-be found success on the high school football team and was homecoming king. After playing summer stock and then attending the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater and a local junior college, where he co-founded an acting troupe, Belushi auditioned his way into Chicago’s acclaimed Second City troupe. A move to New York City with his girlfriend, Judy Jacklin, followed when Belushi landed a part in National Lampoon’s 1973 off-Broadway hit “Lemmings”. Shortly thereafter Belushi was working as a writer for the syndicated National Lampoon’s Radio Hour.
Belushi, however, would not find a national stage for his talent until he joined “Saturday Night Live” in 1975. His outrageous performances on the comedy skit show, coupled with his film-stealing appearance as the depraved Bluto in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), helped Belushi achieve unprecedented notoriety and fame. He followed these successes up with The Blues Brothers (1980), in which Dan Akroyd and Belushi transferred their white blues men SNL warm-up act to the big screen. The film proved a smashing success, setting a record for the most cars crashed in one movie and sparking renewed interest in the blues.
Belushi’s subsequent films included two comedies in which he played the straight man, first in Neighbors (1981) again with Akroyd and in the romantic comedy Continental Divide (1981). Unfortunately, Belushi’s addiction to cocaine was peaking at this time, and he would spend his last days in West Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont Hotel, where he was rewriting a script and hanging out with a hard-partying crowd. On March 5, 1982, he mainlined a cocktail of heroin and cocaine which caused a fatal overdose.
To this day, Belushi is honored as a tragic-hero of comedic-acting, one whose immense talent was perhaps only matched by his lust for life. His tomb lies in Martha’s Vineyard cemetery.