Now in our eighth calendar year!|
PCR #362. (Vol. 8, No. 9) This edition is for the week of February 26--March 4, 2007.
AND THE OSCAR GOES TO
AND THE ANTI-OSCAR GOES TO
THE REAL DEAL
WHERE YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: TV's "Saturday Night Live" (original cast), "Animal House", "The Blues Brothers".
It is still had to believe that it will be 25 years ago this Monday (March 5) that John Belushi passed away. Younger readers of the PCR may only know of him through his work in "Animal House" or "The Blues Brothers," but to readers my age, John Belushi was the comic actor of our generation. From his early work with the National Lampoon to his final film, Belushi showed he could handle almost anything thrown at him. Anything, sadly, except drugs.
Born in Chicago, Belushi discovered acting while in high school. Co-captain of the football team and homecoming king in his senior year, the popular Belushi enjoyed the applause and decided to try acting full time after graduation. After dropping out of the University of Wisconsin, Belushi returned home and helped for an improv comedy group, the West Compass Players. In the early 1970s, Belushi joined the cast of Second City, an improv group started years before by such performers as Alan Arkin. In 1972, Belushi moved to New York City to perform off-Broadway in the National Lampoon show, "Lemmings." When the show closed, John took a job as a writer for the Lampoon's syndicated radio show. His work here caught the eye of producer Lorne Michaels, who hired Belushi for his new late night television show, "Saturday Night." Though Chevy Chase was the first "star" of the show, it was Belushi who earned the great fan following. From his muttering Samurai to Marlon Brando. From James T. Kirk to Joe Cocker, there wasn't a character he couldn't nail. Like many of the cast, Belushi began getting film offers. Jack Nicholson cast him in a small role in his comedy western, "Going South." Liking his performance, director John Landis cast Belushi as Bluto in "National Lampoon's Animal House." This small-budgeted comedy went on to shatter box office records and for many years it was the highest-grossing comedy of all time. Teamed with his "SNL" buddy Dan Aykroyd, Belushi did a hilarious turn in Steven Spielberg's "1941." They followed that film up with 1980s "The Blues Brothers," which was based on an act they did to warm up the audiences before the show. They also released the multi-platinum album, "Briefcase Full of Blues." In fact, at one time they had the number one film AND album in the country at the same time. 1981 saw a different Belushi on screen. In "Neighbors" he switched roles with Aykroyd and played the quiet one, letting Aykroyd get all of the laughs. He followed "Neighbors" with a strong dramatic performance as reporter Ernie Souchak in "Continental Divide." Sadly, this would be his last film. The fast life of Hollywood introduced Belushi to a lifestyle he never envisioned. Part of that life was the ready availability of drugs, which became his demon. On March 5, 1982, John Belushi was found dead in his bungalow at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. Cause of death was listed as acute cocaine and heroin intoxication. The night before Belushi had partied with some friends, including Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. One of his companions, Cathy Smith, went back to John's room with him and later admitted giving him the fatal injection of drugs. She was later sentenced to three years in prison for her actions. John Belushi is buried on Martha's Vineyard at Abel's Hill cemetery. This past summer, while on the island, our group visited his grave and paid our respects. On a simple headstone is written: Here Lies Buried the Body of JOHN BELUSHI. January 24, 1949 - March 5, 1982. I MAY BE GONE BUT ROCK AND ROLL LIVES ON.
Belushi was just beginning to break out in films when he died. I truly believe that he would have had the kind of career now enjoyed by Robin Williams and Jim Carey - comedians who just as easily move to drama. While still on SNL, John's wife, Judi, made a short film entitled "Look Back In Anger," that took a look at the SNL cemetery. Ironically, every one in the cast has died with the exception of a very old Belushi. "Why did I survive," he asks? "It's because I'm a dancer!" That said he begins dancing on the graves of his cast mates. It's a great image that comes to mind every time I think of him. He only did seven films in his short life but he left behind a body of work that will always keep his memory alive.
Next week I'll take a look at another Jack Nicholson co-star, the great Scatman Crothers.
"Mike's Rant" is ©2007 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.