Comedian • Actor • Musician • Writer
Birth Date: January 24, 1949
Death Date: March 5, 1982
Birth Place: Chicago, Illinois
Comic actor John Belushi parlayed his tremendous energy and physicality into a brief but meteoric career on television and in film which took him from "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) to such hit comedies as "Animal House" (1978) and "The Blues Brothers" before his untimely death in 1982. Born John Adam Belushi in Chicago, Illinois on January 24, 1949, he was the eldest of four children by parents who emigrated from Albania; his younger brother, Jim, would later join the main cast of "Saturday Night Live" and enjoy a lengthy career as both a dramatic and comic actor. A popular student at Wheaton Community High School - where he met his future wife, Judith Jacklin - Belushi was a star athlete on the school's football team, which led to a scholarship to Western Illinois University. He turned it down in favor of enrollment at the University of Illinois, where he remained for a year before settling at the College of Dupage. After graduating with an associate's degree in 1970, Belushi decided to try his hand at Chicago's famed improvisational comedy scene. He had formed his own group, the West Compass Trio, which generated an invite to join the Second City troupe from its founder, Bernard Sahlins. Belushi's larger-than-life performances - which included an imitation of singer Joe Cocker as a force of nature - attracted the attention of National Lampoon magazine's Tony Hendra, who invited Belushi to join the Off-Broadway show "National Lampoon's Lemmings" in 1972. After relocating with Jacklin - whom he would marry in 1976 - to New York City, Belushi began writing, performing and directing the "National Lampoon Radio Hour." He also traveled to Toronto, Ontario, Canada to see the city's iteration of Second City, and was introduced to Dan Aykroyd, with whom he would forge a long personal and professional relationship. Aykroyd, along with Second City alum Michael O'Donoghue and Lampoon vet Chevy Chase, were tapped by producer Lorne Michaels to pen material for a live comedy show that would broadcast from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday evenings. Chase and O'Donoghue recommended Belushi to Michaels, who was initially reticent to cast him on the basis of his physical humor, but Belushi's audition, for which he performed his samurai character, won over Michaels, and Belushi became of the first "Not Ready for Prime Time Players" on "Saturday Night Live." During his four years with the show, Belushi soon became one of its breakout players, thanks to his array of characters, which ranged from William Shatner's Captain Kirk to a marble-mouthed Henry Kissinger. He also teamed with Aykroyd to warm up the crowd prior to broadcast as the black-suited Blues Brothers, who performed classic soul and R&B hits. The act quickly caught on with audiences, and the pair recruited a host of legendary sidemen, including guitarists Steve Cropper and Matt "Guitar" Murphy and Donald "Duck" Dunn, to play live concerts before increasingly larger crowds. In 1978, Belushi branched out into films, appearing in three films that year, including Joan Tewkesbury's comedy "Old Boyfriends" and the Jack Nicholson-directed comedy/western "Goin' South." But it was "Animal House," a low-budget comedy directed by John Landis and written by "National Lampoon" vets Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller, that established him as a movie star. The film, which featured Belushi's memorable turn as feral fraternity brother John "Bluto" Blutarsky, would reap more than $142 million in theatrical and home video rentals, and kicked of a period of extraordinary success for Belushi in multiple mediums. The Blues Brothers' debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, topped the albums charts in 1978, while Belushi and Aykroyd, who had both departed "Saturday Night Live" in 1979, enjoyed box office success with "The Blues Brothers" (1980), an absurdist action-comedy-musical directed by Landis. But the duo's other features - Steven Spielberg's sprawling World War II comedy "1941" (1979) and the comedy "Neighbors" (1981), were only modest successes; the latter also ran into production trouble due to Belushi's prodigious appetite for drugs, which was impairing his ability to not only perform but work on other projects with Aykroyd, including early drafts of "Ghostbusters" (1984) and "Spies Like Us" (1985). He would enjoy critical praise for a subdued turn as a Chicago news reporter in Michael Apted's romantic comedy "Continental Divide" (1981), but the delayed release of "Neighbors" would be his final screen project. Two months later, he was found dead on March 5, 1982 in Bungalow 3 at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood, California; the coroner's toxicology report listed a combination of cocaine and heroin as the cause of a fatal overdose. Jacklin would arrange for him to be buried on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts; Belushi would remain the subject of numerous books and tributes in the decades that followed, and enjoyed posthumous pop culture deification as both the emblem of unbridled living and a cautionary tale about its inherent dangers.