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Review by: Larry Thomas
No one can remember everything, no matter how good his or her powers of recall. Just about everyone can tell you what he or she was doing when hearing of the first moon landing, President Kennedy’s assassination, or, if you’re old enough, the attack on Pearl Harbor. Other things that are not nearly as important end up stuck in the consciousness for other reasons. On Friday, March 5, 1982, at about 6:30 in the evening, I was driving up Winton Road to visit a friend. I heard the news on the radio that John Belushi had died of an overdose in a Los Angeles hotel. It hit me very hard. As a fan of Belushi’s talent, and the many characters he created both on Saturday Night Live, and in his all-too-few film appearances, his talent was magical. Whether he was bringing to life the characters of Jake Blues, or the Samurai Delicatessen owner, or Greek-accented hamburger flipper from Chicago, Belushi put his heart and soul into whatever he did. His acting turns as a newspaper reporter in Continental Divide, based loosely on Mike Royko, and a dim deputy in the Jack Nicholson western Goin’ South proved that he should have had a long movie career doing something other than shtick. But it was not to be.
Today, February 24, 2009, would have been John Belushi’s sixtieth birthday. With his television and movie legacy being cut short, it’s impossible to fathom what the entertainment world might have looked like had he been around in the interim. Of course, the funny stuff would have been in the spotlight, but I suspect that Belushi could have easily had an Oscar on his mantle with the right part and right director to see him through a serious character.
Granted, there’s no understanding, or accepting, what demons or insecurities could have been so insurmountable to drive John Belushi to turn that heavily to drugs. As in many untimely celebrity deaths, the addictions at the root of the loss take a heavy toll on those who are left behind. It doesn’t matter if the loss is a family member, a friend, or even a performer who was a true star.
One of the most ironic footnotes to Belushi’s career was a scene that he shot for the TV series Police Squad with Leslie Neilsen. The running gag in that series is that the “name” guest star never lived past the opening credits. Belushi was filmed face down in a swimming pool, and Hollywood lore says that he nearly drowned filming that scene. Unlike in today’s tabloid media, where anything for a buck is the rule, the scene was put away and never shown.
Had John Belushi made it to age sixty today, chances are excellent that he wouldn’t be much different…zany, creative, bigger than life, but with a larger body of work that others might live to appreciate in years to come.
Happy Birthday, John Belushi.