30 years ago today: John Belushi dies
John Belushi can be remembered in many ways, a number of them unflattering. It was 30 years ago Monday that the comedian was found dead in Bungalow No. 3 of the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard.
He died of accidental drug overdose, the combined injection of cocaine and heroin called a speedball.
Catherine Evelyn Smith, described variously as a groupie, backup singer and -- at the time -- drug dealer, was with him in his final hours and, later, in a National Enquirer story headlined “I Killed John Belushi,” she talked of injecting the comedian with drugs.
As The Times reported in 1985, Smith told the Enquirer: “John supplied the coke. I supplied the heroin. I was Florence Nightingale with the hypodermic.”
Smith, who got $15,000 for that interview, eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served 18 months in jail.
On the night of Belushi’s death, his friend Robin Williams visited him at the Chateau Marmont. There, Williams snorted cocaine with Belushi, the actor told People in 1988: The “Belushi tragedy was frightening,” he said. It was a wake-up call for “a whole group of show-business people.”
Before Belushi’s well-documented downfall came a host of shining moments, as far back as Wheaton Central High School in Illinois, where he first showed he was made for bigger things.
The co-captain of the football team, Belushi was also lead actor in several dramatic productions; he was homecoming king and “runner-up for most popular student on campus,” according to a Yahoo biography.
His high school drama teacher introduced him to Second City Theater. A website by Belushi’s wife, Judith Belushi Pisano, says “it was the night of that first Second City experience when John told Judy, ‘This is what I want to do.’ ”
He joined the Second City improv troupe in Chicago in 1971 and played in “National Lampoon’s Lemmings” off-Broadway in 1972 with performers including Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest.
Belushi then became a regular performer on “National Lampoon Radio Hour” with Chase, Gilda Radner, Brian Doyle-Murray and Bill Murray. Another “Radio Hour” cohort, comedian and actor Richard Belzer, described the show to NPR in 2003. It was “kids just trying to get away with whatever they could”; “they devoured pop culture before it was chic.”
From 1975 to ’79 came “Saturday Night Live,” a tenure during which Belushi made “Animal House.” “The Blues Brothers” came in 1980. Two years later, at age 33, he was dead.
A well-known short film called “Don’t Look Back in Anger” that aired on “Saturday Night Live” in 1978 shows Belushi as an old man visiting the “Not Ready for Prime Time Cemetery.”
“They always thought I’d be the first to go,” he says in the film, now bittersweet to watch.
Belushi lists causes of death for those whose “graves” he visits, which include that of Gilda Radner, whom he calls “cute as a button.” Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989.
Before he ends the skit by dancing, Belushi’s character says: “That Saturday night show was the best experience of my life. Now they’re all gone. I miss every one of them.”
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