John Adam Belushi (January 24, 1949 – March 5, 1982) was an Emmy award winning American actor, comedian and singer most notable for his work on Saturday Night Live, National Lampoon's Animal House and The Blues Brothers.
Belushi was born in the United States to Adam Belushi, an Albanian immigrant who left his native village, Qytezë, in 1934 at the age of 15, and to Agnes. He grew up outside Chicago in Wheaton, Illinois, where he was a high school football player, and attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the College of DuPage near Chicago. Belushi's brother James Belushi is also a successful actor and comedian. He met his future wife, Judy, while a sophomore in high school, and stayed together with her until his death.
Belushi's first big break as a comedian occurred in 1971, when he joined The Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, Illinois. Thanks to his uncanny caricature of singer Joe er's intense and jerky stage presence, he participated in National Lampoon's Lemmings stage show in 1972 (which also featured future Saturday Night Live performer Chevy Chase).
From 1973 to 1975 the National Lampoon aired The Radio Hour, a half-hour comedy program syndicated across the country on approximately 600 stations. When original director Michael O'Donoghue quit in 1974, Belushi took over the reins until the show was canceled. Other players on the show included future SNL regulars Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray and Chevy Chase. Belushi married Judy Jacklin, an associate producer of The Radio Hour. A number of comic segments first performed on The Radio Hour would be translated into SNL sketches in the show's early seasons.
Belushi achieved national fame for his work on Saturday Night Live, which he joined as an original cast member in 1975. Between seasons of the show, he made one of his best-known movies, Animal House.
As several Belushi biographies have noted, on John's 30th birthday (in 1979), he had the number one film in the U.S., (Animal House), the number one album in the U.S. (The Blues Brothers "Briefcase Full Of Blues") and Saturday Night Live was the highest-rated and a highly regarded late night television program. Being at the top of three different public media (T.V., movies, and music) is one of his foremost career feats, which tends to be overlooked in the wake of his drug exploits.
He left Saturday Night Live in 1979 to pursue a film career. Belushi would make four more movies in his career, and three of them, 1941, Neighbors, and most notably The Blues Brothers were made with former SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd.
At the time of his death, Belushi was pursuing several movie projects, including "Noble Rot," an adaptation of a script by former The Mary Tyler Moore Show writer/producer Jay Sandrich entitled "Sweet Deception". Belushi was working with former Saturday Night Live colleague Don Novello, (known for his character Father Guido Sarducci), on rewriting the script. In addition, Belushi was also considering the lead roles in "The Joy Of Sex", a comic adaptation of the Dr. Alex Comfort sex manual, as well as a part in a Louis Malle, movie Moon Over Miami. These projects were abandoned in the wake of his death.
Moreover, the roles of Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters and Emmett Fitz-Hume in Spies Like Us were written (by Aykroyd) with Belushi in mind. The roles wound up being played by Belushi's former SNL castmates Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, respectively. Aykroyd used to joke that the green ghost Slimer in Ghostbusters was "the ghost of John Belushi", given that he had a similar party animal personality.
Belushi was known to indulge in substance abuse, which eventually cost him his life. Belushi was found dead on March 5, 1982, at age 33, in a hotel room at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California. The cause of death was a speedball, an injection of cocaine and heroin. On the night of his death, he was accompanied by friends Robin Williams and Robert De Niro (at the height of their own drug exploits), who later left the premises, leaving Belushi in the company of Cathy Smith. His death was investigated by forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden among others, and while the findings were disputed, it was officially ruled a drug-related accident.
The case was reopened two months later, when Cathy Smith, a former groupie for The Band and an ex-girlfriend of Gordon Lightfoot , admitted in an interview with the National Enquirer that she had been with Belushi the night of his death and had given him the fatal speedball shot. She was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. A plea bargain arrangement reduced the charges to involuntary manslaughter, and she served 18 months in prison.
Belushi's life is detailed in the 1985 biography Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi by Bob Woodward. Many friends and relatives of Belushi, including his wife Judy, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi, agreed to be interviewed at length for the book, but later felt the final product was exploitative and not representative of the John Belushi they knew. The book was later adapted into a feature film.
His widow later remarried and is now Judy Belushi Pisano. Her biography (with co-biographer Tanner Colby) of her late husband, Belushi, is a collection of first-person interviews and photographs, was published in 2005.