Obviously not satisfied with the other John Belushi biographies out there, thesp's widow, Judith Belushi Pisano, has produced a handsome and highly informative look at the troubled funnyman, who died at his peak at age 33. "Belushi" pieces together the actor's life through the star-studded testimonials and recollections of those who knew him.
Obviously not satisfied with the other John Belushi biographies out there (specifically Bob Woodard’s infamously salacious — and long out-of-print — “Wired”), thesp’s widow, Judith Belushi Pisano, has produced a handsome and highly informative look at the troubled funnyman, who died at his peak at age 33. As somber as it is comic, “Belushi” pieces together the actor’s life through the star-studded testimonials and recollections of those who knew him.
Following Belushi’s short career is akin to taking a crash course in modern American comedy. The son of Albanian immigrants eschewed a future in college football to bounce from Chicago’s famed Second City to National Lampoon and, finally, to “Saturday Night Live” and big Hollywood pics including “Animal House,” “The Blues Brothers” and “1941.” Tragically, the specter of drug dependency and early death hangs over nearly every aspect of Belushi’s life.
The release of “Belushi” is timed to coincide with the 25th anni of “The Blues Brothers,” as well as the 30th season of “SNL,” his launchpad to national stardom. While those titles are the focus, lesser-known works such as the Jack Nicholson-helmed “Goin’ South” and his final collaboration with close friend Dan Aykroyd, “Neighbors,” also are fully chronicled. The Steven Spielberg-helmed flop “1941” gets quite a beating from all involved.
Nearly everyone who ever worked with Belushi, from Bill Murray to Penny Marshall, offers their two cents. Not surprisingly, the most space is given to Belushi Pisano, Aykroyd, “SNL” topper Lorne Michaels and Belushi’s longtime agent, Bernie Brillstein.
The book goes out of its way to de-bunk the idea that Belushi was an uncontrollable coke-head party animal, although plenty of the interviews acknowledge that side existed and it often wasn’t pretty. Still, any negative comments are blamed squarely on the influence of drugs, with Belushi’s contemporaries more often commenting on his easygoing charm and his warm personality. Aykroyd dubs him “America’s Guest,” somewhat literally, as there are half a dozen instances of Belushi partying with fans and sleeping on the couches of total strangers.
Likewise, the interviewees stress that fact that Belushi was eager to get away from the gross-out comedy that followed in the wake of “Animal House” and wanted to be accepted as a serious actor. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to show off his dramatic chops, although he hinted at it in Michael Apted’s romantic comedy “Continental Divide” and in the eerie “SNL” short film “Don’t Look Back in Anger” (in which a young Belushi portrayed the last surviving member of the show’s original cast).
Many interviewees acknowledge the fact that it was only Belushi’s death that made them realize how destructive the ’70s drug lifestyle really was. His grisly overdose at Chateau Marmont isn’t dwelled on, but is dealt with as a frustrating case of regret. It’s truly chilling to read so many different people use some variation of the phrase, “That was the last time I saw him.”
The photos (most of them previously unpublished) are often entertaining and illuminating. If it were a little less grim, “Belushi” would make a perfect coffee table book for a generation raised on Belushi-style comedy.