‘He was a fanatic’: John Belushi was remembered by his wife and fellow comics Comedy

CDo you dislike John Belushi’s life by his tragic death? Have they left a comic legacy – or just a template to live and die fast? On the one hand, he aired the leading comedy show Saturday Night Live, still running 45 years later, becoming his first breakout star with the smash-hit films Animal House and The Blues Brothers. There is a fixture on the teen’s bedroom walls since the latter’s poster. But is he down to Belushi’s comedy – or because he died within two years of the film’s release, a victim of drug addiction and the pressure of extreme success?

This week saw the release of the showtime documentary Belushi, created by the team behind Marlon, the Emmy-nominated Brando documentary Listen Me. It is the first telling of Belushi’s story, says his widow, Judy Belushi Pisano, “even” to pay attention to her husband’s life and death. Pisano always regrets how Bob Woodward’s 1984 book Wired defined her husband’s memory of the fix-by-fix account of the star’s horrific decline. “John died in his sleep,” she says, talking to me over the phone, “we used to see their lives very differently. We really will.”

Saturday Night Live c1977 stars, clockwise from left, Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, Larin Newman, Garrett Morris, Jane Curtin and Gilda Redner. Photo: Granger Historical Picture Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

The documentary features Robert Wally creating the Gorylaz video, as well as animation for home video and oral testimony to trace the star’s journey from Whiten, Illinois, through the Second City Comedy / Improva Club in Chicago , With national prominence – the first National Lampoon Radio Hour (directed by Belushi as well as SNL). It took producer John Batsek 10 years to secure Pisano’s approval for the film, during that time starring in a biopic development Gridlock, with Joaquin Phoenix and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood star Emil Hirsch in the title role.

Pisano says that the new dock sets it apart, does it not follow – as many do – that Belushi was destined for self-destruction. “I know how John worked through things,” she says, “and I see no reason why she can’t work through this problem, as others have.”

What does Batsek believe about the film? “He’s powerful about it,” he says via Zoom, “it’s a beautiful love story.” The film features scores of letters from John to Judy over the years, with personal photographs and newspaper clippings. They actually offer a corrective to Belushi’s idea of ​​”wild and crazy people” (the title of a book on his generation of SNL comics). You wonder, however, whether publishing his most intimate correspondence is the best way to injure a man with a penetrating gaze of fame.

“You make a good point,” Batsek says. “But Judy wants that aspect of her life to be exposed that was enough for us to feel that was the right way to go down.” The result is a touching documentary about a sensitive, self-questioning man who clutches his wife like a rock, all aware that his drug fight can be a fight to the death.

At the time, the highest-grossing comedy film ... Belushi at the National Lampoon's Animal House.
At the time, the highest-grossing comedy film … Belushi at the National Lampoon’s Animal House. Photograph: Universal / Coball / Rex / Shutterstock

The film also brings to mind Belushi’s background, as an ambitious son of Albanian immigrants, chasing his own American dream, and as a figure in which the political and cultural energies of the era crystallized. “He was definitely upside down,” Pisano says. “He was a fanatic. His comedy was part of the entire shift from post-second-world-war generation to the next. “

“He was,” says RJ Cutler, the film’s director, “the revolutionary spirit of the time.” And that first, of course, was to bring that ecological energy to comedy. Cutler, like Butler, grew into an idol of Belushi: the film is a tribute to a comedian, with whom he is strongly identified as a teenager. “When I saw him live Saturday night,” Cutler says, “he was the person you wanted to know more about. You wanted to be a part of it, whatever it may be. He was you There, in a way. “

“He was the underdog,” Batsek says, “and we all loved that about him. He didn’t conform in any way – the way he looked, the way he behaved, not in the nature of his humor. Was. “The documentary contrasts Bellucci’s” blue-collar “style with SLL co-stars Chevy Case and Christopher Guest – the more fundamental comic energy of private school and patrician vs. Belushi.

'A Hard-Off-Pin-Down Hybrid of Fact and Fiction' ... Belushi, The Right, with Dan Akroyd in The Blake Brothers.
‘A Hard-Off-Pin-Down Hybrid of Fact and Fiction’ … Belushi, The Right, with Dan Akroyd in The Blake Brothers. Photo: Ronald Grant Archive

“Much of his comedy has been much commented on,” says Pisano: “He went from zero to 100 so quickly,” and people were surprised. ” Battasek cites an SNL sketch in which Beckerser Bellushi destroys the set while listening to Waggers Ride of the Valkyries. Knowing what Belushi became, you can write this shtick as an out-of-control personality alone. But Pisano claims otherwise. “It’s like throwing a baseball,” she says. “You throw it 1,000 times to control it, then your muscle memory, your skills and your brain work together from that point on. It is the same with comedy: John was very knowledgeable about what he is doing – but when he did it went into sheer instinct. “

The film leaves you in no doubt that Belushi continues, as Cutler states, “those who experience their work have a very meaningful artist in their lives”. It has little to say on Belushi’s legacy for modern comedy. To a large extent, perhaps – as his widow Judy points out, he wanted to be an actor, and the comedy was just how he chose to be there. But he also lit up Second City, National Lampoon and SNL, American Comedy Institutions, and starred in the then-highest-grossing comedy film, Animal House. Has that little but star’s career left an impression?

For Batsek, the answer is a clear yes. The film’s US premiere, he explains, was hosted by Judge Appato. Belushi is voiced by SNL alumnus and Belushi fan Bill Hyder in the film. “Seth Rogens of this world,” he says, “all will say that they are deeply influenced by John.” For Cutler, Belushi did not just influence comedy: “He invented the performing arts before muttering in the East Village. What i mean Was The Blues Brothers? Is it music Is this a demonstration? Are they playing the character? ”

In that hard-to-pin-down hybrid of fact and fiction (though it’s easy to say that in the same era at the wrestling antics of Belushi’s SNL teammate Andy Kaufman), Cutler reveals the roots of post-truth modernity. “The lines are so blurred. And now, we are living that! We’ve got a fictional character in the White House. John introduced the culture we all live. “

In the UK, his legacy claims are more difficult. Matthew Heaton is a British comic who moves around in the pack as Belushi. In Highton’s case, it would be the Verdose Comedy Collective, which gave the world Edinburgh Comedy Award winner John Kearns, among others. Belushi, Highton says, “That’s not that wind of standup, is it?” You can feel the improvisation coming through. He is one of those who lives in the moment, who takes something and rolls with it. “

For the Brits, the legacy of Belushi and his generation was first encountered through films. “Those are the people,” Heaton says, “through which a lot of comics first understood that they love what is fun.” Those who then dug deeper into Belushi’s SNL work have their importance in that “rolling with it” and element of risk. “In live comedy, you see all the time,” Heaton says. “That chaotic energy and the spirit of the soul, ‘If we fail, that’s fine.” But watching someone play in such a big medium in a moment and the fun it is, is really exciting. “

“The thing I love most about comedy,” she continues, is when you see people on stage together and they don’t fully know what the other person is going to do. That’s what you’ve got with Belushi, and I don’t think it would have been seen before, certainly not in the mainstream. “

Comic Nick Helm, who had a huge poster of Belushi in his old flat, agrees: “You had this well cast artist [on SNL], And then you had this one man who cut through it all, and that was Belushi. Like the animal from The Muppets, he was everyone’s favorite. “But he is not sure that Belushi’s work will end. “he introduced [the idea of] Funny people are not only rock stars but gods, ”Helm says. “He was originally the owner of New York. And I think its enjoyment was probably second to life. “Helm is a devotee of Chris Farley (who died of a drug overdose at 33), one of Belushi’s disciples.” Farley is comfortable, and Bellushi is more considerate. I think he is trying to remain calm. And I don’t really see a place to be cool in comedy.

But does this thing bring us into the full realm, to the point where the “live fast, die young” legend rises up and consumes the man? Helm says: “It’s not hard to look at those SNL sketches and smell alcohol and drugs. They just smell extra. “But for others, that the ecological levitation of” a man on a mission “is to end the status quo, as his widow tells him. Showtime’s documentary gives us a clearer vision than the man behind the myth – but does not leave us far behind forcing his comedy that destroyed him.

• Belushi airs the Sky documentary on November 27 and now on TV at 9 pm.

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