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Why John Belushi Is My Hero
Today is John Belushi's birthday and I found it fitting to write about John Belushi today because he is my hero. He is my Michael Jordan for the guys that grew up watching Michael Jordan and are now in the NBA. He was past my time, but I remember growing up when the first years of SNL were on E!. I have a vague memory the first time I saw a John Belushi sketch. It was the "Samurai Hotel" sketch with Richard Pryor. I don't remember much of it, (thank god for Youtube) but If I try to reminisce that moment. The feeling of me being 7 years old with a toy in my hand, mouth wide open, and staring up at the T.V. while I sat Indian style. Watching. Hearing every grunt and moan that a samurai would make. Every laughter he makes with just a raise of an eye brow. The electricity of every performance that makes it come SO alive (last SNL player I saw do that was Chris Farley) gives me chills. When I think back to what made me want to become a comic and get into such a tough business. THAT exact moment of me sitting Indian style is one of the first moments to come to my head.
John Belushi was one of four kids of Albanian immigrants. He was the "class clown". One of his first performances was an impression of his high school principal and a Blue Fairy for the senior men's fashion show in his high school as well. He married his high school sweet heart Judith Belushi Pisano ( writer, artist, graphic designer. She was primary cover designer for the first four Blue's Brothers albums). John started a improv group called the West Compass Players with a few friends. John was THE talent. First time he ever did the Joe Cocker performance was with that group. After, Second City ( Acclaimed Improv school. Alums: John Belushi, Chris Farley, Steve Carrell, and A LOT more) found John, John would meet a few people that he would soon be experiencing his comedy career with, Harold Ramis (most known for Ghostbusters. Also, an accomplished writer), Joe Flaherty (known for the guy who screams, "Jackass" in Happy Gilmore, Dad in Freaks and Geeks.). From there he did Lemmings, a Woodstock parody. John Belushi's character? Joe Cocker.
He would go and meet future SNL alums, Christopher Guest and Chevy Chase. After Lemmings, came his radio days. Where he worked for the National Lampoon Radio Show. Which at the time was a popular, but yet off the walls magazine. This is where a lot of the magic happened. This is where he met SNL's first years writers Anne Beats and Michael O'Donoghue. SNL Alums, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray. SNL came after. Lorne Michael's heard about this "crazy" guy who was electric and did a HELL of a Joe Cocker performances. This guy was John Belushi. They met...didn't go so well. Lorne thought he was trouble and didn't want that mentality to ruin this small window of opportunity he had for this show. John didn't want to do T.V. his take on T.V. was that it was terrible and so forth. O'Donoghue, Chevy, and Gilda after a few weeks past told Lorne Michaels what he was doing was a mistake. After, John was on SNL.
It took a little while for John Belushi to be the big star. John Belushi was in the first intro/sketch for SNL "Wolverines" sketch. John Belushi's famous character was the "Samurai". It's said the " Samurai Hotel" sketch with Richard Pryor was his "Break out" sketch. (Side Note: John Belushi came up with that idea in his apartment when a re-run of samurai movies were on T.V.), but 6 months later Chevy came with his " I'm Chevy Chase and your not." line on the Weekend Update. Stardom for Chevy kicked in. Chevy soon left ( he had a one year contract and a lot of movie offers). John and Dan Aykroyd would become the stars. Who took over Chevy's spot? Some guy called Bill Murray. John and Dan would write sketches together, party together, pretty much were together all the time, Creating a powerful comedy duo.
Dan Aykroyd introduced John to Blues. John was a big Rock'N'Roll guy. The sounds of the blues was something he never heard. Then, John started collecting blues albums. Technically the first Blue's Brother's performance was January 17, 1976, the skit, " Howard Shore and the All Bee band" played Slim Harpo's " I'm a King Bee.". John on Vocals, Dan on the Harmonica wearing the bee suits ( John Belushi hated wearing the bee suit). A fascination of being in a band started becoming a reality. They would play with local blues bands at bars. Howard Shore (SNL Bandleader) suggested they called themselves , " The Blues Brothers". Dan Aykroyd in an interview said the act was borrowed from Sam & Dave and others, but the hats came from John Lee Hooker. The suits came from the concept that when you were a jazz player in the 40's, 50's 60's, to look straight, you had to "wear a suit".
Success came at John like when your walking and last second you realize a snowball is coming at your face and it's too late to move and you just take a ball of snow to the face. He had the number one movie in the U.S. (Animal House). The number one T.V. show in the U.S. (Saturday Night Live). And the number one music album of the U.S. (Briefcase Full of Blues). Success wasn't easy for John. It's what he wanted in the beginning, but in the end he hated it very much. I don't know how much, but Judy and Dan did. ( Highly recommend the book, Belushi: A Biography)
John Belushi passed away on March 5th, 1982. The death was caused by a speedball. The combined injection of cocaine and heroine. John died at Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood, California. Dan Aykroyd was the first to tell Judy that John had passed away. Dan was writing a script for this SMALL movie called "Ghostbusters". He specifically wrote the role of Dr. Peter Venkman for John Belushi. Bill Murray would go on to play the role. John's funeral was held in Martha's Vineyard where Dan Aykroyd says, " The Vineyard was the only place where John slept well.". Dan Aykroyd played "2000 Pound Bee" by the Ventures per promise for John Belushi. He also led the cortege to the cemetery on his motorcyle, gunning the engine as loud as possible. Hoping...that John would hear him.
Why He's My Hero
John Belushi is one of the legends of comedy. He has inspired so MANY people to pursue their dreams of being a comic. I wasn't even from that era and he has such an impact on me. He is one of the SNL Beatles. I have a picture of him on my phone, wall, and my computer background because that feeling of accomplishing my dream melts my heart when I look at these pictures. I want, what he does to me. When I'm a comic or when I'm passed away. I want someone to write a blog about me and how I inspired them. I want them to remember the moment they saw me on T.V. or on stage and realized, " I want to be a comedian!". I want them to have a picture of me as an inspiration. Even if I don't make it on SNL (I can do a mean Christopher Walken) my goal is to just leave a legacy. When I'm a comic and if I totally forgot that I wrote this. I'm going to say something to you young believer that I will tell you if you come up to me before I go on stage to perform. You will make it. Believe in yourself. Those nights at open mics when no comic laughs (they never do) keep believing. Those nights when you have an off day on stage and the car ride back with your friends is awkward, keep believing. Nights when the crowd is just AWFUL, keep believing. These are just steps to your dream. The MOST important thing my young believer is you believing in yourself...I promise.
P.S. I love you John Belushi.