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Facts And Theories About 'Atuk,' A Cursed Script That Killed Every Actor Attached

Updated June 10, 2020 466.5k views8 items

Cursed movies exist, though few of these scripts tend to capture interest quite like Atuk. Ask anyone who's been in the business, and they'll likely have some insane Atuk stories. This unproduced screenplay has been floating around Hollywood since the early '70s. It tells the fish-out-of-water story of an Eskimo in New York City, adapted from Mordecai Richler's 1963 novel The Incomparable Atuk. Norman Jewison purchased the rights to the book in 1971, and screenwriter Tod Carroll pumped out a draft, but it has yet to be filmed. That's not for lack of trying - it's just that, according to some crazy theories, the script fells any actor that expresses interest in the lead role.

Carroll himself has waved off any talk of a curse, but the creepy coincidences surrounding Atuk - most notably the connection between an actor's involvement with the script and their passing - has been compelling enough for film buffs to take interest. As such, it's become one of the most infamous unproduced screenplays in Hollywood history and a piece of lore that shines a light on the dark side of Hollywood.

And Atuk's still out there. United Artists retains the rights to this day. You can even read it for yourself. But you might want to read the following before you crack open those dusty (digital) pages. As this behind-the-scenes Hollywood drama reveals, some stories were best left untold.

  • It Took Out John Belushi

    Atuk was written with just one actor in mind: Saturday Night Live, Animal House, and Blues Brothers star John Belushi. Belushi was apparently quite taken with the role. This must've been exciting for producer Norman Jewison, who'd been looking for a star with the clout of Belushi for nearly 10 years.

    Just a few months later, however, Belushi was found dead at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood. His passing was initially ruled an accidental overdose, though his friend Catherine Evelyn Smith was eventually charged in the incident.

  • It Caused Sam Kinison's Car Crash

    Belushi's passing didn't halt Atuk for long. By 1988, production resumed, with brash comedian Sam Kinison set to play Atuk. Some sources say the notoriously prickly Kinison never even read the script before taking the role and arrived on set with rewrites in hand, while others say his manager promised him creative control without clearing it with the studio. Regardless, everyone seems to agree that footage was shot with Kinison in full costume - but production halted after just eight days. United Artists, the studio behind Atuk, sued Kinison for threatening to give an intentionally bad performance, and his manager soon left.

    Only a few years later, Kinison lost his life in a head-on collision on California's U.S. Route 95. Sources who were there that day tell a chilling tale, saying that before he passed, Kinison seemed to carry on a conversation with something no one else could see. 

    "I don't want to [go]. I don't want to [go]," he reportedly said before pausing and seeming to listen closely to a voice no one could hear. He asked, "But why?" and, after listening again, quietly muttered "okay" three times.

  • It Gave John Candy Heart Issues

    In 1994, just two years after the passing of Kinison, character actor extraordinaire John Candy was approached to take the lead in Atuk. Candy apparently expressed interest, but a heart attack claimed his life before he could make a decision.

  • It Took Candy's Friend, Too

    It Took Candy's Friend, Too
    Photo: NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

    It's widely known that John Candy was in poor health when he passed. But what prompts many to credit the Atuk curse for his passing is that, just a few months later, Candy's friend and screenwriter Michael O'Donoghue was felled unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage. O'Donoghue, according to various accounts, had either given the script to Candy or read it along with him.