As an original cast member of Saturday Night Live and star of movies like Animal House and The Blues Brothers, John Belushi is secure in his spot as one of the world's most beloved comedians. But like many other celebrities, he had a powerful dark side, and even after his passing John Belushi's addiction is almost as famous as his face. Many John Belushi movies have become classic comedies — but what went on behind the scenes?
Belushi began his comedy career at Chicago's Second City, joined the original cast of SNL in 1975, and left after Animal House made him a movie star and created some pretty crazy behind the scenes stories. Belushi used coke throughout SNL and as he became more famous, he required more to keep himself going. Believing his excesses were responsible for his success, Belushi struggled unsuccessfully to stop himself from self-destructing. Luckily, his passing at age 33 from an overdose managed to wake up several of his contemporaries like Robin Williams. As a comedian who just wanted to make people happy, Belushi struggled under the weight of his career and these stories about his struggle show the painfully human side of the comedy legend.
In addition to a samurai, a greasy cheeseburger cook, and an impression of Joe Cocker that was apparently so good Paul McCartney paid him $6,000 to perform as Cocker at his birthday party, one of John Belushi's legendary SNL roles was Beethoven. During the sketch, the famous composer snorts something and turns into Ray Charles. According to former SNL head writer Michael O'Donoghue, the coke in that scene was real and Belushi had no problem indulging himself on air. O'Donoghue recalled:
...He had a big fat line, and there was that tight shot of him doing it. Lorne was very permissive for the most part and by that time, the network was staying away. Everyone thought it was white powder, but what kind of white powder can you snort like that?
It's believed John Belushi was first introduced to coke while performing in National Lampoon's Lemmings show and by the time he was appearing on Saturday Night Live, he had a full-blown problem. Coke and other drugs have since become associated with the first few seasons of the show and Al Franken remembered, "...Many on the show thought that you can't do a 90-minute live comedy show week after week without doing [it]."
Although other members of SNL's cast and crew were known to indulge, after experiments with mescaline, amphetamines, peyote, and LSD, coke remained Belushi's favorite and it became a large part of his lifestyle. Allegedly, he enjoyed playing a game called "cocaine chicken" which entailed a long line of coke being snorted at each end by two contestants. Whoever reached the middle first won. It was usually Belushi.
Belushi's fans were important to him, and he wore himself out trying to maintain their approval. After Animal House made him a movie star, Belushi sometimes went out of his way to get a reaction from people. While driving with Dan Aykroyd, Belushi asked him to stop the car in front of a primary school. He then got out, knocked on all the first floor windows, and smiled as groups of children chanted "Bluto!"
Unfortunately, many of Belushi's fans were also his enablers. He took drugs partly in order to keep up his manic public persona. Since his fans grew to expect this, Belushi's drug usage grew worse. It seemed everyone wanted to be his friend or party with him, and even police officers became his personal chauffeurs, driving him around Chicago while filming The Blues Brothers. Penny Marshall remembered, "I swear, you'd walk down the street with him, and people would hand him drugs. And then he'd do all of them — be the kind of character he played in sketches or Animal House."
By 1982, John Belushi's drug-fueled lifestyle was out of control and beginning to worry friends and family. He was brought to California from New York to work on a script for a movie called Noble Rot, but was having trouble writing. While waiting for the script, the studio was paying for his food, transportation, and hotel room, in addition to a $2,500 allowance each week. Since all his living expenses were being paid, Belushi chose to spend that money entirely on drugs.
As the script writing fell behind schedule, he used more in order to work. The writing he churned out was unfunny, unorganized, and had obviously been written under the influence of drugs. Although Belushi's excesses were now actively hindering his creativity, he believed he could not function professionally without them.