Here he is with his date for his homecoming dance, at the high school he attended in Illinois. Isn't that sweet?
John aged as much as he could in his 33 years with us. He lived more during those three and a third decades than most of us will live in thrice that time.
Chicago Second City audiences were the first to experience John's genius. New York audiences were first blown away by his amazing work dominating National Lampoon's legendary live stage show Lemmings, with Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest, two gentlemen who have also done well. The Lemmings original cast album was where I first encountered him.
Chevy was the early break-out star, and left too quickly. His appeal has not aged well.
But when John broke out shortly thereafter, he burned with a tremendous intensity. What a galaxy of memorable characters he created: the Samurai Jack-of-All-Trades, the "Cheeseburger, cheeseburger" guy, Captain Kirk, Liz Taylor (Hands down, the funniest Liz Taylor of all time), Brando, Joe Cocker, Jake Blues, the reluctant Bee actor, and his greatest creation, John Belushi, comic madman.
Gilda herself wrote a caption for this picture, "In loving memory of John Belushi [He was alive when this was written and published. It was a gag, then.], who can hit me without hurting me, and hurt me without hitting me."
And for a stocky man, I always found him enormously sexy. And I was not alone. There was no way around it. John was hot, something no one has ever said about Jim Belushi.
But John was not available. John married his high school sweetheart, Judith Jacklin, now Judith Jacklin Belushi Pisano. They were still married when he died. John remained deeply in love with her. The madman was a true romantic, and Judith was the love of his life.
John didn't have time to wait until he left SNL to begin his movie career. Animal House was shot between seasons. And John had already played a small role in a Jack Nicholson romantic comedy western, Goin' South. (Watchable solely to see John.) Though Bluto in Animal House was only a supporting role, when it opened and became the highest-grossing comedy ever to that time, there was no question but that John was a Major Movie Star.
That picture of Senator Blutarsky, as a one-sheet poster, adorned my living room wall in 1980, just below pictures of WC Fields, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Chaplin, and Groucho, my idols. That's how important John was to me then.
Another supporting role was already in the can, in the forgotten picture Old Boyfriends. But then John and Dan went to play with the big boys, in the giant budget Steven Spielberg spectacle farce 1941.
1941 was not a huge hit, and is disdained by critics, fans, and Spielberg himself, although I have always kind of liked it. It's a giant comedy, with an unbelievable all-star cast, including Christopher Lee, Robert Stack, Toshiro Mifune, Slim Pickens, John Candy, Treat Williams, and about a billion others.
For me, it will always be special, because I had a friend in the cast, Walter Olkewicz, and Wally kindly invited me down to the set, on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, to attend two nights of shooting. I got to meet Dan Aykroyd and John Candy, to watch Spielberg direct, to have my picture taken sandwiched between John Landis and John Milius, and best of all, the reason I came, to meet and be introduced to John Belushi.
Those who knew John say he had two basic personality settings: coked-up manic asshole, and the Greatest, Sweetest Guy in the World. It was the latter John I met that night. John was tremendously kind and sweet with me, with no need to be. I was no one (A condition that persists to this day), just an ardent admirer. But John spent time with me, and could not have been friendlier.
He also scribbled this on the second page.
I told you he was in love with her.
This photo of John and Dan is one I have always cherished, because I was standing beside the photographer when he shot it, watching them work. This is where I stood with John, and passed the time.
John made only three more movies: the mega-hit musical comedy spectacle The Blues Brothers, the surprisingly charming romantic comedy Continental Divide, in which John scored in a role one easily imagines Spencer Tracy playing, and the over-the-top, peculiar suburban comedy Neighbors.
And then suddenly, one day in March, 1982, it was over. John was dead. I was working in a bank in Hollywood that day, and a customer, it was Dorothy Beatty, wife of John's 1941 co-star Ned Beatty, who told me that it was all over the news that John had been found dead. I was so devastated I had to close down and go home early. I went to see friends, and we got stoned and watched an old SNL repeat, with Don't Look Back in Anger, of all things, on it, and I wept.
A few years later Bob Woodward wrote a terrible, sensationalistic, nasty book about John's life, titled Wired. In it, appreciating John's comic genius, and his beautiful, warm giving side, was subjucated to reduce John's life to a cautionary tale on the evils of drug abuse. Don't read this book. Don't see the movie made from it.
Fortunately more recently, Judith Belushi Pisano has put out a much better biography of her late husband. Simply titled Belushi. It is lavishly illustrated, and John's life is told solely in the words of people who knew him. It is Judith's second book on John. Her earlier work, Samurai Widow, was about her relationship with John, and her recovery after his loss. Both are worth reading, but Belushi is a must-have.
It's been 27 years since John left us, but he lives on in my heart, and in the hearts of millions of other people. He was unforgettable. I spent today remembering him, by watching the Best of John Belushi DVD of his most memorable SNL pieces, and by watching a double feature of Animal House and 1941. Still a lot of laughs, but I was wet-eyed through them all.
I can't believe he would ever have made it to 60, but I wish he'd proven me wrong. He'd make one holy hell of a senior citizen, and I bet he'd still be funniest guy in the room, no matter what room.
Rest in Chaos, John; peace was never your style.