John Belushi, alum of many things funny such as Second City, Saturday Night Live and many movies, passed away on March 5th, 1982. He was someone uncomfortable to love. He was an amazing comedian but you also knew the drugs were close behind. As one writer said this week he was one of many performers who is famous on brink of infamous for his habits. I grew up loving him. I loved him in the Blues Brothers and pretty much everything he did on Saturday Night Live. I remember hearing his brother Jim say one of the few times they were onstage together at Second City, John didn’t say a word during one sketch. All he had to do was walk onstage and look at the audience and they laughed.
Another one of my favorite Belushi stories, at risk of sounding heartless and insensitive, was about his funeral. Dan Aykroyd disappeared for a while after Belushi’s death. I can’t fathom losing a friend and creative partner and losing them like that. John introduced Dan to the Blues (at least Chicago Blues), something Dan is now known for. During the funeral procession in Chicago, Dan appears on his motorcycle and leads the way. I like the image of the solemn cars driving, lights on and as quiet as possible, then the grumble of a Harley, and Dan turning a corner to pull out in front, a friend showing up for a friend one last time. I don’t know how much of it is true but I like it.
My parents grew up in Chicago theatre in the ’70’s. My dad knew the Belushi brothers so I grew up hearing stories of after parties and just them in general. I also grew up with great respect and admiration for Second City so when I enrolled in their Writing Program, it was a big deal. I was going to comedy’s Harvard as far as I was concerned.
I was excited and nervous as I showed up for new student orientation. You meet out front and they lead you through the front doors. The several hundred of us were herded up the stairs. Needless to say there was a traffic jam. I got stuck on the landing between the floors. The walls are covered with photos of past casts. I look over and there’s John Belushi smiling back. I could almost hear him say, “Hey.” And I felt better. Throughout Second City you can feel the ghosts of all the greats that have walked through, running up the stairs or strolling to the stage. There was something about seeing Belushi that made me feel taken care of, like a friend of my dad’s was looking out for me.