John Belushi, one of the original seven cast members of Saturday Night Live, was born on January 24, 1949 in Wheaton, Illinois to a pair of Albanian immigrants, Agnes and Adam Belushi. In 1970 Belushi discovered his passion for comedy and decided to join Chicago’s famous improv group (and historical SNL training ground), The Second City. Belushi’s main acts while performing with The Second City focused on celebrity impressions, specifically Marlon Brando and Joe Cocker.
It was also while working with The Second City that he met his future friends and fellow SNL cast members, Dan Akroyd and Gilda Radner. In 1973 Belushi was chosen by the staff of National Lampoon to be in the cast for their Off-Broadway parody of Woodstock, Lemmings. Belushi’s work in Lemmings ultimately gained him enough exposure that he was noticed by NBC’s Lorne Michaels, who was searching for comedians to start a new late night television variety show that would eventually come to be known as Saturday Night Live.
John Belushi debuted with the other six original SNL cast members in the show’s first episode on October 11, 1975 in NBC’s Studio 8H. Belushi’s main role in the show was to add an element of ridiculous, intense, physical humor as well as some lighter, musically related acts (Fun fact: He was the third musical guest in the show’s history). Belushi’s main recurring sketches included The Blues Brothers, The Killer Bees, Samurai Futaba, and Olympic Café. Samurai Futaba, arguably Belushi’s most recognizable SNL role, was actually the character that he used when he initially auditioned for the show.
Another one of Belushi’s most famous sketches was Olympia Café, which was partially inspired by his father, who owned a restaurant.
In spite of his love for destroying things with a sword and yelling “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger”, Belushi eventually left SNL in 1979 to pursue his growing film career.
Belushi’s most famous non-SNL role was as John “Bluto” Blutarsky in National Lampoon’s Animal House. The first ever college party movie, Animal House reached out to a wide audience with great success and is now regarded as one of the best comedies ever filmed. (In my opinion, his best work)
Another one of Belushi’s most recognizable films was his 1980 collaboration with longtime friend, Dan Akroyd, Blues Brothers. (Fun fact: Belushi and Akroyd recorded an original album in 1978 with Atlantic Records entitled Briefcase Full of Blues)
Belushi also starred in several other films such as Goin’ South (1978), 1941 (1979), Continental Divide (1981), and Neighbors (1981).
On March 5, 1982, John Belushi died at the age of 33 in Hollywood, California. Belushi was discovered dead in his bungalow at the Chateau Marmont with his cause of death found to be an overdose of speedball (cocaine and heroin). For more on Belushi’s addiction and death, click here.
I personally believe that John Belushi was one of the top 5 SNL cast members of all time and should be considered a comedic genius. His style may be considered by some to have been over the top or crass, but he paved the way for future SNL gonzo comedians, such as Chris Farley, Molly Shannon, and Will Ferrell. Oh and one last thing, if Belushi was still alive today he would definitely have one of the best Youtube channels out there.