John Belushi: Chicago’s Blues Brother
In 1975, the comedy scene exploded with the premiere of Saturday Night Live, where comedians performed live with musical acts, parodies, and sketch comedy. The original cast of Saturday Night Live was arguably one of the funniest casts in history, and who was on the main stage every Saturday night but Chicago’s own John Belushi.
Belushi was born in Wheaton, Illinois in 1949. His childhood was almost a movie script. He attended Wheaton Central High school, started on the football team, acted in a variety show, and was nominated homecoming King his senior year. He even met his future wife, Judy Jacklin, while in high school. After graduation, John enrolled at University of Wisconsin at Whitewater but later dropped out and moved back home. Once back in Wheaton, he enrolled in the College of DuPage and decided to pursue his acting career. In 1971 he officially joined the famous Second City in Chicago, performing six nights a week. With the knowledge and experience gained at the famous comedy club, John moved to New York to perform in The National Lampoon Radio Hour. Here, he performed with future SNL cast members like Gilda Radner and Chevy Chase.
Belushi’s big break finally arrived in 1975 when he joined the original cast of Saturday Night Live, catapulting him into national fame. However, it was in 1978 that Belushi became the poster child for the college “frat” life with his performance in Animal House. After leaving SNL, Belushi decided to focus solely on his film career. In 1980, Belushi returned home to Chicago, alongside former SNL castmate Dan Aykryod, to create The Blues Brothers. His performance in the film only strengthened both Belushi’s acting and music career.
However, it was only two short years after the release of The Blues Brothers that Belushi was found dead in his hotel room. On March 5, 1982, Belushi died due to a lethal combination of cocaine and heroin. Months after his death, Cathy Smith, a well known groupie and drug dealer at the time, admitted that she was the one who administered the lethal dose to Belushi. She served 15 months in prison for involuntary manslaughter. Belushi’s friends, fellow actors, and fans grieved for the loss of one of the most talented comedians of their generation. He was laid to rest in Massachusetts, but his family in Wheaton paid tribute to his memory by marking a gravestone in River Grove, Illinois that reads “He gave us laughter.”