What would the world look like if Animal House alumni John “Bluto” Blutarsky were in the Senate now? The actor who played him, John Belushi, maintains he’d rather be an anarchist than a professional in the trailer for upcoming Belushi. Never quite ready for prime time, the performer had already urged lemmings in their final jump for National Lampoon. Showtime’s documentary feature shows how he made the leap himself to comic icon.
Belushi was in the original cast of Saturday Night Live, which goes into season 46 on Oct. 3, and his influence on comedy is felt as strongly today as it was when he put on Henry Kissinger’s glasses. The documentary was made by the team which brought us Listen to Me Marlon, an immersive look at Marlon Brando’s acting as told by the legend himself: R.J. Cutler, who directed The September Issue and The World According to Dick Cheney, and John Battsek, who helmed Searching for Sugar Man and The Tillman Story.
As we hear in the trailer, when Belushi was 30 years old, he was the star of the number one TV show, SNL; the biggest movie comedy of its age, Animal House; and a comedy album at the top of the charts: The Blues Brothers’ Briefcase of Blues. He died of an overdose in 1982 at age 33. Belushi only made about a dozen movies, but they made him a comedy legend and helped establish the SNL-related film dynasty.
The new documentary examines “the too-short life of John Belushi, the once-in-a-generation talent who captured the hearts and funny-bones of audiences worldwide,” according to the press statement. “From his early years growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, John Belushi showed an extraordinary talent for comedy and music. It was a visit to the Second City theater in Chicago where he discovered his true calling, and from that moment John became an unstoppable and pioneering force in the comedy world. From National Lampoon’s Lemmings and Radio Hour to one of the founding cast members on Saturday Night Live, his insatiable drive kept the candle burning at both ends.”
The film was made with the cooperation of Belushi’s wife, Judith Belushi Pisano. The press statement explains “as John’s fame grew, so did his demons, and not even Judy could save him from the drug use that would eventually take his life.” Judith also donated letters she’d gotten from her husband to include in the film.
“Belushi was one of my very first heroes,” Cutler said in a statement when the documentary was first announced. “At a time when film, television and music were undergoing tectonic shifts within American culture, he was at the center of it all. At that moment, he had the number-one show on television, the number-one film at the box office and the number-one record on the charts. We plan to explore his unique genius and how his creative influence is still making an impact to this moment.”
John simultaneously appeared on SNL each Saturday night, live, while he was filming Animal House. At the same time, he formed and performed in the Blues Brothers with Dan Ackroyd, who speaks candidly in Belushi, along with interviews from Lorne Michaels, Chevy Chase, Harold Ramis, Jane Curtin, Ivan Reitman, Penny Marshall, and Carrie Fisher.
Belushi premieres Nov. 22 at 9pm on Showtime.