Being named the prom king and “most humorous” student in high school was an early indication that John Belushi was cut out for bigger things than working in restaurant management, his family’s business. Despite their parents’ wishes, John and younger brother Jim both went into show biz. In college John joined a popular sketch comedy group at the University of Wisconsin. After graduating in 1970, he earned a spot with the Chicago-based improv group Second City, where his imitations of Marlon Brando and Truman Capote made him the talk of the town. Not long after, National Lampoon magazine tasked him to join its off-Broadway production of Lemmings, a series of sketches that parodied everything from Woodstock to the Nixon administration.
Belushi’s talent and resume were enough for SNL producer Lorne Michaels to draft Belushi as one of the inaugural members of the show — a group that came to be known as the Not-Ready-for-Primetime Players — along with the likes of Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin. Belushi had some success in films while still on the show, starring as a hard-partying, toga-wearing frat boy in the cult classic National Lampoon’s Animal House. He ended his SNL run in 1979 to star in a string of movies, including The Blues Brothers, which, though not a critical success, was a fan favorite. But his story was cut short in March 1982, when, after struggling with addiction for years, the 33-year-old died of a drug overdose. His death, along with other SNL cast members — Gilda Radner succumbing to ovarian cancer in 1989, Chris Farley’s drug overdose in 1997 and the 1998 shooting death of Phil Hartman — have prompted some to speculate about an SNL curse.
Next Chevy Chase