Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Frat Boy News Exclusive:
25 Years After His Death, John Belushi Still Reigns Supreme

The Frat Boy News Daily College Column
By The Associated Press

When a force of nature like John Belushi is lost, 25 years isn't time enough to ease the grief or erase the laughter.

Actor-comedian Richard Belzer still dreams about him from time to time, the unselfish friend and "impish genius" who devoured life. John Landis, who directed Belushi in "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers," is still angry at him for dying foolishly and young.

"Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels feels an obligation to "restate the obvious," that Belushi was profoundly talented and part of the show's creative DNA.

By most measures, the round comic with the sharp edges left a small body of work when a drug overdose killed him at age 33 in March 1982. But his TV, movie and music performances proved influential, hitting the baby-boomer sweet spot and surviving despite pop culture's truncated attention span.

Belushi burst the seams of comedy alongside like-minded performers and writers energized by the social upheaval of the 1960s and '70s. He helped join humor and pop music in a lasting romance and brought renewed attention to Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and other R&B giants.

He etched out the start of a promising acting career, and his best movies reshaped industry expectations by catering to newly empowered young consumers and pushing comedy into the blockbuster realm.

His legacy also includes the bleak Hollywood cliche of destructive behavior, now as much on display as ever with the revolving-door rehab stints of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan.

For Belushi, his tragic death overshadows but can't diminish his gifts.

In 1978, on the eve of his 30th birthday, Belushi had the No. 1 movie with "Animal House," the No. 1 record (with partner Dan Aykroyd), "Briefcase Full of Blues" and was the heart of television's hottest show.

The world was Belushi's, for better and worse, as his contracts rose from $35,000 for "Animal House" to $2 million and more. As it had for others, success fueled destructive excess.

The comedian was found dead on March 5, 1982, in a hotel bungalow at the Chateau Marmont hotel on the fabled Sunset Strip.

Belushi didn't consider himself an addict despite increasingly prodigious drug use, said Tanner Colby, co-author of the 2005 biography "Belushi" (written with Belushi's widow, Judith Belushi Pisano).

"John Belushi, deep down, was a stable guy who knew who he was, had a lot of confidence, wasn't superficial but with no great internal trouble," Colby said. "I think that what happened to him was largely due to fame. For a year and a half, he was as big as Elvis."

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