We actually feel bad running this picture of John Belushi. It’s kind of sad that the actor was still best known as John “Bluto” Blutarsky when he died on March 5th, 1982. Well, he was also known for every recurring character he’d ever played on Saturday Night Live, and as Jake Blues of the Blues Brothers. The truth is that things weren’t going so well for the actor. Animal House and The Blues Brothers were his only established hits. The Blues Brothers as a recording act had lost their major label deal, and Belushi’s last two films had been disappointments.
It still probably wasn’t some kind of depression that lead to the drug use that took his life at the age of 33. Belushi most likely felt invincible, and should have had a long career ahead of him. It’s interesting to think about where his career would be now. Belushi had already done a serious indie turn in 1979’s Old Boyfriends. He might very well have moved into the same kind of arthouse territory as Billy Murray. Or maybe Belushi would’ve just ended up in a sitcom, if he didn’t write himself a few choice roles that brought him longevity as a movie star. There’s a lot of tragedy in not knowing.
Belushi went out on a high note, though. We mentioned that his last two films were box-office disappointments. Continental Divide was released in September of 1981, and was a pretty bland romantic comedy. The high point was Belushi being believable as a mature leading man. Neighbors came out that Christmas, and was a much more innovative film. It bombed pretty badly, but Neighbors was a sharp spoof of suburban sin B-movies. Belushi and his pal Dan Aykroyd traded roles at the last minute, too, which allowed Belushi even more versatility as a mild-mannered family man.
Belushi had some other films in the pipeline when he passed away. Those included a dramatic role opposite Robert De Niro in Once Upon A Time In America, and the role of Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters. He would’ve been back on top for the rest of the ’80s, at least. Anyway, here’s some footage of Belushi and Aykroyd talking to Gene Shalit on The Today Show at the end of ’81. They seem pretty happy plugging Neighbors and a Blues Brothers compilation that was really the band’s corporate kiss-off. Aykroyd seems to have a pretty good understanding of his friend’s delicate situation, too. You can tell that he’s feeling protective of the strangely sedate Belushi. It’s a nice moment, and a reminder that some folks had a very personal loss on this day back in 1982…