John Belushi: Son of Samurai

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John Belushi occasionally dismisses his audience as 'the angel-dust crowd,' but it seems as if nearly everybody loves the guy. He cannot walk down the street without being recognized every twenty feet and greeted like a long-lost crazy uncle who used to bounce you on his knee (and maybe dropped you on your head a few times).

In nearly seventy shows on Saturday Night Live, he has taken part in an awesome number of skits, many of which he wrote himself. He has contributed a couple of comic catch phrases to the American language – "Cheeseburger, cheeseburger" and "But nooooo!" – just in time to replace Steve Martin's "Excuuuuse me!"

But no matter what role he plays, he is always John Belushi – unlike, say, Dan Aykroyd or Laraine Newman, who project little of their own personalities. Perhaps to his detriment, he is often the same violent lunatic character in whatever role he plays. Bluto in Animal House, for example, is not a significant departure from what he has accomplished on TV. The almost certain prospect of becoming a major star carries the danger of being typecast as a maniac for the rest of his life and ultimately boring his fans.

I doubt this will happen, because he would bore himself first. He could have spent the rest of his life as a killer bee, but he stopped before it became stale. He also has too many other talents. He and Aykroyd formed the Blues Brothers to warm up audiences before the show, ultimately made an appearance and now have a contract with Atlantic Records. They will open for Steve Martin at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles in September. The album will be live (the backup band is as yet unchosen) and the cover will probably feature them changing a flat on the Bluesmobile.

Belushi's plans are hard to pin down. Depending on his mood, he will be happy doing Saturday Night Live for the rest of his life or never again (he has one year left on his contract). And he might do another movie, depending on if he can stand all the assholes in Hollywood.

His wife, Judy, who ought to know when to take him at his word, says he wants to be a serious actor. "In college I saw him play Danforth in The Crucible, and he was so intense that the other actors thought he was going to hurt them," she says. "When he does get a straight role, he will blow people away."

In Glen Glenn sound studios in Los Angeles, they are about to loop (that is, overdub) 'Old Boyfriends' so they can sell it to television.

"We have to get rid of all the fucks and cunts and piles of crap," says director Joan Tewkesbury kissing John Belushi hello. "This is for the TV version."

"Pile of crap?" says Belushi. "You can say that on TV."

"You sure?"

"Listen, I've been fighting the censors for three years. I ought to know."

"Well, okay," concedes Tewkesbury. "But be thinking about substitutes for the other words."

The movie (due for fall release) stars Talia Shire, Rocky's girlfriend, as a woman who looks up her old boyfriends in order to avenge past humiliations. Belushi plays a guy who took her out in high school, ripped off her panties, wrapped them around a basketball and dribbled them down the court at a pep rally. She meets him again at age thirty-three in St. Paul, where he is singing lead in a rock band at high-school proms and renting tuxedos to students. In the scene Tewkesbury is looping, Shire drives Belushi to lovers' lane and becomes very aggressive. He doesn't know what to make of it at all.

"You college girls are all alike," he says in the movie. "You talk, talk, talk, when what you want is to fuck, fuck, fuck."

"How about neck, neck, neck?" suggests Tewkesbury. "I'm not going to say that!" objects Belushi at the microphone.

"Bang, bang, bang?" asks Tewkesbury.

"How about,' . . . when what you want is sex, sex, sex'?" Tewkesbury agrees, and they play the sentence about ten times before Belushi is synched exactly with the proper tone of voice. They play the rest of the scene – Shire takes off Belushi's pants, bids him to get out of the car so she can "rape" him on the ground, then drives off to leave him clad in his boxer shorts.

The character is apparently quite worried about his potence while Shire is unzipping his pants. "It didn't work out so well the last time I was up here," he says.

I laugh, and Belushi points at me. "What are you writing in your notebook? You fucker!"

"I'm writing you can't get it up."

"I'll kill you when we get out of here," he yells. "I'll kill you!"

Any other actor would be proud of such an effective scene. But not John Belushi, the former middle linebacker who loses his mind every Saturday night in front of millions of people for laughs. The Belushi up there on the screen is vulnerable in a way I've never seen before, achingly so. Maybe it's more fun to be a macho maniac, but this is great acting.

"It's not me, it's the role," moans Belushi. "I have to keep telling myself it's not me . . . "

This story is from the August 10th, 1978 issue of Rolling Stone.

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