Although John Belushi was best known as a TV and movie actor, he enjoyed quite a bit of success late in his tragic career as one half of the blues revival act the Blues Brothers. Born on January 24, 1949, and raised in Illinois, Belushi showed great promise for his acting and comedy skills early on, starring in several high school and college plays, and, by 1971, landed a spot with Chicago's famed Second City Comedy Troupe. One of his best bits showcased his vocal skills, as he could do a show-stopping, dead-on impersonation of the great Joe Cocker (both visually and sonically). By 1972, the buzz surrounding Belushi's talents had began to spread, as he was offered a job with National Lampoon's Lemmings and syndicated Radio Hour. It was while a member of National Lampoon that Belushi befriended another up and coming comedy actor, Dan Aykroyd, which would result in a life-long friendship. Belushi appeared on several National Lampoon comedy albums, including 1973's Lemmings, 1974's Stereo Test and Demonstration, and 1975's Gold Turkey.
It wasn't long before the pair caught the attention of producer Lorne Michaels, who was putting together a new comedy show for late on Saturday night, Saturday Night Live. Both Belushi and Aykroyd joined a stellar cast that included Chevy Chase, Gilda Radner, and Bill Murray, the latter of which would replace Chase for the second season, as the hit show skyrocketed the troupe to superstardom. Early in the show, Belushi and Aykroyd would perform as a "warm-up" band for the waiting audience (backed by the SNL band), doing blues and R&B nuggets. This bit soon made its way to the air as the Blues Brothers, as the pair assumed the alter identities Elwood (Aykroyd) and Jake (Belushi), as they dressed in black suites and dark sunglasses, backed by a fantastic group that included former Booker T & the M.G.'s guitarist Steve "the Colonel" Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, among others.
Belushi's fame spread even further in 1978, when he starred as the party animal character Bluto in the gross-out comedy classic motion picture, Animal House. At the same time that Animal House hit number one at the box office, Saturday Night Live was also the number one show on TV, and the Blues Brothers' debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues, hit number one on the Billboard album charts. Such a meteoric rise would prove unsettling to just about anyone, and Belushi turned to cocaine to handle his fast paced world.
Belushi left Saturday Night Live in 1980, the same year the Blues Brothers would issue a sophomore album, Made in America, as well as a self-titled cult classic comedy motion picture the same year, which included guest appearances by such R&B legends as Aretha Franklin, James Brown, John Lee Hooker, and Ray Charles. Belushi returned back to traditional acting roles, but also found time to become a major admirer of the burgeoning punk movement, supplying drums for a benefit show for Dead Boys drummer Bobby Blitz at New York's CBGB's, as well as befriending such L.A. punk outfits as Fear (Belushi went as far as getting the confrontational group a performance spot on SNL). One of Belushi's next projected movie projects would have even been punk rock-based (he was supposed to play a journalist covering the punk scene), but on March 5, 1982, Belushi was found dead from an apparent accidental drug overdose at the age of 33. ~ Greg Prato, Rovi