VIPs John Belushi and Dan Akyroyd

John Belushi (January 24, 1949 – March 5, 1982) and Dan Akyroyd (b. July 1, 1952 )

John Belushi was co-captain of his high school varsity football team, and at 5'9'' and 170 lbs. was an all-conference middle linebacker at Wheaton High in Chicago, home of the legendary Red Grange. He was elected Homecoming King, played drums in a rock-and-roll band and was already an accomplished actor in his teens. But he was embarassed by his Albanian heritage in the middle-class white suburb where he grew up, the home of evangelist Billy Graham, and was burdened by his father's pressure to take over his restaurant, plus the impending military draft.

While performing in summer stock the summer after he graduated high school, Belushi used marijuana for the first time. He used pot frequently in college, where he announced he hated alcohol and that anyone who used it was "straight."

Belushi started his own comedy troop while still in college and was the youngest member ever to join the cast of Second City in Chicago. While performing in the play "Lemmings" in New York City, he began using cocaine heavily, a habit he could never kick.

In addition to his huge success on Saturday Night Live and in movies like Animal House, Belushi and fellow SNLer Dan Akyroyd hit big with their band The Blues Brothers. Within five days of the release of their first album, all 50,000 copies had sold, and Atlantic records had to go to other production plants to keep up with demand. It turned out to be the fastest-breaking album Atlantic ever had, and within several more weeks it had been certified platinum, with sales in excess of one million. The Blues Brothers made two movies and played at the closing of Winterland in San Francisco along with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and New Riders of the Purple Sage.

In 1976, on the third SNL episode featuring Ron Nessun, White House Press secretary, and then-president Gerald Ford, Belushi performed a skit he’d written called The New Army. The scene opens with John as an army officer sitting in a recruiting office. An Uncle Sam We Want You recruiting poster with its face cut out and replaced by Star Trek captain James Kirk is on the wall and Belushi, his feet up on his desk, wails on an imaginary guitar. He says, "Hi I'm Lt. Col. Schuman with a word about today's new army. You know, the army has changed a lot since your old man was into it." [Stops to brush off the top of his desk, which is littered with a white powder, some pot, and rolling papers, stopping to slowly take a hit off a joint.] He leans back, "Now it's an all volunteer army, if you don't want to be there, it's cool…You have stuff to do, but so do weeee--the best stuff an Army helicopter can carry in from alllll over the woooorld…So join today's Army, because every burst of gunfire has all the colors of the rainbow." Voice over: The New Army, a joint venture that wants to join you.

Belishi is shown here with Aykroyd, who told Terri Gross on "Fresh Air" (December 31, 2004) that he was "popped for marijuana possession in Marseilles, Illinois, oh, jeez--it's so long ago." In Wired, Aykroyd said, "My life hasn't changed at all since [Belishi] died…And I'm not going to preach and proselytize, and I don't even think I want to become in these anti-drug-abuse things because…every man has his own free will."

Belushi's younger brother Jim, who has had a successful acting career, "outed" himself as a California medical marijuana card holder when he was caught with a joint on Martha's Vineyard in 2012. He has now become an Oregon cannabis farmer and speaks out for marijuana legalization and releasing pot prisoners. He and Aykroyd performed as The Blues Brothers at a benefit for the Last Prisoner Project in Las Vegas in 2021. Jim has said that he thinks John suffered from CTE as a result of his football playing, and told People magazine, "I believe what Dan Aykroyd says: ‘If John was a pothead he’d be alive today'."

Source: Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi by Bob Woodward, Simon and Schuster 1984

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