Director R.J. Cutler has sculpted a gloves-off documentary on one of the first stars of Saturday Night Live; perhaps first falling star would be a more apt description of the eponymously named Belushi, an exposé on the life and meteoric comedy career of John Belushi.
A gifted physical comedian, a mirror perfect impressionist, a natural musician, and a master of the art of improvisation, John Belushi rose fast to fame in his short six-year stint under the nation’s spotlight and died of a drug overdose at age 33 in Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont Hotel in 1982.
As self-destructive as he was talented, in retrospect it seems that the flip-side of Belushi’s comic persona was a prediction of his own deadly fate. After all, some of his most renowned comedic characterizations ended with death or the threat of death, including his suicidal samurai character, his contorted impression of singer Joe Cocker, and his ongoing enactment of death by heart attack, which was first aired in the premier episode of SNL and in several episodes thereafter until it became a regular SNL Belushi bit.
Among the many talking heads in this documentary we hear interviews with fellow SNL cast member, Blues Brother band partner, and best friend, Dan Aykroyd; the late Carrie Fisher; and SNL creator and producer Lorne Michaels. It is revealed that Michaels had a rocky relationship with Belushi, which began when Belushi reluctantly auditioned for the SNL cast and became evermore exacerbated after Belushi unapologetically announced to Michaels that he didn’t like television.
We learn much about Belushi’s inner life through Director Cutler’s clever use of animation, wherein another SNL breakout alumnus, Bill Hader, lends credible voice to the sketched images of Belushi. We learn of Belushi’s long love and marriage to his high school girlfriend Judith Jacklin, whom Belushi loving referred to as Jutes, as well as his haunting self doubt and dependence on drugs.
With a burgeoning film career (in addition to the box office smash, Animal House, Belushi starred in Steven Spielberg’s 1941) and a chart topping Blues Brothers album, Briefcase Full of Blues, John Belushi’s career seemed limitless. Unfortunately, so were his insatiably destructive appetites.
At 108 minutes in length, Belushi is an exploration of the troubling life and creative, anarchic mind of John Belushi. Belushi is currently available to Showtime subscribers.