From the late 1980s to the present, here are presidential impressions from NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” that often got a good laugh.
We all know John Belushi, the comedian.
In his too-short career, which spanned about a decade, the late actor and musician made us laugh on “Saturday Night Live” and “The National Lampoon Radio Hour” and in comedy classics on the big screen “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers. “But Showtime’s new documentary” Belushi “premiered Sunday (9 EST / PST) paints a more detailed picture of the lovable yet tortured funny man who died in 1982 at the age of 33 after an overdose of cocaine and heroin .
“He was quite bright, well-read and really politically motivated as a young man,” says his widow, Judy Belushi Pisano, USA TODAY. “His early work was very satirical and clever. Maybe it got a little crazy that ‘Animal House’ was such a successful film, and his character was so different from that. But he was a quite diversified guy.”
Here’s what we otherwise learned about him from the documentary, directed by RJ Cutler (“The War Room”), which contains interviews never heard before.
Review: ‘SNL’ and Jim Carrey completely fail to make 2020 fun
What to stream this weekend: Steve McQueen’s ‘Mangrove’, Hulu’s ‘Run’, Another ‘Princess Switch’
His substance abuse was caused in part by an injury
The film extensively explores Belushi’s struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, “at a time when we did not culturally realize (that) the burdens of addiction and the tools for addicts to overcome their illness did not exist,” Cutler says. “While he was struggling to overcome addiction, it was stigmatized. It was not the kind of thing, especially a celebrity, that would come forward and then seek help. So the people in his life did not quite know where to turn.”
Cocaine was a part of his life during the hard-hitting days of “SNL”, which premiered in 1975, but drugs became a real problem for Belushi two years later when he was prescribed painkillers after knee surgery. “It’s a well-known story that cost hundreds of thousands of Americans, so we understand it more now,” Cutler says. “But for John, it was you giving a drug addict pain medication with an open prescription, and nothing good comes out of it.”
He had stormy relationships with Lorne Michaels, ‘SNL’ cast
Belushi created indelible characters during his four-season stint on “Saturday Night Live,” including warring Samurai Futaba and “cheeburger” peddler Pete Dionasopoulos. But his behind-the-scenes relationship was turbulent at times: he was jealous of castmate Chevy Chase, the show’s breakout star in season 1, and collided with creator Lorne Michaels from the start.
“The Lorne-John dynamic is fascinating. It was a very powerful, kind of symbiotic relationship,” Cutler says. “There was a lot of conflict at its core because you had two visionaries who met at the birth of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ John was committed to taking a step back in the show’s first year, while Lorne’s creation comes to life.
But the actor also subscribed to some sexist ideas about women in comedy. Starring Jane Curtin and author Anne Beatts recalled that he was disrespectful to women and difficult to work with. He said women were not funny and refused to appear in sketches written by them.
That said, “he was not the only idiot, and you would not describe it accurately if you did not say so,” Cutler says. “Judy’s perspective was that he was a fool for a few people, not for all of them. And then he paid the price for it. It caused damage to his friendship with Gilda (Radner), which was a shame.”
Carrie Fisher was a grounding and support system through addiction struggles
The film highlights the off-screen friendship between Belushi and Carrie Fisher, who appeared in the 1980s “The Blues Brothers” and was briefly engaged to Belushi co-star Dan Aykroyd. The two bonded over their shared experiences with fame and drugs, says Belushi Pisano, and Fisher acknowledged how difficult it was when he became sober in 1980.
“We imagined John’s years of sobriety as a respite and a triumph, and she understood it as deeply stressful,” Cutler says of Fisher, who died in 2017 at the age of 60. (She had cardiac arrest and had several drugs in her system , including cocaine.)
Belushi returned during the production of 1981’s “Neighbors,” just months before his death. Producer Richard Zanuck remembers in the documentary how the actor sometimes refuses to get out of his trailer and was “completely out of it. Once we had two guys standing behind him and holding him up off the camera. That was the kind of form he was in. ”
Read or share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/tv/2020/11/20/john-belushi-showtime-documentary-carrie-fisher-snl-addiction/6342373002/