The Book of the Week is “Wired, The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi” by Bob Woodward, published in 1984. This is a career biography of the performer best known for his sketches on “Saturday Night Live” (SNL), “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.”
Born in 1949, Belushi started his career at an early age, thanks to a paternal high school drama teacher. Belushi formed a comedy troupe in college. At the youngest age ever (22), he joined the improv group, “Second City” in Chicago.
Belushi’s brand of comedy was lowbrow and attention-whorish. He became the onstage focus when he joined such group-oriented acting companies as SNL and Second City; this irked his fellow performers.
Belushi met the younger and less experienced Chevy Chase when they performed in an Off-Broadway black comedy about death. Then came a National-Lampoon-produced radio show, and SNL. Other roles included Bluto in the movie “Animal House” and comedian Dan Akroyd’s partner in the movie “The Blues Brothers.”
As is typical of talented yet insecure performers who hit the big-time almost immediately, behavior problems abound. But since the star is “the goose that laid the golden egg” his or her behavior is tolerated.
“… John could inflict remarkable chaos… There was no telling what was gone or broken or misused. It seemed that John had dipped his fingers into everything in the refrigerator” while attending a 1982 Super Bowl party at the home of his agent, Bernie Brillstein.
Toward the end of his life (which should not have been unforeseen), Belushi was surrounded by enablers to his cocaine addiction. He was provided weekly with $2,500 cash for “expenses” in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with his business associates. They allowed him to act like a spoiled child borne of their own greed, or out of trying to avoid the hypocrisy of being drug addicts themselves. They continued to believe in his talent even though the movies he did after Animal House were money-losers. A major rationalization of that era was that cocaine was unavoidable backstage at SNL and it was uncool to decline to socialize with one’s fellow comedians.
Read the book to learn the details of how Belushi ended up the way he did.