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John Belushi

This Day in History: Comedian John Belushi Dies from Drug Overdose

Gettyimages | Ron Galella, Ltd.
By Sharon Oliver

On March 5, 1982, one of the country's most beloved figures in comedy, John Belushi, was found dead inside a hotel room at the Chateau Marmount in Los Angeles. His cause of death was ruled an accidental overdose.

Belushi was one of the first performers on 'Saturday Night Live' and one-half member of the Blues Brothers duo, fellow SNL' alum Dan Aykroyd, being the other. The comic had a manic energy style that helped make his characters and sketches fan favorites.

Early Life

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Born in Wheaton, Illinois in 1949, John Belushi was one of four kids born to Albanian immigrants, brother and actor Jim Belushi included. Good at getting laughs in high school, Belushi wanted more than anything to be an actor.

He performed in summer stock productions before attending college and in 1971, he joined the Chicago comedy scene as a member of the Second City improvisational troupe, wowing audiences with his over-the-top impressions of Joe Cocker, Marlon Brando and others. Four years later, John Belushi would not only become famous, but also a household name.

'Saturday Night Live'

Giphy | Saturday Night Live

In 1975, producer Lorne Michaels asked Belushi to join the cast of his new late-night comedy show, 'Saturday Night Live' after Belushi received rave reviews from his 1973 off-Broadway appearance in 'Lemmings.'

The show premiered on October 11, 1975 and featured Belushi, along with Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase, George Coe, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner. The sketch comedy series was a hit and turned most of the cast into breakout stars. Two of John Belushi's most notable characters were the cone-headed alien, Kuldroth and a sword-wielding samurai.

From Small Screen Role Playing to the Big Screen

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John Belushi frequently stirred up belly laughs with his portrayals of William Shatner, Henry Kissinger, Truman Capote and Elizabeth Taylor. Two years later, he made his move to film with the hit comedy 'National Lampoon's Animal House' as the memorable character Bluto Blutarsky. He went on to make a few more movies, including 'Goin' South' with Jack Nicholson.

Belushi's next big movie came in 1980's 'Blues Brothers,' starring alongside fellow "Saturday Night Live' cast member and friend Dan Aykroyd. The two even toured the country as the Blues Brothers, complete with a backup band.

Untimely Death

The body of John Belushi
Gettyimages | Bettmann

While on the set of 'Saturday Night Live,' there had been many rumors of Belushi's rampant drug use. In the months leading up to his death, there were reports of him spending as much as $2,500 a week to support his habit. During the final weeks of his life, Belushi was living in a rented bungalow at the popular Chateau Marmont hotel. Allegedly, he had been partying the night before his death with fellow comedian Robin Williams.

The next day, the 33-year-old Belushi was dead from a drug overdose of a combination of cocaine and heroin (speedball) . A woman named Cathy Smith supplied Belushi with the drugs and was later charged with murder and drug-related offenses. She served 15 months in prison.

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