John Belushi was a physical comedy genius. Scratch that; John Belushi was a comedy genius. He was a master character actor who could assume any nationality or personality type. He could make us laugh with the arch of an eyebrow. As John “Bluto” Blutarsky in Animal House, he set high standards for low comedy; as “Joliet” Jake Blues, a founding Blues Brother, he introduced catchphrases and concepts that would live on for generations. Unfortunately, John Belushi died 28 years ago.
Like Anna Nicole Smith, another subject of Final 24, the series for which John Belushi– His Final Hours was originally produced, Belushi had enormous appetites that eventually lead to his demise. Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi’s best friend and fellow Blues Brother, describes Belushi as “sensitive” and “vulnerable” and admits Belushi had “insatiable appetites for everything…from motorcycle speed to three pieces of cherry pie.”
In addition to Aykroyd, John Belushi – His Final Hours features appearances by Belushi’s wife Judy Belushi Pisano, Bill Murray (“John…was a good man but a bad boy.”), his manager Bernie Brillstein, addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky (“John Belushi was an addict, from A to Z.”), bodyguard Smokey Wendell, coroner Thomas Noguchi, Belushi’s high school drama teacher, and a variety of people he worked with after he started with Chicago’s Second City.
Belushi started using cocaine when he was working on Saturday Night Live. At that time, according to Brillstein, “Everyone thought [cocaine] was the hippest thing in the world and no one thought they would die from it. No one.”
Belushi died from bingeing on cocaine and heroin; his final twenty-four hours were fueled by his desire for drugs. Years before he died, he knew he had a problem with cocaine; he hired bodyguard Smokey Wendell to help him stay off drugs, and he managed to get clean. It didn’t last.
“Macabre” might be a good way to describe John Belushi – His Final Hours. Counting down the hours until his death, watching his life spin out of control, and knowing that the story can’t have a happy ending, the viewer becomes a voyeur. Belushi’s life is presented in family photographs, film clips from his television and movie appearances, and a variety of photos representing various stages of his career. His last day is a dramatization, pieced together by the memories of those who shared it with him.
As John Belushi – His Final Hours unfolds, it presents a picture of how destructive a drug addict can be to the people around him or her. Belushi Pisano describes the experience (“Life with John was very fast…”), and Pinsky explains how one goes from an abuser to an addict, and the driving forces behind the addiction. Surprisingly, Pinsky’s contributions give the video its focus and provides viewers with important points in understanding addictions.
More than anything else, John Belushi – His Final Hours is a documentary about the survivors, the people who loved Belushi, truly cared about his welfare, and lost him. Many people feel guilt—friends, wife, manager—but in the end, it wasn’t neglect, or drugs, or fame that killed John Belushi. It was John Belushi.