Inside Film

‘I’d rather be an anarchist than a professional’: Why the brilliant but troubled John Belushi continues to fascinate us

A new documentary reminds us what a huge comedy star he once was, says Geoffrey Macnab

Thursday 08 October 2020 14:27
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Belushi as Bluto in 1978’s ‘Animal House’ 
Belushi as Bluto in 1978’s ‘Animal House’ 

In the years between bringing down President Nixon with All the President’s Men and chronicling the presidency of Donald Trump in his new book Rage, investigative journalist Bob Woodward wrote a book about the comedy star, John Belushi (1949-1982).  

Why? Belushi appeared in only seven movies, none of them classics. His on-screen persona was on the obnoxious side. His off-screen behaviour was erratic and self-destructive in the extreme. Nonetheless, close to 40 years after the comedian, aged only 33, took his fatal “speedball”, a cocktail of cocaine and heroin, he continues to fascinate writers and filmmakers as well as the public at large. He is like a gross-out version of James Dean. He may not have died pretty but he certainly died young. In his short life, he led an impressive trail of anecdote and destruction behind him. Many believe he was a comic genius. 

“I’d rather be an anarchist than a professional,” Belushi proclaims in the trailer for Belushi, a new Showtime documentary from RJ Cutler, the filmmaker behind fashion documentary The September Issue and hit country and western soap opera, Nashville, premiering later this month. This trailer reminds us of what a big star Belushi once was. When he was 30, his latest film, The Blues Brothers (1980), was top of the box office charts; he was part of one of America’s most popular TV shows, Saturday Night Live, and his outrageous frat comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978), was breaking records on video. Everybody, from earnest broadsheet journalists like Woodward, to Hollywood big shots like Steven Spielberg, who cast Belushi in his movie 1941 (1979), was drawn to him. 

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