Jim Belushi's Big Year
Doing his thing, his career on solid ground, Jim Belushi shares cigars in search of a gentlemen's ritual bond.
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94
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Jim was backstage, preparing for a Chicago performance of Pirates when he heard the news that his brother had died. He went on with the show, he would say later, because that's what John would have wanted him to do.
There was a time after that, Belushi admits, "when I kind of lost it," years spent struggling with his brother's legacy. The temptation to follow his brother down a self-destructive path was constantly there, and it was a temptation that Belushi could not always resist. In 1983, he took the biggest chance of his professional life, joining the cast of "Saturday Night Live."
"Everybody told me not to do it," he says, "and I wasn't sure what would happen. But all I thought at the time was, 'if they're gonna kill me, then kill me now. If I'm not going to have a career, then let's get it over with, and I'll go back to serving tables at my Dad's place.' "
Although still in an emotional tailspin, Jim lasted two seasons on "SNL." Long enough to get the parts in Salvador and About Last Night that would launch his movie career. The latter was the film version of Sexual Perversity in Chicago, with Belushi reprising the role he'd originated onstage eight years earlier. The film had almost been made once before with Jim's part offered, ironically enough, to John.
"I told him then, I said, 'Don't do this, man. This is my role. I created this.' He said, 'Don't you understand that if I pass on this they're just gonna offer it to Billy Murray. You can't get it.' I told him I didn't care if Billy did it, I just didn't want him to. I said, 'I can't be seen eating a cheeseburger or with a sword in my hand because of you. Stay away from this one.' He was angry. But he turned it down."
After About Last Night, the movie offers started coming in droves, and Belushi turned few of them down. He had his share of hits (The Principal, K-9) as well as misses ("Mr. Destiny," "Traces of Red"). There were attempts to turn Belushi into a leading man, to smooth out his rough edges and make him into another Cary Grant.
"I lost weight; I got healthy and I tried to be something I wasn't," he admits. "What I really like is playing low-status characters, like the guys in Salvador or About Last Night. I want to play darker stuff, street stuff. I want to be able to be who I am. I swear; I smoke. That's who I am, and those are the roles I like."
Still, Belushi, who turns 40 this year—seven years older than his brother ever got to be-—s not apologizing for taking those softer-edged parts. They made him a bankable box-office star, and for that he is grateful. "My father lost his business," he says, "and John, in a sense, lost his business, too. So there was a real fear in me of losing it. It was very important to get a financial base, and I accomplished that.
"Now I have the luxury of taking some chances. When I was younger I had a wife, a child and a brother who was dead. I had a family with no money, devastated. But we survived. Now Dad's on a ranch, paid for. My younger brother's working; my sister's a psychic. My son is set, education-wise, and he's living in Chicago with my ex-wife, so he's not a Hollywood kid.
The double corona is almost gone. Jim Belushi takes a long, last puff. "We're OK," he says. "Everybody's OK."
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