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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.
Joe Rhodes
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94

Jim Belushi loves Dan Tana's restaurant in Los Angeles, mostly because it doesn't remind him of Los Angeles. It reminds him of places back in his hometown of Chicago. Dan Tana's has shutters on the windows, dark-paneled walls, red leather booths and Chianti bottles hanging from the ceiling. There aren't any sleek Armani suits adorning patrons on Italian avant garde stools, but guys in rumpled suits on thick-padded stools eating red meat, drinking whiskey, calling the bartender by name, and, not infrequently, smoking cigars.

"Takes me back," Belushi says, surveying the dimly lighted dining room, an unlighted Hoyo de Monterrey in his hand. "It looks like Chicago in here. It reminds me of my Dad's place. It was a steakhouse. Yeah, just like this."

He rolls the Havana, a double corona, gently between his fingers. There is no need to hurry, no need to light it just yet. "I've been out here, off and on, since 1978," he says. "But it took me a long time to let go of my Chicago life. I missed walking the streets, dropping in on people without calling, having places like this to go where you could just hang out. Urban life."

He strikes a match, moves the tobacco toward the flame. "I used to feel like I didn't belong here, like I couldn't be myself." The glow encircles the tip of the cigar. He takes the first puff of the night. "But you know what? You can be whatever you want out here. You've just got to have the balls to do it."

It has taken Hollywood a while to figure out who Jim Belushi is; there were years when he wasn't so sure himself. Was he a comedian, a character actor, a leading man? Was he a talent in his own right or merely John Belushi's little brother looking for a coattail ride?

The last question, of course, was answered long ago. Ever since his twin-shot of reputation-making performances in 1986 (as a gonzo combat photographer in Oliver Stone's Salvador and as Rob Lowe's loutish sidekick in About Last Night) Jim Belushi's path to stardom has been very much his own, a stream of box-office hits that have seen him star with everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger (Red Heat) to Charles Grodin (Taking Care of Business) to a German shepherd (K-9).

The past 18 months have seen Belushi go from television (in Stone's cyber-weirdness miniseries "Wild Palms") to Broadway (in Conversations With My Father) to three movie projects that will be released later this year: a thriller called Separate Lives; an action/adventure picture called Royce (set to air on cable television's Showtime this summer) and an improvisational film called Parallel Lives.

"There was no script, only an outline," he says, still buzzing from the experience of Parallel Lives that included working with, among others, Jobeth Williams, Gena Rowlands and Liza Minnelli. "I'm telling you, it's the best movie I've ever done. I'm really jacked about this."

The cigar becomes a baton, then a punctuation mark for the excitement in Belushi's voice. "Do you know how fortunate I am? I'm one of the luckiest men around. I've got a beautiful son. I've got a great career. I've gotten to work with great directors--Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, Walter Hill. I've acted with James Caan, Michael Caine. I'm really having a big time."

Then the cigar stops moving. Belushi's voice goes quiet as if he's suddenly remembered something. "But you know," he says, "I've scraped with the devil, too."

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