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.

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"And you enjoy cigars?"

"Well, sure, I enjoy them."

Keitel reached into his pocket. "Then you owe me one," he said, handing Belushi a Cohiba Robusto.

"That's what I like about cigars and cigar smokers," Belushi says, finishing the story. "It's a bonding, a wonderful bonding among gentlemen. When you light a good cigar, men notice it."

In fact, when Belushi had pulled out the Hoyo de Monterrey, an elderly man at the next table walked over to admire it, feeling the wrapper, slowly passing it under his nose. "That's a beautiful cigar," the man said before returning to his table.

"I realized early on that this isn't just a nicotine thing," Belushi says. "This is a ritual, a tradition."

Although he's smoked cigars sporadically since his Second City days, Belushi has only smoked cigars for the past five years, acquiring a taste for Montecristos when he was making a film in Europe. His everyday cigars--sometimes six or seven a day--are Por Larrañaga Nacionales. After dinner he is partial to a Cohiba Esplendido or a Montecristo No. 2.

"What I like most about cigars is simply sitting and talking with other men," Belushi says. "Like Duncan, my neurosurgeon buddy. When he was a resident, he assisted in the delivery of my son, and we've been friends ever since. He came over today—and I was supposed to be somewhere at one o'clock—and he said, 'Tell 'em you're gonna be late. Let's smoke a cigar together.'

"So we went in to my office, where I have a sterling-silver humidor, and Duncan is rummaging through there, going, "What have you got? Did you bring anything back from the trip?" So I gave him a Cohiba Robusto. It's like marbles, really, kind of a guy thing. 'Come on over, Duncan, and let's play some marbles.' So we clipped 'em, talking about my trip, about which cigar stores I went to. We sat in my kitchen, lit our cigars and talked about sex and politics and surgery and acting. Some of the best conversations I've ever had with men have been over a cigar."

Listening to Belushi describe these conversations and cigars—the Montecristo No. 5 he had while watching the sun rise on a beach in Sicily, the Bolivar he smoked with his younger brother, Bill, at a sidewalk cafe in London—is like listening to someone describe mystical experiences. And, according to Belushi, it's an experience that women can't—and shouldn't try to—understand.

"I think it's very male, and women should stay away from it. It's none of their business," he says. "Women are fashion-oriented, which means they'll do something for a while and then in three years, after they're done with it, they'll start to knock it. Well, this is not a fashion; it's a tradition among gentlemen. Women should leave it alone."

Some of the best cigar conversations Belushi has had lately have been on national television, sitting across a desk from David Letterman, trying to tempt the host into sharing a cigar on camera. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not.

"The first time I went on with a cigar (on Letterman's NBC "Late-Night" show in November 1992), I wasn't going to smoke it onstage, because I'd heard that he'd just quit smoking. But the girl backstage said to go ahead and take it out with me. So I did, and we had a blast.

"Then last May, I heard that he was smoking again, so I brought him a (Cohiba) Robusto, and he lit it. And it was probably the best interview I've ever been involved in. He was hysterical. He was going, 'Don't adjust your set; I am green.' Then he called me the next day to ask where I got 'em.

"The next time I go on [the CBS show last fall], I see he had two Cohibas by the ashtray. And I brought him another one, but he wouldn't smoke it with me. He wouldn't take it. He said something about how it makes him dizzy, and I said, 'That's why I smoke 'em,' which got a little chuckle and got us out of it.

"But it hurt me that he wouldn't take it. I felt as if our bond had been broken."

By the time Belushi leaves the table at Dan Tana's, nearly three hours have passed. The crowd at the bar has thinned. The remains of the Hoyo de Monterrey—which, by the way, had been given to Belushi by a stranger who'd seen his Letterman appearances—are long gone. But there are more cigars in Jim Belushi's pocket, ready in case a conversation presents itself, ready for the ritual bond to be renewed.

Joe Rhodes is a free-lance writer living in Los Angeles.

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