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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

(continued from page 1)

* * *

Belushi did get in trouble a lot. Little things mostly—shoplifting, fistfights and, once, a stolen car. "In Wheaton, Illinois," Belushi says, "I was the crime rate."

Growing up in the white-bread, far-west suburbs of Chicago, the middle son of an Albanian immigrant, Jim Belushi had trouble finding his place in the world. His brother, John, five years older and with a fair trouble-making streak of his own, had a flair for the dramatic, a gift for theater and debate, obvious talents that made him the center of family attention. As much as Jim adored his older brother, he sometimes felt lost in his wake.

"I remember my parents had all kinds of articles up on the wall about John," Belushi says, "and I was pissed because my Mom and Dad never put anything up there of mine, even a little piece of bad art. One time John said, 'Well, maybe we'll put one of your warrants up there.' You know what I did? I tore all the articles down. That's the first time he hit me. John really belted me for that.

"I used to tell him, 'Just you wait till I get bigger than you, I'll get you back.' And I did, many years later. I nailed him on Clark Street in Chicago. He was a movie star then, and he kept going, 'Not the face, not the face.' Even then, he charmed my ass, man. I'm like ready for the fight and he's going, 'Gee, it feels like East of Eden.' But I got him. A clean shot, too. And then we went out and had a great time together."

Belushi never intended to follow in his older brother's acting footsteps. He wanted to be a graphic artist or, failing that, take over his father's restaurant. But a high-school speech teacher, impressed by Jim's improvisational abilities ("I had to improvise, because I hadn't done my homework") cast him in a school play. "In high-school drama classes, it's always like six guys and 20 girls," he says, explaining why he first signed on. "Choir was even better: eight guys, 40 girls. I took home-ec, too. I was the only guy. It was great."

But acting quickly became more to Belushi than a way to get dates. "The first time I walked out onstage with an audience, I was dizzy from the adrenaline," he says. That same year, 1970, John was getting rave reviews for his performances with Chicago's Second City improvisational comedy troupe. When Jim Belushi, 16 years old, went to his brother's show, everything suddenly fell into place. "Right after that show," he remembers, "I said, 'I want to be a part of this.' "

When he set his sights on joining Second City (a goal that would take him six years to achieve) Belushi says he didn't think about being measured against his brother's already considerable reputation. "I was too stupid," he says, asked why he chose such a perilous course. "I just went for it."

In 1978, while "Saturday Night Live" was sending John Belushi's career into hyperspace, his little brother was making a name for himself back in Chicago, not only for his work with Second City but for his performance in a new David Mamet play called Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Soon there would be stints in Los Angeles--for a couple of short-lived sitcoms ("Who's Watching The Kids" in 1978 and "Working Stiffs" in 1979), a small role in the James Caan film Thief in 1980 and then, a breakthrough part in the national touring company of The Piratesof Penzance.

The Belushi family's oldest boys, misfits in their hometown, seemed to have conquered the world. John was already a movie star, Jim looked to be well on the way. And then, on March 5, 1982, it all came crashing down.

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