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Al Franken Says John Belushi’s Fatal Overdose Inspired Him to Give Up Drugs

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Owen Franken/Corbis

In his new memoir, Al Franken breaks his 15 years at Saturday Night Live into three chapters dubbed “Not the Drug Part,” “The Drug Part” and, finally, “The Part Where I Leave.”

And he tells PEOPLE he was lucky to make it from that second chapter to the third.

Franken, the comedy writer and performer who is now a U.S. senator from Minnesota, writes in Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken that he used drugs in the 1970s. First, it was pot in college (Harvard Class of 1973) and then, he writes, he was introduced to LSD. By the time SNL became a hit, Franken writes, “it began to leak out that that some of the cast and writers at the show were smoking dope and snorting cocaine … The truth is that many on the show thought that you can’t do a ninety-minute live comedy show week after week without doing cocaine.”

So how is it that he did not land in the clutches of addiction and overdose that killed his co-stars—John Belushi in 1982 and Chris Farley in 1997?

Peter Zambouros

“I just didn’t. But I saw it around me,” Franken, 66, tells PEOPLE in an interview for this week’s issue. “There’s a saying: There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

“Before Belushi died, we didn’t realize it could kill you.”

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That tragedy was Franken’s own wake-up call to stop using drugs, he says.

“I did [stop]. I think Belushi dying was an, ‘Okay.’ I started going to Al Anon. That was really when I stopped using,” Franken says. “I would go to meetings around Rockefeller Center” near the SNL studio.