As a New Drug Probe Begins, Dan Aykroyd Talks About John Belushi's Life—and Death
The life of John Belushi eventually may become a footnote to the bizarre circumstances of his death. Since the comedian succumbed to a heroin-and-cocaine overdose at L.A.’s Hotel Chateau Marmont last March, rumor has abounded. There have been allegations of a police cover-up. Dan Aykroyd, Belushi’s buddy and collaborator even before they reached fame on Saturday Night Live, was said to be crazed with grief. Now dramatic new statements by Cathy Smith (see following story), the shadowy drug courier who was the last person to see Belushi alive, have goaded police to reopen the case. The developments also prompted Aykroyd, 30, to break his silence on his friend’s tragic end. “I felt it was time to talk to somebody,” explained Aykroyd, “and say something about how life goes on.” In Toronto at a bar called Crooks, of which he is part owner, Aykroyd spoke with PEOPLE reporter Michael Heaton.
Did you ever see Belushi shoot drugs?
Are you kidding? I would have slapped all this stuff out of his hands. I would have given him an invective like you couldn’t believe. If I had known that he was into this stuff seriously, or even flirting with it, he would have gotten a scolding from me.
Do you think that was part of the reason he kept it from you?
Oh, sure. He knew my attitude, he knew I was kind of monklike about this shit. It’s all very sad because if this woman [Cathy Smith] were like a recording artist or someone worthwhile, I could understand why John would hang out with her. But he was just flirting with vermin; she was totally worthless. And here was a guy who was capable of entertaining and contributing so much. His loss is so tremendous and she’s kinda still on the planet, but hey, what are you gonna do? I think ultimately she will destroy herself, no matter what happens with this investigation. It’s good the heat is on again, ’cause she just walked away scot-free.
Will you be involved in the investigation?
I don’t know. If called to testify, the only thing I can say is John had an aversion to spikes [needles]. When he had to get blood taken for a medical, he would try to get out of it. I guess the illicit high and the thrill of it all was too attractive for him. I understood the guy pretty well, and he was good a lot of the time and bad sometimes.
What do you believe will be the outcome of the new investigation?
I hope the facts come out and that his reputation will be vindicated—so that people won’t think of John as a junkie. He was not into this [hard drugs] as a regular thing. He was not into it four months before it happened. He was probably into it a month before his death. He was a bit of a party monster, no doubt. But he wasn’t a junkie.
Was Belushi depressed about the rejection of his script, Noble Rot?
John was practical about the business. He was a toughie, he knew how to play the game out in L.A. He might have been a little frustrated, but I don’t know if the work was really upsetting him. I think this basically came out of the nightlife that he led. But he wasn’t like that all the time. There was an extremely home-loving and book-reading and clean side to John. I mean last summer we didn’t touch a thing. Right after Neighbors, we went up to Martha’s Vineyard together. He was at his cleanest and best. That was the way he could have been permanently. He really could have turned the corner.
Why didn’t he? Why could you leave drugs alone and John couldn’t?
John was a raw, vulnerable guy. Things were definitely uphill for us after the success of Blues Brothers. John knew very few people who were outside of show business. I have friends who don’t care what I do, who have never seen Saturday Night Live and with whom I associate on a totally different scale. The entertainment business is not the be-all and end-all for me. I don’t take things to heart like John. He was a warm, sensitive guy, for all that rough and gruff exterior. I have this kind of mild nice-guy exterior, but inside, my heart is like a steel trap. I’m really quite robotic.
Robin Williams and Robert De Niro reportedly visited Belushi’s room several hours before he died. What do you know about them?
They were friends of John’s. They were constructive and good friends. The only reason they are associated with this is because they were with John the night before he died. I don’t think anything can be implied.
You were in New York. What were you doing just before John’s death?
That’s the tragedy. I felt that I was just one day late! You can’t feel the “should-haves.” I should have gone to L.A., I should have done this or that. How can you feel that guilt? Here was a man firmly in control of his own ship. He was at the helm, this must be said. He chose the people he went with. But you know, we were waiting for him to come home. If he didn’t make it home that Thursday night, I was going to go out there and get him. And then it was just too late. John’s wife, Judy [Jacklin], and I spent the night before saying we got to get him and bring him home. He doesn’t need to be in L.A., he’s in a stressful situation. From the phone calls I got from him I could tell that something was amiss. I could hear it in his voice. We were prepared to go get him and bring him home and take him to the Vineyard. And eventually he came home…
The funeral, to some, seemed a bit bizarre. How would you describe it?
Well, John came home in a private jet as was his custom. There were three police cars. It was like an ambassador had landed. The day of the funeral I just dressed in my biking gear and went over to his house. He was in the hearse and I made a lot of noise in case his soul could perceive it. There were two helicopters. I couldn’t believe it. [Laughter] You know, when someone goes you wish you could talk to him and say, “You should have seen it!” It was great. We had the Bluesmobile and all the boys were packed into it. We had been drinking and drinking. We pull into the graveyard all formal with people weeping and all this stuff. I pull the bike over next to the Bluesmobile and everybody gets out and relieves themselves in full view of the cameras and helicopters with everybody waving. [Laughter] If it had been me in the box some similar event would have transpired.
Did your friends rally around when John died? Was there anybody special who helped you get through it?
Me, myself and I. And there is one guy, I won’t say his full name ’cause I don’t want him bothered. His name is Elliot. He was a friend of John’s and they used to go fishing together. He introduced me to a man who had lost two brothers and we were able to sit around and commiserate. My grief was dwarfed by this guy’s experience. Elliot helped me out of it. We jumped on the Concorde for Europe three days after we put Johnny down. We just filled our days with distraction.
What about tabloid reports that your behavior has been weird since John died?
Contrary to the tabloids, I don’t talk to paintings.
They said you were dressing up in John’s clothes.
Why not? I have many of his shirts and jackets, of course. What can you believe in the tabloids? I will say one thing, I do go for long rides on my motorcycle. My vice is driving fast. I do disappear for days when I’m not working. I’ve always been like that. Not to say that I don’t talk to myself: I’m a little crazy, there’s no doubt. But I’m definitely practical about the loss of someone. You only live once and when you’re dead you’re done. I know this. I know he’s not going to walk around the corner and come and visit me.
Have you talked to Judy Jacklin?
I speak to her all the time. She’s fine. She’s a strong woman and a very talented graphic artist. John gave me many things. The number one thing was the confidence to go onstage with any band that will have me and sing Kansas City and have a good time. And, two, he gave me a friendship with this incredible woman. We will be friends for life.
Have you considered any kind of anti-drug project as a result of John’s death?
Hey, I’m not one to get up there and preach. What am I going to do? Judy is the executor of a memorial fund, and I think we have included programs for a drug rehabilitation center in Colorado. If people thought I was doing an antidrug film, I don’t think they would come to see it. I’m in the business of comedy and that’s what I do for a living. Listen, man, I’m not going to get up there and fight the billion-dollar drug industry. How can I? One small croaking voice about how harmful these things are. In the private part of my life I can only warn people against the stuff.
When you think of John now, what things come to mind?
How hard we used to laugh. We used to be immobile with laughter. I think about his quiet side a lot and how special it was to be so close to a great man. You know it’s kind of like a war. You see your best friend get blown away and you just gotta go over-the-trench and under-the-guns kinda thing.
Will you visit John’s grave again?
I may visit it, and it I do I’ll bring a chicken. I’ll eat a chicken. We ate a lot of chickens. And drink maybe a six-pack. Every time I drive by I honk the horn, just in case he hears it. You know I talk a lot about the paranormal, but I really believe that once you’re gone, you’re gone. His soul’s at peace. If there is a heaven he would have to join the greats of show business who have gone in a similar way. That’s the company he would appreciate.