The autopsy conclusion was chillingly simple: “John Belushi, a 33-year-old White male, died of Acute Toxicity from cocaine and heroin.” And if the name on the report had been anyone’s other than Belushi’s, the case might have been closed right then, just another sad overdose in an L.A. hotel room. But since police abruptly stopped their investigation three weeks after Belushi’s death, the case has become a miasma involving other Hollywood celebrities, rock clubs, grasping lawyers and even alleged police bungling. It could have been put into film by such connoisseurs of Lotusland squalor as Roman Polanski or John Gregory Dunne. But give above-the-title billing, as always, to Belushi himself.
Now, however, explosive statements attributed to Cathy Evelyn Smith, 35, the actor’s drug courier on the morning he died, have helped prompt police to reopen the investigation. Smith was quoted by the National Enquirer in its issue of June 29 as having said that she injected Belushi with the “coup-de-grâce,” the final speedball, a combination of cocaine and heroin. Such a confession could make her liable to prosecution for second-degree murder. For a reported fee of $15,000 (a portion to be paid up front and the remainder payable if she refuses to talk to the press for 60 days), Smith also told the tabloid that actors Robin Williams and Robert De Niro had snorted cocaine in Belushi’s hotel room with him hours before he died.
Then, just days afterward, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner published a pointed six-part investigation into Belushi’s death and Hollywood’s rampant drug subculture. L.A. police sought out Smith for questioning in her former hometown of Toronto after L.A. Deputy District Attorney Michael Genelin advised them to continue their investigation. Genelin said the second probe might seek evidence from as many as 25 witnesses, including some of Hollywood’s biggest names.
The reopening of the case has highlighted some disturbing questions about the original police investigation. They include:
•Smith, who had a prior arrest for heroin possession in 1981, turned over to police a syringe and a metal spoon “with white tissue adhering” that she said Belushi had used. Why wasn’t she arrested for possession of narcotics paraphernalia, itself a crime?
•Why was Smith released after only a few hours of questioning without a thorough body search or blood test?
•Why did the police not question Williams and De Niro, who were seen with Belushi the final night?
•Why did the police not pull in others who witnessed Belushi’s last binge?
•Why didn’t the police follow the trail of the dealer who was selling drugs to Smith and thereby to Belushi?
The Herald Examiner, in its series, said flatly, “The police department’s rush to close the case had all the earmarks of a cover-up.” But Lt. Ed Watkins, who heads the narcotics investigation within the L.A. Police Department, has blamed the lapses on manpower cuts (as drug use in the city has soared, the number of narcotics personnel has dropped by 40 percent). He added that it is difficult to reach celebrities for questioning. Deputy Chief Dan Sullivan has dismissed the accusation of improper police work as “a bunch of baloney.” He stated that the time and money needed to continue investigating Belushi (“this creep”) could be better used for high school drug-prevention programs.
Friends say Smith became a drug gofer more than three years ago in L.A. Her lack of consistent success as a songwriter and her rejection by several celebrities depressed her, and her use of narcotics grew. “She wanted success and acceptance so badly. When it just didn’t work out, she anesthetized herself,” says one acquaintance. Though she was once Gordon Lightfoot’s live-in lover and a backup singer for Hoyt Axton, she was reportedly banished from the Rolling Stones entourage by Mick Jagger. “She came back to the house ranting,” says a friend. “She started heavy drug use because of the rejection.”
By that point Cathy had made drugs her life. She carried an executive briefcase containing money and drugs as well as the glittery purse that gave her the nickname “Cathy Silverbag.” She scored drugs for celebrities in return for a free fix. “Everybody that was hip used her as a front,” says one source. Another adds, “Cathy was a hanger-on. She saw something good [in Belushi] and she was going to milk it until the milk was out.” Reports of Cathy’s income range from $50,000 a month to just a couple of free fixes a day. Says one ex-boyfriend, “She’d wake up at 3 a.m. crying, knowing she was addicted.”
Cathy first met John Belushi on the set of Saturday Night Live in late 1976. She helped out behind the scenes with a guest appearance of the Band and three years later made drug deals for another member of the SNL crowd. None of Belushi’s friends know much about his darker (and apparently nonsexual) life with Cathy. But generally they agree he spent very little time with her until his last month in L.A. During that time he reportedly was disheartened by Paramount’s initial turndown of the Noble Rot script that he had written with Don (Father Guido Sarducci) Novello. The coroner’s report cited multiple needle marks on each arm, and Smith allegedly told the Enquirer that Belushi had shot up 24 times in his last 30 hours and spent $8,000 on cocaine during his last week.
After her release on March 5 by the police, Smith went to St. Louis on the advice of her lawyer, Robert Sheahen, to avoid reporters. Discovered there, she flew back to L.A. Observes one friend, “She looked like a dog that had been chased from one state to another.” Then she was off to New York and eventually returned to Toronto. All she had was a driver’s license and an airline ticket under a pseudonym. Says an acquaintance, “She spent a lot of time drinking, killing the pain.”
She now shares a house in a neighborhood with several sleazy bars and its share of zonked-out winos. She has dismissed Sheahen as her attorney and hired new lawyers, Brian Greenspan and Milton Davis, in Toronto. After the furor stirred up by the recent revelations in the Enquirer and the Herald Examiner, her lawyers are considering taking “appropriate action.” Smith, they say, was “heavily under the influence of alcohol supplied to her by the interviewers and was further impaired as a result of drug consumption.” The tabloid has defended its story and promised to turn over its tapes of the interview to the L.A. police. Her lawyers maintain that Smith is in good condition now and just trying to get her life back together again. “She has been made out as a drug dealer, someone who lives off the fame of others,” says Greenspan. “But what you’ve got here is an independent woman with ability and accomplishments of her own and a desire to pursue her own career.” Adds one of Cathy’s confidants: “If Belushi were alive today, I think he’d be disappointed with all his friends for not helping her.”
(This story was written by Michael Small from reporting by Salley Rayl and Tony Costa in Toronto and by Karen G. Jackovich and David Gritten in Los Angeles.)