John Belushi's Brother Jim and Wife Judy Open Up About Late Actor's Legacy: 'He Made People Feel'

"There is only one John Belushi talent," recalls Jim Belushi of his late brother

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Photo: Judy Belushi Pisano/Courtesy SHOWTIME

It's been nearly four decades since legendary comic actor John Belushi died at age 33, but the legacy he left behind is as strong as ever.

"John captured the hearts of America," his younger brother Jim Belushi tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's issue. "He was funny over and over again — and those feelings never leave you."

A new documentary, Belushi, premiering Sunday on Showtime, features previously unheard audio interviews from the family and friends of John, famed for his roles in 1978's Animal House and as one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live. The interviews were recorded three year's after John died from a drug overdose in 1982.

"The tragedy is a common tragedy," says Jim, 66, who stars on Discovery's Growing Belushi. "But there is only one John Belushi talent."

  • For more about John Belushi's life and legacy, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
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John Belushi. Amblin/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

As a boy, growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, John would listen to classic comedy records from Bob Newhart and Jonathan Winters. "It made us feel good," says Jim. "And he wanted to pass that on."

By high school, his talents were on full display. "When you saw John perform, you knew right away," says Jim.

His high school sweetheart, Judy Belushi, whom John married in 1976, recalls, "John told me you should probably break up with me because I want to be an actor and I'll probably never make any money. But I always thought he'd do well."

Indeed, after performing in improv shows and off Broadway, John eventually landed at Saturday Night Live.

"There was a closeness to the cast," says Judy, who with John would host after parties at their home with costars like Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner in attendance. Adds Jim: "They respected him, and because of that he was able to manifest more of his vision."

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Judy Belushi and John Belushi. Judy Belushi Pisano/Courtesy SHOWTIME

Thanks to characters he developed like Samurai and Jake Blues, John became a household name — but struggled with addiction behind the scenes.

"John was always the guy who went a little too far and wanted to stay too long at the party," says Judy, 69. "It seemed okay, but then he got into things like cocaine and that is not a sustainable drug. People began to get concerned."

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John Belushi in National Lampoon's Animal House. Everett

Following John's big screen hits with Animal House and Blues Brothers, he seemed prime for future success. His shocking death in March 1982, "was like a gut punch," says Judy. "And then it was like I was thrown into the center of a tornado."

Says Jim: "It was a traumatic experience. And that feeling of loss is what Judy and I have been living with for decades."

Still, there are plenty of beautiful memories of the husband and brother they both adored.

"John wasn't perfect," says Judy. "But he was a full human being — caring and adventurous and kind. And he not only made people laugh. He made them feel."

Belushi premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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