the death of john belushi -- 7/1/22

Today's selection -- from Where Did I Go Right by Bernie Brillstein. Bernie Brillstein, agent for John Belushi, commenting on the life and death of the comedian:

"One day in early March 1982, I flew with John Belushi from Los An­geles to Martha's Vineyard in a private jet. We had it all to ourselves. He was thirty-three. I was fifty-one. The accommodations were first class and we should have been having the time of our lives. We weren't. In fact, John Belushi no longer had a life. He was stretched out across two cramped seats in the tiny jet, wrapped up in a body bag. Our destination was his funeral.

"Everybody loved John Belushi. The problem was that he didn't love himself enough to believe he had value in the world and that he wasn't indestructible. As John's TV, then movie, career took off, and his fame grew, so did his inability to control his appetites. After he left Saturday Night Live, his life lost the discipline having weekly responsibilities im­posed, and his erratic behavior became more frequent. Total strangers gave him drugs just to get close, to be cool to tell their friends they'd done it. And John consumed it all. It wasn't just an over-large lust for life; he was trying to fill a hole inside. If God hadn't created drugs, John would have found something else to abuse. Lorne and I thought Belushi craved love and acceptance. I could identify with that. I wanted the same things; we all do. But instead of using drugs I became a personal manager.

Belushi in 1976

"Belushi could be, and often was, a great guy. The rest of the time, as he careened toward the end he was either crashed out or out of control. Those who cared about him would say, 'You're hurting yourself and the people who love you,' but he'd just try to charm his way past the warnings. When I pushed him too hard to straighten up, he'd tell me to back off.

"I've asked myself over and over if that's when I should have tried even harder. The answer, I think, is no. Look at Chris Farley, who also died from a drug overdose when he was thirty-three -- just like his hero John Belushi. We represented Farley. His manager, Marc Gurvitz, did everything humanly possible to help him. Farley went into rehab so many times I've lost count. In the end he made a stupid mistake and killed himself. What can you do? You can't lock them up. You can't follow them around -- at least not if you have any intention of living your own life. If they don't want to help themselves, if they won't stick with the program, you're out of luck. Then one day you get that phone call ...

"There's nothing more painful than watching a man you love de­stroy himself. I don't know why it happens. I'm not a psychologist, though sometimes in my job I have to act like one. I suppose there are as many reasons as there are people who fuck up: Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of being a fake. Feelings of worthlessness. A need for love. Arrogance. Narcissism. They're played out with drink, infidelity, drugs, domestic violence, and other weird behaviors that are hard to imagine. Even performers who aren't screwed up sometimes act this way, so it's hard to tell what's going to happen or how serious it is -- until it's some­times too late.

"I knew fear myself, but it seemed to have little to do with what pushed Belushi over the edge. I wish, before we lost him, that he'd told me what drove him. Believe me, I asked, even though it's not my nature to ask too many personal questions. I guess I didn't ask enough. Maybe if he'd been more articulate about the pain, maybe if he could have shared it, this wouldn't have happened. But he kept it all bottled up inside until the cork blew.

"After John's death, Lorne Michaels told the New York Times that John had 'difficulty controlling his appetites.' He said that after leaving Saturday Night Live Belushi lived in an environment with fewer controls. I agree. Here's another way of putting it: John was already an excessive personality. In his heart of hearts he wanted to be a rock star.

"Instead, he just lived like one. And died like one.

"In Chicago it was nearly impossible for John to go out in the street.

"Everyone knew him, loved him, hugged him. One night when we were just sitting around he said, 'I've got to go out -- but I'm going to put on a disguise.' He wore makeup, a hat, and dark glasses. We went to a bar and mingled with the people. After half an hour he ripped off the facade and said, 'I'm here!' He had to let them know. 'Drinks for everyone!' he said. Then, 'Bernie, do you have a hundred bucks?'

"John would never do drugs in front of me. I think it's because I was like a dad. If someone offered me drugs when we were out together, Belushi would push them away and say, 'Don't you ever insult him like that.'

"Of course. I knew he was doing something -- many people did drugs at the time -- but because I didn't tag along, I never realized the extent of it. I'd only see him after a toot, or hear stories about how he'd gone wild. I'd had my own problems with gambling, and I know that I never wanted to believe I was out of control. No one likes to hear that. I hated it when my wives told me to stop; in fact, that only made me do it more. But I got past it, and no matter how wild John sometimes got, there was no apparent reason for me to think John wouldn't get past that phase, too.

"Besides, I wasn't an expert when it came to drug use. I tried cocaine, but not for long. One day Lorne said, 'Bernie, you know the trouble with cocaine? People talk and they never listen.' I knew then and there he was telling me to stop it. And that was it; I never did it again. I had my liveli­hood to consider, not to mention my health.

"I thought John used mostly pot and coke. I had no idea about the heroin at the very end. I couldn't have predicted it. I absolutely know he was deathly afraid of needles, and even today I still don't understand what pushed him to try anything that involved one.

"Everywhere John put his hand a packet of cocaine mysteriously ap­peared. After the wrap party for Continental Divide near the end of 1980, John and I went back to his suite with his bodyguard, Smokey. John took off his black linen sports jacket and turned it upside down. Eleven grams of coke fell out.

"'That's what my good friends gave me tonight,' he said, sardonically."



Bernie Brillstein


Where Did I Go Right


Little Brown & Co


Copyright 1999 by Bernie Brillstein


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