The death of John Belushi, the loss of a rare talent

The career of John Belushi had been filled with success, until it was cut short by his death at age 33.

Famed comic actor and former SNL star died at the height of his fame in 1982

John Belushi, who rocketed to fame on Saturday Night Live, died at age 33 on March 5, 1982. (The Associated Press)

It was hard to believe that someone so young, so talented and so famous could be gone so suddenly.

But that was the sad truth about John Belushi, a story that broke in Los Angeles on March 5, 1982.

"Actor John Belushi, who created a cult following on the hit television program Saturday Night Live, is dead," Alan Maitland told listeners that night on CBC Radio's As It Happens, as early reports on Belushi's death came in.

It was initially reported that the 33-year-old Belushi had died of natural causes. An overdose of injected cocaine and heroin would eventually be revealed as the cause of his premature death.

Fast rise to fame

John Belushi formed half of The Blues Brothers duo, along with his close friend, Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd. (Universal Studios, File/AP)

Belushi had rocketed to fame for his work on the Lorne Michaels-produced Saturday Night Live and further extended his stardom by playing memorable roles in popular comedy movies — including Bluto in Ivan Reitman's Animal House and Joliet Jake in The Blues Brothers.

Journalist Elizabeth Gray, who was hosting As It Happens the day Belushi died, tried to put his impact in context during a conversation with Lewis Grossberger, a writer who had spoken to the actor months earlier for a Rolling Stone magazine profile.

"He felt that he was in the best shape he'd been in, in several years, and that he'd put several personal problems behind him and seemed very optimistic and energetic," Grossberger said, recalling that prior contact with the actor.

'He had a lot of movies to go'

On March 5, 1982, CBC Radio's As It Happens speaks to writer Lewis Grossberger about the death of John Belushi.

The writer saw Belushi as a talented comic actor, whose work spoke for itself in the way it put a smile on the faces of audiences who saw him on the big and small screens.

"He entertained a lot of people and made a lot of people laugh and that's something that's rare," Grossberger said.

Given that Belushi had died very young, Grossberger said it was hard to say what his work would mean in the years to come.

"He was pretty young, really, and his career had just started," he said. "He had just gotten into movies ... he had a lot of movies to go. He was starting to branch out and reach out for different kinds of roles."

Adjusting to success

John Belushi on success

40 years ago
Duration 0:25
John Belushi once talked to CBC about what it had been like for him to deal with success.

Indeed, Saturday Night Live was just in the midst of its seventh season when Belushi died. He'd left the show only a few years earlier.

He'd had great success in a short time period, and in the months before his death Belushi had had occasion to talk to CBC about what that had been like.

"It's very hard at first — you expect it to come someday, or else you wouldn't be doing this. You want success. And then when it does come, it's very confusing, how to deal with people," he told the CBC's Marilyn MacKay, during an interview to promote one of his final projects, the Michael Apted-directed movie Continental Divide.

"But, now I like it. I'm starting to enjoy it."

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now