He appeared in only seven feature films. And he died March 5, 1982, almost a quarter-century ago, at the ridiculously young age of 33, long before most members of today's target demographic for youth-skewing movies were born. And yet, John Belushi remains, in the hearts and minds of many far too young to have discovered him on Saturday Night Live, a revered cult figure.
To honor the dearly departed -- and, yes, to enjoy a few good laughs -- take another look at National Lampoon's Animal House (1978). In the role that, for better or worse, defined his on-screen persona, Belushi blowtorches his way through the widlly unveen but often uproarious film as Delta House dynamo Bluto Blutarsky, a walking sight gag with the most cunningly expressive eyebrows this side of Jack Nicholson. Despite his top billing, he has relatively little time on screen, and hardly any dialogue. But that doesn't stop him from stealing the movie with his ingeniously crass version of silent-movie slapstick. To see Belushi robustly slurping Jell-O in a cafeteria line, or eagerly crushing beer cans on his forehead, or ogling undressed co-eds through a sorority house window, is to be reminded why his name remains synonymous with uninhibited, go-for-broke physical comedy.
Belushi is by no means the only performer of note in Animal House. As Boone, a droll Delta whose girlfriend (Karen Allen) has a fling with a pot-smoking professor (Donald Sutherland), Peter Riegert is the standout in an ensemble cast that also includes then-newcomers Tom Hulce, Bruce McGill and (as the snide leader of the anti-Delta frat boys) Kevin Bacon. As the skirt-chasing Otter, Tim Matheson has some comically sexy interludes with the under-appreciated Verna Bloom (Medium Cool, The Hired Hand) as the hard-drinking, tart-tongued wife of the college's unforgiving Dean Wormer (John Vernon). But Belushi is the one who best personifies the overall air of beery anarchy and what-the-hell prankishness that has made Animal House so memorable and influential for more than a generation. At its frequent best, the movie is a gleefully lewd and boisterously crude testimonial to the empowering potency of swaggeringly bad behavior.