The 1980s saw a collection of comedians who would work to define the era, one of America’s most vibrant decades of cultural creativity. The likes of Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, Bill Murray and Andy Kaufman each injected their own brand of comedy into the mainstream, but it was another American star, John Belushi, who would arguably emerge the victor, earning critical and commercial acclaim across the globe.
Emerging into the industry in the early 1970s, Belushi earned his place after setting up his own comedy troupe with Tino Insana and Steve Beshekas. Going from strength to strength, their success magnetised the interest of comedian and filmmaker Bernard Sahlins, who convinced Buleshi to join The Second City, an influential improvised comedy group that fostered such talents as Harold Ramis and Joe Flaherty.
Then, in 1973, his fortunes would truly peak, starring in the Woodstock parody National Lampoon Lemmings with Chevy Chase and Christopher Guest, earning Buleshi some much-needed career visibility. Further opportunities soon came thick and fast, later starring in 1978’s Animal House and 1980’s Blues Brothers, with the latter becoming his most seminal piece of cinema.
Despite his success, the star tragically died in 1982, leaving the industry in mourning as tributes flooded in from creatives across the world of TV, film and music.
Of the more unusual tributes, several rock bands wrote about Belushi, praising his contributions to comedy and American culture in general. One such band was the thrash metal group Anthrax, who composed the song ‘Efilnikufesin NFL’ in tribute to the actor for their 1987 album Among the Living, but the American group weren’t the only ones to immortalise the Blues Brother.
Another even more strange tribute came from the Polish rock band Lady Pank, who penned ‘John Belushi’ in a very ‘on the nose’ nod toward the star. Born to Albanian-American parents, the band, consisting of lead members Jan Borysewicz and Janusz Panasewicz, paid tribute to the actor’s heritage with the opening line, which translates as “Albania was a paradise for which I had no strength”.
A little more commercially, Grateful Dead wrote the song ‘West LA Fadeaway’ in the very same year that the actor passed away, alluding to the death of the actor in his Chateau Marmont bungalow. A considerable fan of the band, Belushi sang with the Grateful Dead during a performance in New Jersey back in 1980.
Crashing the stage, Belushi was given the cold shoulder by the band, with drummer Bill Kreutzmann stating in his book Deal: My Three Decades of Drumming, Dreaming, and Drugs with the Grateful Dead, “It couldn’t have been rehearsed better. Belushi had impeccable comedic timing, musicality, balls, the works. And apparently, he didn’t take no for an answer.”
Check out the song dedicated to Belushi by Lady Pank below.