Jim and John Belushi
Updated: March 4, 2013 8:02PM
I’m driving from Chicago to Joliet on I-55. Next to me is my 32-year-old son, Robert. We’re talking and I realize that March 5 will be the 31st anniversary of my brother — and Robert’s Uncle John’s — death. It’s fitting that we’re on the way to play The Rialto Square Theater with The Chicago Board of Comedy. After all, John took “Joliet Jake” as his namesake.
I’m talking to Robert about collaboration, legacy and lasting influences and about my brother John. His trail led the way for us, out of an immigrant’s house and onto the greatest stages and screens, big and small, all over the world.
A lot has been written about John, a lot has been said about John. He was the hardest worker I knew when it came to perfecting his craft. He spent three days with a samurai sword in his hand talking gibberish before he perfected it. Regrettably, I only got to work with him once on stage. However, we did work together at home, and at my dad’s restaurant, a lot.
Here’s something you might not know about John: He may have been the greatest comic mind of his generation, but he was a piece of s--- to work with as a busboy. When we bussed tables at my dad’s restaurant growing up, he put everything on me. I had to clear all the tables while he sat in the bathroom for hours on end. When I said, “Hey John, what are you doing?” he would say, “Nothing.” I said, “That’s right.” There would be a beat of silence, and then, through the bathroom door, “Shut up.” No matter where you’re from, if you’re a big brother, you’re an a------.
I may have followed in my brother’s footsteps, but one place those footsteps did not lead was to the garage to get the lawnmower and then out to the yard. That was me trailblazing that s---. Thanks a lot, John.
When I was young, being the middle brother, it would tick me off how John could make any moment magical and steal all the focus in any given room. But as I got older, I, too, became mesmerized by it. On the drive to my grandmother’s funeral, John dropped a piece of food on his shirt before we arrived. When I reached over and tried to clean it, he said, “Leave it there, it makes me vulnerable.” He was right.
Nana was our closest family, our caretaker. It was a hard day. The week before her death, Nana had a series of heart attacks in San Diego. We were in Chicago, and I tracked John down in Old Town and took him into the alley and said, “Nana is waiting for us! She wants to see us before she dies! We need to leave tomorrow!” John said, “I know ... that’s why I’m not going. To keep her alive.”
“John!” I screamed, “Don’t be an idiot! She’s waiting for you!” I was crying, out of control, lost. John turned to me and said, “Stop crying. We need to be strong for the family. For the women. We need to be the soldiers for the family right now. Stop it.”
“But John, it’s Nana!”
He looked at me and said softly, “OK, get it out.” Then I finished, and we went and made plans for the visit.
Sure enough, 10 minutes after we left Nana’s bedside, she passed. At the funeral I was the “soldier.” A man. Trying to hold it together. At the gathering afterward, in a banquet hall, I was standing at the edge of the room comforting some old ladies and something happened in the middle of the room. People were quickly moving like someone fell or something. I stood up on a chair to see. It was John. He was hanging onto the priest with weak knees, bawling like a baby. The whole room ran to him, saying, ”Johnny, Johnny!” and I’m standing on a chair saying to myself, “You son of a bitch! Always vulnerable, always making magic!” He taught me a lesson as he stole my own move.
I’m still on the road, right now, chasing the magic that John used to taunt me with as a young boy. I think about him all the time. He was my big brother. He hated labor but he loved to work. And in retrospect, I didn’t mind cleaning those tables and mowing the lawn for him. Or standing on a chair while our community consoled him. I don’t mind that he has left everything on me again, because he taught me how to “soldier” through it. He left so much for all of us. He brought a true gift to my family and I continue to pass it along to my own children. My son is an actor, my daughter is a singer and my youngest boy is a drummer.
Still in the car with my son, I’m thinking, “Tonight’s show at the Rialto Theater will be for Joliet Jake Blues, the man who ‘dug the well,’ and for all who ‘drink from it.’ The Rialto is said to be haunted. So, I’m sure John will find a way to be there. He never missed a show. Oh, s---! I just spilled coffee on my show shirt. I guess I’ll leave it there ... it will make me vulnerable.”
Jim Belushi donated his fee for writing this column to the St. Nicholas Albanian Orthodox Church. Visit