We all know John Belushi, the comedian.
In his too-short career spanning roughly a decade, the late actor and musician made us laugh on "Saturday Night Live" and "The National Lampoon Radio Hour" and in big-screen comedy classics "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers." But Showtime's new documentary "Belushi," premiering Sunday (9 EST/PST), paints a more detailed picture of the lovable yet tortured funnyman, who died in 1982 at age 33 from an overdose of cocaine and heroin.
"He was pretty bright, well-read and really politically motivated as a young man," his widow, Judy Belushi Pisano, tells USA TODAY. "His early work was very satirical and smart. Perhaps that got a little lost with 'Animal House' being such a successful film and his character being so different than that. But he was quite a diversified fellow."
Here's what else we learned about him from the documentary, directed by R.J. Cutler ("The War Room"), which features never-before-heard interviews:
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His drug addiction was brought on in part by an injury
The film explores at length Belushi's struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, "in an age when we didn't realize, culturally, (that) the burdens of addiction and the tools for addicts to overcome their illness did not exist," Cutler says. "While he was struggling to overcome addiction, it was stigmatized. It was not the kind of thing, especially a celebrity, would come forward and then seek help about. So the people in his life didn't quite know where to turn."
Cocaine was a part of his life during the hard-partying days of "SNL," which premiered in 1975, but drugs became a real problem for Belushi two years later, when he was prescribed painkillers after knee surgery. "It's a familiar story that's cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans, so we understand it more now," Cutler says. "But for John, it was, you give an addict painkillers with an open-ended prescription, and nothing good is going to come of it."
He had tempestuous relationships with Lorne Michaels, 'SNL' castmates
Belushi created indelible characters during his four-season tenure on "Saturday Night Live," including the belligerent Samurai Futaba and "cheeburger"-peddling Pete Dionasopoulos. But his relationships behind the scenes were at times tumultuous: He was jealous of castmate Chevy Chase, the show's breakout star in Season 1, and clashed with creator Lorne Michaels from the get-go.
"The Lorne-John dynamic is fascinating. It was a very powerful, kind of symbiotic relationship," Cutler says. "There was a lot of conflict at its core because you had two visionaries who met at the birth of 'Saturday Night Live.' John was required to take a step back for the first year of the show while Lorne's creation comes to life." And while Chase's "slapstick, preppy boy humor" initially stole the spotlight, Belushi was the show's "anarchic spirit and groundbreaking force."
But the actor also subscribed to some sexist ideas about women in comedy. Cast member Jane Curtin and writer Anne Beatts recalled how he was disrespectful to women and difficult to work with. He said women weren't funny, and refused to appear in sketches written by them.
That said, "he wasn't the only jerk, and you wouldn't be describing it accurately if you didn't say that," Cutler says. "Judy's perspective was that he was a jerk to a couple of people, not to all of them. And then he paid the price for it. It caused damage to his friendship with Gilda (Radner), which was a shame."
Carrie Fisher was a grounding force and support system through addiction struggles
The film highlights the offscreen friendship between Belushi and Carrie Fisher, who appeared "The Blues Brothers" in 1980 and was briefly engaged to Belushi's co-star Dan Aykroyd. The two bonded over their shared experiences with fame and drugs, Belushi Pisano says, and Fisher recognized how difficult it was when he got sober in 1980.
"We imagined John's year of sobriety as a respite and a triumph, and she understood it as deeply burdening," Cutler says of Fisher, who died in 2017 at age 60. (She suffered cardiac arrest and had several drugs in her system, including cocaine.)
Belushi relapsed during the production of 1981's "Neighbors," just months before his death. Producer Richard Zanuck recalls in the documentary how the actor would sometimes refuse to come out of his trailer and was "totally out of it. One time, we had two guys standing behind him holding him up off camera. That was the kind of shape he was in."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Belushi': Showtime doc sheds light on 'SNL' vet's addiction, more