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It’s possible the Blues Brothers duo really was “on a mission from God,” considering everyone involved walked away from the 1980 movie alive. In addition to its music and comedy, The Blues Brothers will long be remembered for epic car chases inside shopping malls and a pileup of cop cars that once set a world record. Considering it’s one of John Belushi’s greatest films, it’s not surprising the Blues Brothers behind the scenes were just as crazy as what audiences see on the screen.

Elwood and Jake Blues were created by Saturday Night Live alums Dan Aykroyd and Belushi, and after scoring a record contract, they decided to turn their characters’ story into a movie. Comedy guru John Landis was asked to direct and big name music stars such as Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin were cast as characters in the film.

Despite all it had going for it, Belushi’s drug problems and expensive non-CGI special effects almost sunk the film. It’s remained one of the most beloved movies of the 1980s, inspired a sequel, and is responsible for House of Blues, but what filming The Blues Brothers was like was almost as horrifying as 300-car pileup.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

Belushi Was Always So High, He Frequently Wandered Off Set And Once Passed Out In A Random Home Nearby

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd together made for a zany (if not frustrating) team, even going so far as stealing Nazi SS officer uniforms from the wardrobe department and taking a joyride down the freeway. However, it was Belushi’s crazy, drug-fueled behavior that almost destroyed The Blues Brothers. He was known to frequently wander away from the set, and disappeared one night while filming in rural Illinois. Aykroyd set out to find him and noticed a nearby house with a light on. After knocking on the door, he was told Belushi had shown up at the house, raided the fridge, and then passed out on the couch. Aykroyd woke Belushi up and they returned to work as if nothing had happened.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

John Landis Flushed Belushi’s ‘Scarface’-Sized Cocaine Stash And A Fight Broke Out

According to Dan Aykroyd, there was “budget in the movie for cocaine for night shoots.” Although he admitted to partaking occasionally, John Belushi’s drug habit was one of the movie’s biggest problems and it was inevitable that he and director John Landis would eventually come into conflict over it. Upon entering Belushi’s trailer, Landis discovered a mound of cocaine on a table that rivaled the amounts seen in Scarface.

Realizing it would cost Belushi a lot of money, Landis flushed it and was about to leave when the actor returned and freaked out. After a short scuffle, Belushi broke down and the two hugged and cried together. This acted as a turning point during Blues Brothers‘ production since although they couldn’t shut down the movie so Belushi could go to rehab and replacing him wasn’t an option, filming went more smoothly after the confrontation.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

During Filming, Aykroyd Saved Carrie Fisher’s Life With The Heimlich Maneuver

Dan Aykroyd met Carrie Fisher on the set of Saturday Night Live when she appeared as a guest host in 1978, and they were reunited on the set of The Blues Brothers a few years later. She played the role of John Belushi’s crazy girlfriend and he set her up in real life with Aykroyd. They began dating while they were filming and later Aykroyd saved Fisher’s life when she was choking on a Brussels sprout. “He thought I was laughing, and then he saw that I was dying, and he did the Heimlich maneuver, and then like 10 minutes later he asked me to marry him, and I thought, ‘I better marry him. What if that happens again?'” Fisher said. She and Aykroyd were engaged briefly until she decided to return to her former lover Paul Simon, whom she eventually married.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

Belushi Hired A ‘Bodyguard’ To Help Keep Him Clean

As big a drug problem as he had, John Belushi was aware it would kill him if he didn’t do something to stop it. Most of his friends tried to help, such as Dan Aykroyd who once smashed a wristwatch as a violent metaphor for Belushi’s downward spiral. Carrie Fisher was told by John Landis, “For God’s sake, if you see John doing drugs, stop him.” Belushi was reluctant to enter rehab before the movie was finished and due to the unfortunate plentifulness of cocaine at the time, fans and unconcerned co-workers acted as suppliers.

“Every one of those guys wants to tell his friends, ‘I did blow with Belushi,'” recalled Smokey Wendell, whom Belushi hired as a bodyguard of sorts to keep him away from drugs. Wendell was a former agent in the Secret Service and had helped The Eagles’s Joe Walsh sober up. Having to watch Belushi like a hawk took a toll on Wendell and he eventually resigned. Although he was re-hired about a year later, Belushi died of an overdose before he was back on the job.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

Racist Movie Theater Owners Boycotted The Movie

The first cut of the movie ended up more than two hours long and had to be edited down, but the finished film had other problems that kept it from a big opening. Ted Mann, owner of a large chain of theaters across the country, refused to show the movie in his venues comprised of mostly rich, white audiences, “Because I don’t want any blacks in Westwood,” he claimed. Mann also reasoned white people wouldn’t want to see a “black movie,” “Mainly because of the musical artists you have. Not only are they black. They are out of fashion.” Although most big budget Hollywood films open in about 1,400 theaters, The Blues Brothers debuted in only 600. Luckily, it turned out to be a hit.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

Aykroyd And Belushi ‘Borrowed’ Cars To Smoke Weed On The Lot During Pre-Production

As Ackroyd worked on finishing the script from the Universal studio lot, he and Belushi naturally spent a lot of time getting high, even “borrowing” cars from the studio at night to go on pot runs and reflect.

For Belushi, this was the tamest of his indulgences. Besides a burning coke addiction, he was reportedly perpetually jacked on everything else too, including “Quaaludes, mescaline, LSD, and amphetamines.”

Photo:  Universal Pictures

The Movie Once Held The World Record For Most Cars Destroyed On Film, Including 60 Police Vehicles

According to one car insurance company, Elwood’s insurance premium would have been raised to around $300,000 per year if the film’s epic crash scene had occurred in real life. About 300 cars were wrecked by the end of the film, a world record at the time. Since CGI wasn’t around back then, 13 different Bluesmobiles were used, with different models employed for jumping, driving fast, or shooting closeups.

40 stunt drivers were hired as well as a few real policemen to chase Elwood and Jake using more than 60 police cars. Because there was so much destruction, the production even employed their own body shop to fix the broken vehicles. Each car flip had to be carefully planned and used pipes, ditches, ramps, and a semi truck with break-away sides to achieve the special effects. The film’s budget was considerably hurt but amazingly, no one suffered anything more than a minor injury. And a lack of CGI is arguably what makes the movie so good — the crashes seem as real as they come.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

The Crew Completely Trashed A Mall For Their Chase Scenes… Then Abandoned It

The Blues Brothers featured a lot of destruction, and a car chase through a crowded shopping mall was one of the most memorable scenes. Dixie Square Mall in Illinois served as the set and was once a real mall that closed about a year earlier due to crime in the area. The film crew basically put the mall back together, complete with store facades and crowds of shoppers.

After they trashed the building by driving cars through it, the crew just left. No one cleaned up after themselves or repaired anything. A lawsuit was started but was eventually dropped and although the building was briefly used as a school afterwards, it was completely abandoned in 1981. Thanks to gang activity, vandalism, and other crimes, the mall was totally demolished in 2012, probably with more professional machinery than a police car.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

Stunt Cars Speeding Through Town Freaked Out Local Civilians

Thanks to Chicago’s Mayor Daley, getting permission to shoot on location in the city was extremely difficult. According to one story, the crew was allowed to film after John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd volunteered to donate a large sum of money to local charities. The crew was given permission to perform dangerous stunts that no one today would allow on the streets of a major city.

Chases called for cars to drive at more than 100 mph on downtown streets including Lake Shore Drive, weaving around supports for the L train above them. The police closed down the area so no civilians would be hurt but since a lack of pedestrians on the streets made the chase look fake, the scene was re-shot using stunt people on the sidewalks. Back in 1980, making a movie in this manner was so new to people, many who witnessed the filming were upset and contacted newspapers about the city’s horrible drivers.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

While Filming The Epic Musical Finale, Belushi Borrowed A Kid’s Skateboard And Injured Himself

A movie that didn’t quite fit into a single genre and featured a handful of music legends had to have a big finale. It was planned to shoot at the Hollywood Palladium with hundreds of extras in a musical scene that required John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd to dance and do cartwheels.

Already way over budget, the producers were understandably anxious as the scene got underway. Meanwhile, Belushi was acting like his reckless self and borrowed a skateboard from a kid who passed by, promptly falling off and injuring his knee. Just wanting to finish the movie, the producers called the head of Universal who contacted Los Angeles’ top orthopedist, making him delay his Thanksgiving vacation to treat Belushi. After an injection and some bandages, Belushi finished the scene.

Photo:  Universal Pictures

Aykroyd Wrote A Ridiculously Excessive Script, Probably While High

To the producers, a Blues Brothers movie was a sure thing. Animal House had recently been a huge hit and pairing its director and biggest star with another rising name from Saturday Night Live led the producers to green light the idea without question. Unfortunately, Dan Aykroyd had never read or written a screenplay.

His finished script was delivered after a producer received an anonymous phone call urging him to “Be on your property tonight.” The producer apparently didn’t find this strange but when he discovered The Return of the Blues Brothers as written by “Scriptatron GL-9000,” he knew the movie was off to a rough start. The screenplay contained 324 pages (that’s 200 more than average), and had to be highly edited by director John Landis. Taken out was backstory about all eight backup musicians and the analysis of Catholicism.

Photo:  NBC

The Blues Brothers First Appeared To The World Dressed In Bee Costumes On Saturday Night Live

In 1973, Dan Aykroyd of Second City Toronto fame met John Belushi of Second City Chicago fame and the two hit it off almost immediately. Aykroyd passed his love of blues music on to Belushi and when they both found themselves on the cast of the brand new Saturday Night Live in 1975, they teamed up to make music as The Blues Brothers. As Elwood and “Joliet” Jake, the two actors managed to get small gigs around New York and Lorne Michaels was nice enough to let them warm up audiences before SNL shows.

He was hesitant to let them perform during the actual show but finally gave them a chance in 1976, provided they dress up like bees. Michaels didn’t give the duo a real chance until Steve Martin hosted two years later. After Martin later hired them to open a series of his stand up gigs, they received a record deal. Then, when Animal House shot Belushi to fame a few months later, a Blues Brothers movie was the obvious next step.

 

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