For the next five years, Belushi, Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtain, Laraine Newman, Garret Morris, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner made people laugh so hard their sides hurt every Saturday night.
The show became culturally important, even being credited for causing Gerald Ford to lose
the 1976 Presidential elections by being constantly hounded by jokes on the show portraying him as a clumsy buffoon (mostly done by Chase).
The sketches performed on the show became etched in the memories of Americans and the world. The list is endless...Mr. Bill, the Bees, Landshark, Rosanne Rosannadanna, Joan Face, Two Wild and Crazy Guys, Emily Latella the Blues Brothers, the Greek restaurant, the Samurai sketches, the Coneheads, Weekend Update, Michael's famous $3,000 offer to reunite the Beatles, Aykroyd's fast-talking salesman act and so much more.
Sadly, the contracts for the so-called Not-Ready-For -Prime-Time-Players were not renewed in 1980. The show sunk to a depth that it has never fully recovered from. Even though great talent has passed through SNL since (such as Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Eddie Murphy and Dennis Miller), the show has never been as funny as it was from 1975 to 1980.
This page is dedicated to those first five years only.
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Born on July 1, 1952 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Aykroyd had been a member of Second City Comedy improv in Toronto, Canada when Michaels chose him to star in SNL in 1975. Before SNL, Aykroyd had been writing, producing and had acted in several Canadian productions. While on the show, Aykroyd brought many memorable characters to life, including Elwood Blues of the Blues Brothers, Beldar Conehead, the "wild and crazy" Festrunk brothers (along with Steve Martin), Fred Garvin-Male Prostitute, a great Nixon imitation and a gory, but hilarious, Julia Child imitation.
Aykroyd left the show in 1979 (along with Belushi) to peruse a career in movies. Since then he has starred in "Ghostbusters" (also wrote) in 1984, "Trading Places" (1983) with Eddie Murphy, "Spies Like Us" (1985) and "Dragnet" (1987). In 1990, he received an Academy Award nomination for his role in "Driving Miss Daisy."
While Aykroyd continues to make movie audiences laugh, his talent is sorely missed on the small screen. This was never more apparent than when he appeared on the new SNL along with Steve Martin doing the Festrunk Brothers in a Roxbury sketch in 1999. It was the funniest that show has been in years.
Aykroyd is married to Donna Dixon and has three children, Belle, Stella and Danielle. He is a graduate of Carleton University in Ottawa.
There may be imitators, but there will never be a duplicator of John Belushi. Michaels reluctantly hired Belushi, an Albanian descendant, after seeing his Samurai imitation. With just a raise of his eyebrow, Belushi could make audiences roll on the floor with laughter.
His first well-known SNL character was the singing Bee (a pre-cursor to the Blues Brothers). After that his loud, boisterous comedic style came out in characters like the insane news commentator, the ever-grunting Samurai warrior, Joe Cocker and Joliet Jake Blues, the voice of the Blues Brothers.
He made the saying "But, nooooooooooooooo!!!!!!" a trademark.
Belushi left SNL in 1979. He had become a huge star in 1978 when he was on television's highest rated comedies (SNL), America's funniest movie (Animal House) and a number one record (A Briefcase Full of Blues). He felt he had outgrown the confines of SNL.
Belushi went on to star in "The Blues Brothers" (1980), "1941" (1979), "Continental Divide" (1981) and "Neighbors" (1981).
Sadly, Belushi fell victim to drug addiction, something that was common place in the 1970s and 1980s (not to say it isn't now). He indulged in marijuana, cocaine and heroin. He died on March 5, 1982 after injecting a deadly combination of heroin and cocaine, called a 'speedball,' into his system. It was the end of a comic genius and the beginning of the so-called "SNL Curse."
His presence is very much so missed.
The first star of SNL was Chase. His Gerald Ford imitations were credited with causing the then-incumbent president to lose the 1976 elections to Jimmy Carter (more like the disgusted post-Watergate public wanted someone who had no connection to Nixon).
For the shows first season, the show opened up with Chase tumbling to the floor in a heap and looking into the camera and exclaiming the show's intro.
Chase also made a name for himself as Weekend Update's first anchor. Every episode, Chase opened up the sketch with "I'm Chevy Chase...and you're not!" Among his most hilarious sketches was when Jane Curtin would come on as a school-girl-like commentator and Chase would make idiotic faces and revert to a normal face whenever, Curtin would glance his way.
Chase relied more upon slapstick techniques rather than costumes to convey his comedic style. Not once did he ever try to look like Ford, but just brought him to life with moronic actions.
Chase left the show in 1976 to pursue a movie career. In 1978, he had a hit with Goldie Hawn in "Foul Play." Since then he has starred in "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1983), which spawned a couple of sequels, "The Three Amigos" (1987) and "Caddyshack" (1980).
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Weekend Update 12/13/1975-This was the first Weekend Update to feature Emily Latella (Radner).
Exorcist II- On a night when Richard Pryor hosted, the show made fun of "The Exorcist" complete with a demonic voice and pea soup. Hilarious!
Bass-O-Matic-Dan Aykroyd, a blender, one dead bass and a live television audience = classic sketch! Aired April 17, 1976.
The Phone Company-One of SNL's better commercial parodies. Funny thing is...IT'S TRUE!!!!
Coneheads on 'Family Feud"- A sketch that aired in 1978. Very funny.
The Greek restaurant-This one got America saying "Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger,Cheeseburger!"
The French Chef-Dan Aykroyd doing Julia Child. Not for the weak at heart!
Stretch Marks-Gilda Radner in a record commercial parody. Great stuff!
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-Hosted SNL many times during the good old days. Continued to host after cast change in 1980, but never quite as funny. Great as one of the Festrunk brothers, Theodoric of York, King Tut and a slew of other sketches. Opening monologues were classic. What happened to the Wild and Crazy guy stuff?
- Became the host of every last show of the season from 1976 to 1980. Gave great monologues that poked fun at himself and was good as Roy, the alleged baby sitter/child molester (he could make an unfunny subject funny.) Has not hosted an SNL show since the cast change (very smart).
-Was on the show mostly as a writer until 1978. His wild brand of comedy could be seen in the opening credits that made fun of television shows (example-"Little House On the Prairie Burns Down" will not be seen tonight due to an NBC special presentation). He wrote the Norman Bates Hotel Quiz sketch in 1976.
O'Donoghue died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1994.
From his Mighty Mouse rendition to women's wrestling to having audience members lip sync to Old McDonald's farm, this zany individual became an early fixture on SNL (until viewers voted him off in the early 1980s). When he died of cancer in 1984, most people thought it was another one of his jokes. Wish it were.
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John Belushi- Died of a heroin and cocaine overdose after partying for days in Los Angeles at the Chateau Marmont hotel. For years, Belushi was known for being a wildman on the party scene who went to levels that others did not dare to go. While this as great for his image onscreen, it was deadly in his personal life.
What is most ironic about Belushi's passing is a particular sketch done on SNL. It was one of Schiller's Reels. Belushi was an old man, visiting the graves of dead SNL stars. As he walks to each grave, he makes quips. At Garrett Morris' "grave," Belushi says he died of "heroin and cocaine overdose." At Bill Murray's he says "he'd just grown his mustache back. Probably still growing." When he reaches Chevy Chase's tombstone, Belushi says "He died after his first movie with Goldie Hawn ( a reference to Chase's movie 'Foul Play')." At the end, he attributes his long life to the fact that he can dance and then he proceeds to dance around the gravestones. He was the first tragedy amongst the SNL cast. (Note: The first grave he visits in the sketch is Gilda Radner's).
He died March 5, 1982.
Andy Kaufman- After appearing on SNL, Kaufman went on to star as the nasal-voiced Latka on ABC's "Taxi." Latka was based on one of Kaufman's characters called Foriegn Man, who first appeared on SNL in 1975. Known for a comedy style that made people react more than laugh, Kaufman's antics became legendary.
Kaufman died of a rare form of lung cancer in May, 1984 after being diagnosed only a few months before. He was a strict vegatarian and non-smoker.
Gilda Radner- Just weeks after appearing on "The Garry Shandling Show" in 1989, Gilda died of ovarian cancer, a disease she had fought for two years. Radner was known for staying away from the heavy drug scene during the shows run the '70s. She fought bravely and even wrote a book about her battle with cancer. In her memory, the Gilda Foundation, a cancer-fighting organization where donations can be made, was established.
With her passing, the legend of the curse began to grow.
Chris Farley-The roly-poly "new" John Belushi. Farley idolized him, lived like him...and died like him. Farley was found dead of a drug overdose in a hotel room in Chicago (one of Belushi's favorite towns) on December 18, 1997 at age 33. Like Belushi (who was also 33 when he died), Farley indulged heavily in everything he did, including drugs and alcohol.
Ironically, Farley's last words were similar to Belushi's: "Don't leave me alone."
Phil Hartman- Died by a gunshot wound inflicted by his wife, Brynn, while sleeping in 1998. Brynn was known to be a cocaine-addict (rumors were that Phil did his share as well) and that Phil has planned to divorce her. It was said that Brynn had aspirations of being a star herself and possibly her motivations were a combination of the impending divorce, the threat to her future "stardom" and the drugs. She killed herself with the same gun used to kill Hartman while her two children were in an adjacent room.
Hartman was on the show for 8 years. He was known for is chameleon-like comedic skills that allowed him to perform a wide range of characters, including the Anal Retentive Cook and President Clinton. He was on NBC's "News Radio" when he died.
Danitra Vance- Died of cancer in 1994. Was the first African American woman on the show. She was on the show for only a season, supposedly leaving because there was not enough sketches for black women.
Michael O'Donoghue- Insane-like comedy was his trademark. O'Donoghue made an interesting movie called "Mr. Mike's Mondo Video" in 1979. If you ever find it in a video store, check it out. He tried to help revive the show in the early '80s after the original cast departed, with some marginal success.
He died suddenly in 1994 of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Robert Downey Jr.-He had some trouble but has rebounded nicely. Maybe the "Curse" is dead?