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The Blues Brothers: 11 Behind-The-Scenes Facts About The John Belushi Movie

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi in The Blues Brothers

Every person has a different choice for the perfect comedy movie, and my personal choice, since as far back as I can remember, has been the 1980 classic in which John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd got to bring their blues-loving, brotherly alter egos to the big screen. A true fan may already know how these characters came to be, but I would be willing to bet that you will be amused, surprised, and even startled by some The Blues Brothers behind-the-scenes facts we found.

The story of orphaned brothers “Joliet Jake” Blues and Elwood Blues truly began on the stage of Saturday Night Live, where John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd performed some classic cuts as the now iconic characters as part of the SNL cast’s original Not Ready For Primetime Players in the late 1970s. This would eventually lead them to land an actual record deal, start a concert tour, and conceive an idea for a feature film. Aykroyd and The Blues Brothers director John Landis would collaborate on the screenplay which sees the titular duo reunite and set out to put their band back together in order to complete a mission from God.

After more than 40 years, the passion for The Blues Brothers and its music remains stronger than the anticipation that many film-goers have for some upcoming 2021 movies they have already waited a while to see. However, that probably still does not measure up to the passion that went into making the movie, considering all of its various problematic circumstances. Don’t you wanna hear all about that, and more about went down on the set, in the following 11 behind-the-scenes facts? Hit it.

Members of The Blues Brothers Band. as Murph and the Magic Tones

The Blues Brothers Band Musicians Played Themselves In The Movie

When Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi began taking their Blues Brothers personas more seriously, they rounded up some of the genre's finest musicians (including guitarist Steve Cropper and saxophonist "Blue Lou" Marini) to tour with them. A making-of featurette found on The Blues Brothers 25th Anniversary Edition DVD (and subsequent Blu-ray releases) tells the whole story of their formation and later casting in the film. With the exception of Paul Shaffer (also known as David Letterman's long time bandleader), who had a prior commitment, every member of the original band appears in the movie as slightly fictionalized versions of themselves.

Aretha Franklin in The Blues Brotherrs

Aretha Franklin Had Trouble Lip-Synching Her Blues Brothers Number

Appearing in the film as highly fictionalized versions of themselves were various music legends, including the late Aretha Franklin, to whom The Blues Brothers director John Landis wrote a tribute for The Hollywood Reporter, mentioning her only on set issue was lip-synching her performance of "Think." In the previously mentioned featurette, Landis cites this as a struggle many of film's professional singers could relate to, as they rarely sang a song the same way. As a result, John Lee Hooker's street-side serenade was performed live and James Brown sang gospel in the church with a pre-recorded choir backing him.

Dancers outside Ray's Music Exchange in The Blues Brothers

Dancers For Ray Charles’ Blues Brothers Number Were Random Bystanders

Another legendary The Blues Brothers appearance is that of Ray Charles as a music shop owner who convinces Jake and Elwood to buy his keyboard by playing a rendition of "Shake a Tail Feather" on it so mean it gets strangers dancing outside. Funny thing about those dancers: they were really just strangers the crew found on the streets of Chicago. As John Landis explains in a video for the AV Club (via Yahoo!), since John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were not great dancers, he figured he could make them look better by hiring non-professional dancers.

Cab Calloway in The Blues Brothers

Cab Calloway Wanted To Perform His Recently Cut Disco Version Of Minnie The Moocher

Probably my personal favorite musical performance in The Blues Brothers is by Cab Calloway, who stalls the crowd at the Hollywood Palladium before Jake and Elwood arrive with a rendition of his signature hit "Minnie the Moocher" that sounds just like it did in 1931. However, as John Landis recalls in the DVD featurette, the jazz pioneer had actually wanted his character, Curtis, to perform a disco-style re-recording he had recently done and was very unhappy when the director refused. Considering the film is, in essence, a celebration of classic music from yesteryear, I think most would agree that Landis made the right call.

The Blues Brothers perform

John Belushi Injured His Back Shortly Before The Blues Brothers Climactic Concert

Once Jake and Elwood finally do make it to the concert, it goes off without a hitch and sees the lively pair dancing and doing cartwheels across the stage. What makes the performance even more impressive is the fact that John Belushi had actually sprained his back riding some kid's skateboard earlier that day. Sean Daniel of Universal Pictures told Vanity Fair that the best orthopedist in the area was forced to postpone his trip to Palm Springs that Thanksgiving weekend and then "wrapped and injected" Belushi so he could plow through the exciting Blues Brothers sequence.

John Belushi in The Blues Brothers

John Belushi Once Disappeared From The Blues Brothers Set Out Of Nowhere

A skateboard injury is not the only time John Belushi caused an issue on the set (or off the set, more accurately), as a story from Dan Aykroyd during an appearance on Late Night with Seth Myers would reveal. One late night, during a break from filming the shopping mall police chase scene, Belushi randomly disappeared from The Blues Brothers set and when Aykroyd went looking for him, the result was hilarious:

So I saw this path kind of leading out of the weed-strewn parking lot into a suburban neighborhood nearby, and, ‘I’ll just try that.’ I walked down this path, and I walked into the neighborhood. I looked and all the houses were dark. But halfway down one of the streets, there were lights on. And I thought, ‘Well, I don’t know. I’ve got an instinct here, and I’m going to try.’ And I knocked on the door, and the guy said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘We’re shooting a movie over here.’ ‘Yeah, I know’ ‘And we’re looking for one of our actors.’ ‘Yeah, I know, Belushi. He came in here about a half an hour ago, he raided my fridge, he’s asleep on my couch.’ He’s the guest that never left.

Since the night that, surprisingly endearing, Blues Brothers production story was born, Dan Aykroyd would forever refer to his onscreen brother, John Belushi, as "America's Guest."

Carrie Fisher in The Blues Brothers

Dan Aykroyd Proposed To Carrie Fisher On The Blues Brothers Set

One of the funniest running gags from The Blues Brothers is how the siblings manage to continuously survive the murderous rampage of a mysterious woman, played by Carrie Fisher, whom Jake left at the alter years ago. However, it was actually Dan Aykroyd who made the late Star Wars actress his fiancée shortly after filming, as she would reveal to the Chicago Tribune in the following interview excerpt:

I was engaged to Danny Aykroyd. On Blues Brothers, he proposed in the trailer on set. He was forcing me to eat because I was very thin in those days -- no longer -- and I inhaled a Brussels sprout, and I started choking. 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? We had rings, we got blood tests, the whole shot. But then I got back together with Paul Simon.

Upon her untimely death in 2016, Dan Aykroyd would pen a loving tribute to his former flame, proving there were no hard feelings for the split. In the end, we really cannot blame the Princess Leia actress for her decision anyway, especially since the last guy who had saved her life (on film, anyway) turned out to be her brother.

A slew of wrecked police cars from The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers Once Held The Record For Most Cars Destroyed On Set

Lives that could not be saved, however, on the The Blues Brothers set were the many, many cars used during production, and when I say "used," I mean to completion. According to an inside look on its epic car chase through the streets of Chicago from Yahoo!, the film would hold the record for most cars destroyed on a movie set with a reported total of 103, only to be surpassed two years later with the 150 totaled vehicles in The Junkman. Ranking right above the original film is the 1998 sequel Blues Brothers 2000 with one more car fatality than its predecessor.

The Bluesmobile in a deleted Blues Brothers scene

A Deleted Scene Explains The Bluesmobile’s Magical Qualities

While most of the films innumerable car deaths are played for laughs, the tragic collapse of the Bluesmobile after enduring bridge jumps, backflips, and all kids of impossible things brings a tear to your eye. Dan Aykroyd reveals in the featurette, which you can also watch by purchasing The Blues Brothers DVD or Blu-ray on Amazon, that a scene was actually shot explaining how the old police car gained supernatural abilities from being kept in a power transformer room under a train. John Landis would eventually cut it from the theatrical release, feeling a magic car needed no explanation.

Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as Elwood and Jake in The BIues Brothers

The Blues Brothers Cast And Crew Used Cocaine To Stay Awake During Night Shoots

Providing what could be some insight into John Landis' perspective on magic cars is Dan Aykroyd's testimony from a 2012 Vanity Fair article about the frequent uses of cocaine that occurred on the Blues Brothers set. It is well known that John Belushi was an addict, which eventually cost him his life 1982. Yet, he was only one of many from the cast and crew using the drug on set, including Aykroyd, who explained that it was actually included in the film's budget to keep things rolling while shooting late at night.

Kathleen Freeman, John Belushi, and Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers

The Blues Brothers Was Deemed A “Catholic Classic” By The Vatican

I suppose that the on-set drug use was something that the Vatican was unaware of when they named The Blues Brothers a "Catholic classic" in 2010. In honor of its 30th anniversary, the Vatican's official newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, placed the R-rated comedy among the ranks of The Ten Commandments, The Passion of The Christ, and It's a Wonderful Life as movies they would recommend to followers of the faith. Despite the film's depictions of very troublesome activity, who can argue against giving such a title to a story about two men on a mission from God?

More than four decades after the classic film hit theaters and almost as long since the death of John Belushi, the music still has not stopped for The Blues Brothers, and not just with the movie's enduring popularity. The band still exists and has played many shows since, led by Dan Aykroyd and, in the place of John, his little brother Jim Belushi.

Jason Wiese

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.