Big, Dead John

There's been some scuttlebutt over a new DirecTV ad that features comedian David Spade and his former partner in crime, Chris Farley.

The DirecTV ads are clever, to say the least. They thrust real-life stars back onto the sets of one of their more famous movies, only this time they break the plane and speak to the viewer, extolling DirecTV's benefits.

They do it by doing an amazing job of recreating the scene through CG effects, but that's really Sigourney Weaver, or Charlie Sheen, or any of the others who've appeared in the campaign, talking to us about DirecTV. The Weaver one is particularly fun, as she speaks to us while battling an alien.

So the latest one has Farley playing one of his over-the-top characters, Spade being the straight man. Spade speaks to us about DirecTV as an aside.

The controversy arises, of course, because Farley is no longer with us. But I recall one of the vacuum cleaner companies running a campaign that superimposed Fred Astaire, dancing up and down walls while operating one of their units.

But beyond the level of taste of the Farley/DirecTV ads, which could be debated, I suppose, it dawned on me that there would be no Chris Farley if there was no John Belushi.

Belushi, who died in 1982 from an accidental drug overdose, administered to him by a girlfriend, was unlike any other performer who preceded him on the big or small screen.

There was no one who matched Belushi when it came to filling the screen with physical, manic comedy. He could be subtle with facial expressions, or he could be loud and boisterous. He could be tender and abrasive and churlish and passionate---often all at the same time.

If you want a glimpse of some of his genius, YouTube a search of Belushi impersonating singer Joe Cocker during a famous "Saturday Night Live" episode. Or watch him while being one half of The Blues Brothers with good friend Dan Aykroyd.

"Animal House," of course, was Belushi's watershed moment on screen. But as bad as "1941" was, he was pretty damn good in that as well. He chewed the scenery---sometimes literally---but a John Belushi going half-speed wouldn't have been near as much fun.

The late, great John Belushi

Just before he died, Belushi tried some more dramatic roles, particularly in "Continental Divide," where he played a reporter in a love story written by the great Lawrence Kasdan. He also tried black comedy with the disturbingly funny "Neighbors."

Belushi was 33 when he died in Hollywood from a fatal drug cocktail.

Chris Farley was also 33, creepy enough, when he died in Chicago, also from a drug mishap. And, like Belushi, Farley was a gifted physical comedian with a grandiose personality that dominated the screen. And like Belushi, Farley gained notoriety from being a "Saturday Night Live" cast member.

The comparisons are eery but also wonderfully symmetrical.

John Belushi blazed the trail for the Chris Farleys of the world, but who was Belushi's predecessor?

Who filled the mise en scene as completely and with as much energy as John Belushi, before Belushi came along?

John Belushi, it says here, was one of the greatest performers in television history. Certainly one of its biggest, both in talent and in personality. And he was just starting to make movies his territory, too, before he died prematurely.

Chris Farley, too, could have done some more great things if given the time.

That both Belushi and Farley were gone at age 33, just when they were scratching the surface of their talent, should be what we're offended by---not whether DirecTV uses Farley's likeness in a promo some 12 years after his death.

It's like what the late Dick Schaap wrote about sometimes vulgar comedian Lenny Bruce after Lenny OD'd in his prime.

"Here's another four-letter word for you, Lenny," Schaap wrote. "DEAD, at age 40."

THERE'S your shock value.


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