The Night John Belushi Cartwheeled Onstage During a Grateful Dead Show & Sang “U.S. Blues” with the Band (1980)

Sure, I know ice truck­ers and snow crab fish­er­men have it rough, but I’ve always thought the hard­est job in the world is to be a come­di­an. You walk out on stage, night after night, throw­ing your­self on the mer­cy of the fick­le crowd, with noth­ing but your wits to keep you afloat. It’s nev­er been any won­der to me that so many come­di­ans turn to var­i­ous sub­stances to cope with the heck­ling, chilly silences, and dis­in­ter­est­ed, half-emp­ty rooms. Even suc­cess­ful, beloved comics face tremen­dous per­for­mance pres­sures. Some of them crack. And some, like John Belushi, hop onstage dur­ing a Grate­ful Dead show at the Capi­tol The­atre, cart­wheel over to a micro­phone before the cho­rus of “U.S. Blues,” and join in on back­ing vocals.

Belushi’s impromp­tu 1980 prank per­for­mance with the Dead was not, ini­tial­ly, wel­comed. He had, reports Live for Live Music, “met with some resis­tance from the band” when he asked to join in dur­ing the encore, and drum­mer Bill Kreutz­mann “had to nix Belushi’s wish­es.”

So Belushi, true to form, took mat­ters into his own anar­chic hands, stag­ing what Kreutz­mann called in his 2015 auto­bi­og­ra­phy a “comedic ambush.”

He had on a sport coat with small Amer­i­can flags stuffed into both of his breast pock­ets and he land­ed his last cart­wheel just in time to grab a micro­phone and join in on the cho­rus. The audi­ence and every­one in the band—except for Phil—ate it up. It could­n’t have been rehearsed bet­ter. Belushi had impec­ca­ble comedic tim­ing, musi­cal­i­ty, balls, the works. And appar­ent­ly, he did­n’t take no for an answer.

Belushi’s musi­cal antics, and sur­pris­ing acro­bat­ic agili­ty, are already well-known to fans of The Blues Broth­ers. His pen­chant for real-life musi­cal chaos—such as his stag­ing of an authen­ti­cal­ly riotous punk show on Sat­ur­day Night Live—have also become part of his estimable com­ic leg­end.

Sad­ly, no video of the stunt seems to exist, but you can see Kreutz­mann tell the Belushi sto­ry in the inter­view at the top of the post and, just above, hear that night’s encore per­for­mance of “U.S. Blues.” Lis­ten close­ly at around the 1:50 mark and you’ll hear Belushi join in on the cho­rus. We’ll have to imag­ine the cart­wheels, but it prob­a­bly looked some­thing like this.

Hear the full Dead show from that night here. And if you’re crav­ing more musi­cal Belushi, check out his spas­mod­ic impres­sion of the late, great Joe Cock­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Young John Belushi Imi­tates Tru­man Capote & Per­forms Live on Sec­ond City Stage (1972)

The Night John Belushi Booked the Punk Band Fear on Sat­ur­day Night Live, And They Got Banned from the Show

Stream 36 Record­ings of Leg­endary Grate­ful Dead Con­certs Free Online (aka Dick’s Picks)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Dave says:

    Real­ly? You don’t think being a truck­er or snow crab fish­er­man or some oth­er job is rougher than a come­di­an? Sounds like cop out rea­son­ing for drug abuse no mat­ter what the voca­tion.

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