How Sweet It Is
No doubt he will. These days, the 48-year-old younger brother of John Belushi has a nose for life's sweet spots. His ABC sitcom According to Jim is riding high, pulling in 12.6 million viewers per week, and home life with Jennifer, 35, and daughter Jami, 3, and sons Jared, 10 months, and Robert, 22, a college student (from a previous marriage), is as nice as sugar and spice. Standing in his backyard, Belushi does a pretend rant about the brightly colored litter of toys. "Do they need all this stuff?" he yells with a smile on his face. "A minikitchen, Barbie sandals?"
The complaining could have come direct from an episode of According to Jim. In fact, it's sometimes hard to tell the comedy from the reality. "You're seeing the real Jim now," says pal and House of Blues business partner Dan Aykroyd. "The show captures the essence of how he really lives and relates to his family and friends."
On Jim, a present-day version of The Honeymooners in its second year, Belushi is a lovable lug of a husband and father of three whose belch is worse than his bite. Jim's wife, Cheryl (ex-Ally McBealite Courtney Thorne-Smith) prevails by countering the blue-collar bombast with calm logic. The show, says Belushi, is about how "a couple strategizes to do the right thing for their children."
The family-values talk may surprise those who knew Belushi as a party-hearty bachelor. But marriage to third wife Jennifer, he says, has "softened me a lot. It used to freak me out when people asked, 'Where do you see yourself in five years?' I had no vision. I was always about the work." Now, says homemaker Jennifer, "He's settled into being more of a family guy. And he loves going to work every day."
Belushi's life wasn't always so mellow. Growing up in Wheaton, Ill., the third of four children of Albanian immigrants, he was often overshadowed by older brother John, the Saturday Night Live comic who died from a drug overdose in 1982. Belushi earned a theater degree from Southern Illinois University and soon followed in his brother's footsteps to Chicago's famed Second City troupe in 1977. Two years later a play in which he was appearing was tagged to become a feature film. The problem: The producers wanted John, not Jim, to star. Recalls Belushi: "I said, 'John, I can't eat a cheeseburger, I can't pick up a sword. There are so many things I can't do because you've already done them. I did this one onstage. It's mine.' " John respected his brother's wish and declined the project. Jim costarred in the movie, 1986's About Last Night, with Demi Moore and Rob Lowe, which became the career break he needed. "If John didn't pass," Belushi muses, "who knows?"
By the late '80s Belushi was busy with movies, including the Schwarzenegger vehicle Red Heat and the comedy K-9. But concentrating on his career cost him two marriages—to first wife Sandra Davenport, mother of Robert, and second wife Marjorie Bransfield, whom he divorced in 1992.
He met Jennifer, then a jewelry-store clerk, the following year, but they didn't hit it off immediately. On their first date, says Jennifer, "he kissed me on the forehead like I was his sister. A couple weeks later he asked me to go Rollerblading, and I liked him that day. He was real."
Married in 1998, the couple have been keeping it real with their children and each other. "We can't wait to get to each other at the end of the day," Belushi says. Professionally, he has an independent film, One Way Out, in the can and has just wrapped a K-9 sequel. He also makes some 50 gigs a year with his blues band, the Sacred Hearts, and occasionally joins Aykroyd as one of the Blues Brothers, the film and concert role that kept his brother in the spotlight. "I always left the blues to John, because that was his territory," says Belushi. "But Danny gave me permission. We have a ball." Notes Aykroyd: "Jimmy still has that caustic, acerbic wit that his family gave him, but things are more skewed to the positive now."
If one thing makes success bittersweet for Belushi, it is John's absence. Last March was the 20th anniversary of his death. "I don't think about the day he died," says Belushi. "I think about this whole life that has gone by since then. I'm on my third marriage, I have two more kids. More than anything it would have been nice to have an Uncle John around."
Monica Rizzo in Los Angeles
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