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- American actor, comedian, singer, and musician
ONE TUESDAY AFTERNOON, I was standing on the bank of the Rogue River in southern Oregon, naked, and in the water below me, also naked, was Jim Belushi. He smacked the water’s surface maybe six feet from the riverbank, showing me where it was deep enough to jump and saying, “Right here.”
I wasn’t dreaming. And although this is a story about drugs—marijuana, specifically, which Belushi grows commercially here in Eagle Point, about 20 minutes outside Medford—neither of us was high.
We’d known each other for about seven minutes. We’d walked across the field that separates the business part of Belushi’s farm from his house and the river that flows behind it—me, Belushi, and Taro, the massive German shepherd who follows Belushi nearly everywhere he goes on the farm.
He walked slowly, unhurriedly, like a frontiersman in a western, an Albanian John Wayne. He’d been working outside all morning as the heat climbed into the low hundreds. As we approached the water’s edge, he said, “I think I’m gonna jump in the river” and invited me to do the same.
I said something about running back to my car to grab some shorts, and Belushi told me, Sure, go ahead. But when I looked over at him, he’d discarded his shirt, his khaki shorts, and his sweat-printed cowboy hat on a picnic table by the water and was in the process of shucking his bright-white Hanes.
I understood that I could do this or not do it, but I couldn’t do it halfway. Belushi leaped from the bank. Taro followed him, entering the water like a thrown knife. Belushi looked at me and said, “One, two, three.”
IF YOU’RE EVEN slightly famous, there are much easier ways to get into the weed business than growing it yourself. Invest a little money, partner up with a grower, sign off on a few package designs, and boom— you’ve got your own line of cannabis products, just like Snoop Dogg, Seth Rogen, Willie Nelson, and countless others.
Belushi also has a cannabis brand. But unlike the other celebs, he’s growing the cannabis himself. For five seasons up here in Oregon, he and a staff that ranges from 12 to 15 people depending on the season have been working to keep the pot plants that fill their greenhouses fed and watered and alive and productive and tasty, too. And when it’s harvest time, Belushi puts the product in big plastic bags, then he and Chris Karakosta—a his cousin from Belushi’s old neighborhood in Illinois who’s become the GM of Belushi’s Farm and a sidekick-majordomo-personal chef of sorts—pile into Karakosta’s Ford Explorer and drive around Oregon, doing meet and greets at dispensaries and selling their crops for whatever the ever-fluctuating market price of a pound of choice bud happens to be that week.
But Jim Belushi isn’t growing weed just to make a profit, or even simply to help more people get high. He’s self-aware enough to admit that this back-to-the- land adventure has been a crucial part of his own healing process, one that’s helped him deal with both terrible tragedy and deep psychological trauma that for years he never realized existed.
We were air-drying by the water now. I’d retrieved my underwear. Belushi, in briefs and his cowboy hat, toasted the foot of a Cuban cigar with a torch lighter. He’s not quite ripped, but it looks like farm work agrees with him.
“This—all of this—was an accident,” he said. “I wasn’t looking to change my career or looking to get out. I invested in this property, and this energy here led me to where I am today.”
He’d never dreamed of being a farmer, much less a cannabis farmer. He grew up outside Chicago, in Wheaton, Illinois’s tight-knit Albanian community. His mother, Agnes, worked at a pharmacy; his father, Adam, ran short-order diners of the cheeburger, cheeburger variety and then a couple white-tablecloth steakhouses before the mob ran him out of the business.
In 1978, following in the footsteps of his older brother, John, Belushi joined Chicago’s legendary Second City theater company, and he’s been a working actor ever since. More to the point, he’s been working ever since. Sixty films. TV shows from Laverne & Shirley to Twin Peaks: The Return. Broadway. A surprising amount of voice work in cartoons and talking-dog movies. Give him a stage and he’ll dance on it—improv comedy, blues bands, reality TV. Dude is 67 and he’s on TikTok now.
He became a bona fide movie star around 1986, thanks to performances in About Last Night . . . (based on David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago) and Oliver Stone’s Salvador. He’s a vivid lout in the former and an affectingly freaked-out audience surrogate in the latter, witnessing the horrors of war like Fozzie Bear touring hell.
For decades, that was his niche—regular guys, tough or otherwise, reacting to often-irregular situations. In 2001, he started playing an irascible TV dad on ABC’s According to Jim, your basic early-2000s network sitcom about the everyday struggles of a white guy with a pretty wife, an archetype Tim Allen, Ray Romano, and Kevin James might have created specifically for Belushi to follow. As a study of white maleness besieged by modernity, Jim wasn’t exactly Mamet. But by the end, he was reportedly pulling in $500,000 an episode, a pile he calls his “comedy bucks.”
Onscreen or off, he’s never seemed like a let-me-show-you-my-sweat-lodge type of guy, yet here he is, showing me his sweat lodge, pointing out how it’s positioned “in the vortex between two of the most spiritual places in this valley,” Table Rock and Mount McLaughlin. It’s one of many indications that he’s not the kind of guy he used to be.
Another is the way he talks about losing his brother, who wrestled with addiction after becoming a star and died of a heroin and cocaine overdose in 1982 at 33, when Jim was 27. He believes John was self-medicating undiagnosed CTE left over from his high school football career. In interview after interview, he’s said—quoting John’s friend Dan Aykroyd, who said it first—that if John had been able to medicate with marijuana, he’d still be alive today.
The younger Belushi has reached a kind of peace with being John’s brother, the one who lived, and through all that bulldog work he’s built a career that stands on its own. But he’s also come to terms with how that loss affected and shaped him—how it became part of a broader inheritance of pain that he speaks about in a notably un-sitcom-daddish way.
Everything changed about ten years ago. Belushi and his family were visiting friends who’ve had a place on this same river for years, and one day he went skinny-dipping, just as he did today.
“That’s when the crossover happened. Entering into another realm, another space,” he said. “There’s a physiological thing that happens when you submerge into ice water—an adrenal, nervous-system shock that brought me into my body. But spiritually, it cleansed me to the point where I could see a vision, and that vision was I like this area. I like this river.”
The next time he came up from L. A., he went to look at some property.
You’re either gonna love it or you’re gonna hate it, Belushi was told.
“My wife hated it, and I loved it,” he said.
Belushi bought even more acreage not long after Oregon legalized the cultivation of recreational cannabis, and although he hadn’t been a real stoner since high school, pot seemed like a more interesting thing to grow than cabernet vines.
That was in 2015. Today, Belushi’s Farm cannabis products—extracts, prerolled joints, and old-school bud—are available at dispensaries in four states. He has two greenhouses running, Mothership 1 and Mothership 2, and he’s just built two more.
Inside, in meticulously climate-controlled air, under computer-programmed lights, Belushi is growing Chocolate Hashberry and Black Diamond OG and Grapefruit Kush and a strain called Cherry Pie, which he refers to as the Marriage Counselor, because when you smoke it, he said with a smile, “you can listen to your wife talk and talk and talk, and she sounds beautiful.”
He’s also growing a rare varietal called Gulzar Afghanica, colloquially known as Captain Jack, after the onetime tuna-boat skipper and legendary herbsman who brought the strain to America in the ’70s. In a phone conversation, Jack told me he discovered it while traveling in Afghanistan, chasing rumors of herb as potent as LSD.
By the mid-’70s, Jack had met the comedy writers Tom Davis and Al Franken; this was how he found his way to the Blues Bar, a private late-night party spot owned by Saturday Night Live stars Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, located in a dilapidated building on Hudson Street in N. Y. C. Gulzar Afghanica, known for inducing an extremely creative high, became integral on the 17th floor of 30 Rock.
“You could fly an F-16 on it, or judge a murder trial,” Aykroyd said during a Live Nation chat in August. “It was just what we needed to stay at it through three, four, five in the morning.”
“I do believe it opens those doors in the top of your head a bit more,” Jack said.
At Aykroyd’s suggestion, Belushi invited Jack to Oregon in 2016, when all he had was “a bare field—nothing, nada, zero,” and in nine months he’d produced some “beautiful, beautiful plants.”
BELUSHI’S FARM does sell a few knock-you-on-your-ass strains, with up to 32 percent THC, because consumers (and therefore dispensaries) will pay more for those. But his obsession is with terpenes, the organic chemical compounds that give cannabis its smell and flavor and contribute to the varied effects of different strains. Buying pot based solely on its THC content “is like saying, ‘Give me a bottle of wine that has 28 percent alcohol.’ It’s terrible.”
Belushi describes himself as a “micro-doser” when he does partake. But he’s been off weed entirely for a while, because he’s going through some personal stuff and trying to clearheadedly process his emotions.
The day before I was supposed to fly to Oregon, news broke that Belushi had filed for divorce from Jennifer Sloan, his wife of 23 years. “The pandemic either brought people together or split them apart” is what he had to say about the situation on the record. He dates the beginning of the end of his marriage to March 17, 2020, “the day [Covid-19] really hit California. It just blew up my family. We couldn’t keep it together.”
“His house in Brentwood is for sale,” said Belushi’s friend Jim Orr, who directed him in the 1990 romantic comedy Mr. Destiny and is one of the executive producers of Growing Belushi, a reality series on Discovery documenting Belushi’s adventures in the weed trade; its second season airs next year. “[Oregon] is the future. He’s made many marks in many different areas of culture, and this is his next mark.”
But it isn’t only a business. At one of those dispensary visits, early on, Belushi met an Afghan-war veteran who’d come out to thank him. The guy had been a medic, and at the VA hospital stateside, he’d been given a PTSD diagnosis and a bottle of Oxycontin. He’d opted for cannabis over opiates but still struggled to connect with his family.
“He said, ‘Your Black Diamond OG is the only strain I’ve found that allows me to talk to my wife, talk to my kids, and sleep,’ ” Belushi recalled. “And he kind of teared up and he hugged me deeply. I’m like, ‘Man, I didn’t make this stuff.’ And he goes, ‘No—but you were a steward.’ ”
That was the moment this all started to feel like something more than a fun endeavor, something akin to a spiritual calling—a mission from God, if you will.
“Alcohol has always been our go-to medicine,” Belushi said. “But it’s a poison, y’know? Addiction just comes into a family like a snake and slowly squeezes until somebody dies. Hence John. So once somebody dies in your family from an addiction, you look for alternative medicine. And cannabis is the safest, I believe.”
The science is inconclusive on whether cannabis is an effective treatment for addiction, in part because the law makes it hard to test. Belushi’s right about one thing: If you’re going to self-administer, better weed than booze. “And everyone here knows that when this [pot] goes out, it’s going to relieve somebody of something,” he said.
BELUSHI SPENT the rest of the afternoon showing me around the farm. He didn’t put a shirt on again until the sun set and Karakosta fried up fish and zucchini for dinner. These days, Belushi sticks to a plant-based diet and doesn’t drink.
About 15 years ago, he published a book called Real Men Don’t Apologize. A lot of it is alpha-male guide-to-life bullshit that he later admitted was largely ghostwritten by the guys in the According to Jim writers’ room. But here and there, glimpses of a deeper Jim poke through.
For years, he wrote, “John’s legacy felt like a cross I had to bear, and I lashed out in a lot of different arenas in my life. I got angry; I screamed; if the fries weren’t hot enough, I yelled at the fry girl; if I got cut off on the freeway, I’d follow the jackass home; I drank too much; and once, when I was on SNL, I threw a fire extinguisher at the show’s producer, Dick Ebersol.”
Today, he says that anger was really about his brother—of course it was. “Like, ‘John, come on, man, didn’t you think about us? Didn’t you think about how it’s gonna affect everybody? What were you thinking?’ ” But it was also about the public nature of what had happened. “The world knew. And I felt judged. And it was an incredible amount of energy for an insecure guy to handle.”
Back then, he knew he was getting through certain doors because of his name—John Belushi had been the biggest comedy star in the world as well as a countercultural icon thanks to Saturday Night Live, Animal House, and The Blues Brothers. At auditions in the years after John’s death, Belushi explained, “when I walked in the door, they would see John Belushi. That was the burden.” Now, he said, “I have a different relationship with that legacy.”
Things began to shift in the ’90s, when he and Aykroyd performed together as the Blues Brothers for the first time. Belushi was wary but says Aykroyd insisted, claiming, “It’s like a law firm. When one of the partners goes down, the brother or the son takes over.” He played Zee Blues, the long-lost brother of John’s character, Jake. He doesn’t remember the first time he saw himself in the iconic shades and hat, but he does recall the first time he got up onstage in front of a packed House of Blues to sing “Sweet Home Chicago.”
“During that first chorus, the crowd was screaming, and the band was playing behind me, and I, like, floated.” He held his arms out wide. “And I was like, ‘Oh, John— wow. I see what you were doing. Thank you.’ ” It felt “like a fuckin’ hatchet cut open my chest, pulled my heart out, and”—he mimed massaging an organ—“put it back in. Because at that point, I was going through my second divorce. Career was starting to take a little bit of a dip. I was, like, despondent, and Danny just revived me.”
He’s been an adjunct Blues Brother ever since. As of press time, he and Aykroyd were set to play Zee and Elwood at a benefit show in October; the event, held at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues in Las Vegas, was in support of the Last Prisoner Project, a restorative-justice organization dedicated to freeing the countless Americans— mostly Black and Hispanic—who remain incarcerated for cannabis crimes even as legal pot becomes a multimillion-dollar industry run by white guys.
At the farm, Belushi keeps a small amount of his own memorabilia around, including a poster declaring the young Jim wanted for “telling corny jokes.” John’s face, on the other hand, seems to be on every wall, looking down at us. John as the Samurai, John in Blues Brothers Ray-Bans or wearing bee antennae, John looking wild, John looking happy.
Those two new greenhouses? They’re code-named Jake and Elwood; the characters’ likenesses appear on every box of Belushi’s Working Man’s Brand joints. “We’re gonna bring all that spirit into these healing plants,” Belushi said. I asked how he managed to get over that anger.
“I don’t know,” he said. “One day I was riding on my Vespa and I looked up and I said, John, I’m not mad at you. I forgive you, because I know you didn’t mean for this to happen. I know it was an accident. And I’ve learned so much from it, and I want you to know everybody in the family is doing great. . . . Please move on to the next space. With all my love. And that was kind of a beautiful moment for me.”
He paused and laughed.
“On a fucking Vespa! I wish it had been a Harley.”
BUT THE EPIPHANY doesn’t always find you. Sometimes you have to go looking for it. That’s what led him to Peru about ten years ago, and to ayahuasca, a ceremonial brew of two psychoactive plants with hallucinogenic properties. He’s done it a bunch of times, but he says the first time was the big one— his entrance into a series of experiences that brought him to where he is today.
“It really does break down the ego,” Belushi said. “It just shits all over your ego, and if you resist it, it becomes a terrible journey. At a certain point, I was really having a hard time, and the shaman said, Are you all right?” Belushi, immersed in his vision, calmly said he was surrounded by chattering monkeys.
“He goes, Okay, and then he started singing and hitting these bowls—bing, bing, bing, bing—and I just dropped to the ground and lay on my back. And like ten minutes later, he said, Are you all right? I go, What the hell did you do? And he said, Oh—I shot all the monkeys.” Belushi laughed. “And I go, Well, those monkeys are messengers, from the gorilla. Let’s go gorilla hunting.
“And he fuckin’ smiled,” Belushi continued. “And then? I went deep.”
On the floor in a ceremonial hut next to a different river—the Amazon, just outside Iquitas, Peru—in the middle of the night, Belushi remembered, “what I pulled out was the forgiving of my mother.”
Except nothing was really wrong with her. “Maybe it was me being a big baby....She was a lovely person. She had a rough time in life.” And when she struggled—“like every other mother in those days”—doctors pre-scribed her pills. “Treating the symptoms. If my mom smoked pot back then, maybe it would’ve been a little different,” he added with a smile. “But also maybe I wouldn’t have been an actor. Looking for love.
“I forgave my mother, and once that happened, love filled my heart. And the journey I’ve been on since then is forgiving myself.”
The sun dipped low, molten orange behind a haze of wildfire smoke.
Belushi says he’s read a lot about trauma and its impact, how it can impair the limbic system’s functions. He thinks he had PTSD after John died. “My poor family never knew when that would get triggered. I would scream and yell and keep people away from me. Because I didn’t know I was lost. You have to kinda re-create an experience and retrain yourself how to get out of it.”
This is what it’s all about—this is why he makes people jump into the river. It’s a historical reenactment of that first shock to the system, the one that inspired him to reprogram himself, the beginning of his journey from insecure fire-extinguisher-throwing asshole to psychedelic gorilla hunter to whoever he is right now. The farmer. The work in progress. A man slightly less at the mercy of his own amygdala.
“I’m the same guy as when I was on According to Jim, but I’m not the same guy,” he said. “So that’s how I know this medicine, cannabis, will help people.”
This story originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Men's Health.
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