Special effects designer Steve Johnson was required to redesign Slimer to resemble John Belushi with only 24 hours to the deadline.
1984’s Ghostbusters is one of the most successful comedies of all time, fusing the comedic sensibilities of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ivan Reitman with a supernatural adventure and creating a vast multimedia empire. One of the most iconic elements of the franchise is Slimer, the gluttonous green ghost first encountered at the Sedgewick Hotel on the Ghostbusters’ first mission. According to special effects master Steve Johnson (per Bloody Disgusting), Slimer was in fact based on the late John Belushi, who was intended to be the original star of Ghostbusters.
Steve Johnson was on the special effects team for the first Ghostbusters movie along with Billy Bryan (who designed the similarly iconic giant Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man) and was tasked with designing Slimer. Although the name seems pretty obvious for the disgusting, hot dog-hungry ghost, the model was originally known as “Onion Head” due to it reportedly smelling terrible. The model took six months to design, with constant design notes from studio executives that drove Johnson to frustration, and that was before the John Belushi-Ghostbusters connection even came into play.
Reportedly, Steve Johnson was told, after hundreds of drafts of Slimer, that he should make it look more like John Belushi, with only 24 hours before the final Ghostbusters design was due. Since this was the 1980s, Johnson says he sequestered himself with a large quantity of cocaine and feverishly worked to finalize the John Belushi-influenced Ghostbusters design under deadline. According to the designer, at one point, the exhaustion, stress, and drugs caused him to hallucinate the ghost of Belushi giving him tips on the design, saying:
I was three grams into the night and in a cocaine-induced delusional paranoia and I literally thought that John Belushi’s ghost came to me to help me out.
Dan Aykroyd wrote the original draft of the film with the idea that he and John Belushi would star in Ghostbusters together, much as they did for 1980’s The Blues Brothers. At the time, the two Saturday Night Live alumni were close personal friends and collaborators, and some of the biggest draws at the Hollywood box office. Sadly, John Belushi would die from a drug overdose before filming for Ghostbusters began in October 1983.
Although it might seem odd that John Belushi’s friends chose to honor him via a gross-out gag of a poltergeist in Ghostbusters, it makes a lot more sense when taken in the context of his wild-man reputation. Since the release of the film, Dan Aykroyd has repeatedly referred to Slimer as the ghost of John Belushi, which makes Ghostbusters a kind of way of keeping his memory alive.
Funnily enough, though Slimer only briefly appears in Ghostbusters and is essentially an antagonistic character (prompting the memorable line “He slimed me, Ray!”), he has since become a beloved part of the franchise. The popular Real Ghostbusters children’s cartoon reenvisioned the ghost as a sidekick and mascot to the team, indicating just how much fans had built a fondness for the character. Although John Belushi will always be known for Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers, and National Lampoon’s Animal House, it is somehow nice that he has a disgusting, drug-fueled legacy in Ghostbusters.