John Belushi and Jack Nicholson started a years long feud over fallout from the filming of Goin' South.
Legendary Saturday Night Live performer John Belushi had a short, brilliant career in Hollywood before a drug overdose claimed his life in 1982,a nd while the comic’s life is filled with strange anecdotes, one of the weirdest remains his feud with Jack Nicholson. What makes it strange, is that on the surface, the two performers have a lot in common including their heavy drug use during the 70’s when Nicholson’s house was known as the premiere destination for Hollywood debauchery. The trouble started when Nicholson cast Belushi for his film, Goin’ South, a passion project of The Shining star that started out well, but quickly spiraled out of control.
Turner Classic Movies includes a breakdown of the issues on set between John Belushi and Jack Nicholson, while a 1984 story in The Washington Post (written by Bob Woodward), goes into further detail on Belushi’s drug problems, what made them worse, and the famous actor that encouraged Belushi’s bad behavior. First off, Goin’ South is a western written and directed by Nicholson in which he plays horse-thief Henry Moon, who is soon caught by a posse and through a weird series of loopholes, has to get a woman living in town to agree to marry him. Mary Steenburgen, then an unknown actress, accepted the role of Julia Tate, while John Belushi and Christopher Lloyd played town deputies and Ed Begley Jr. played Whitey Haber, one of the locals.
Nicholson, as a director, strived to create an open, everyone is part of the family and working towards a common goal attitude on his sets. Goin’ South was John Belushi’s first film following the success of Animal House, and the comic’s growing ego as a successful Hollywood star led to him bossing around members of the crew, arguing with other members in the cast, and worse of all, partaking in what was described as “a significant amount of cocaine” on a near-daily basis with Ed Begley Jr. Belushi was the type of Hollywood personality that Nicholson was hoping he could mentor, but the belligerent comic was faced with a steadily shrinking role in the film due to his bad behavior.
John Belushi, reflecting on his time filming Goin’ South, bluntly summed up the experience as “Jack treated me like sh*t on Goin’ South. I hate him.” The final film was a box office disaster, with most critics lamenting the lack of screen time given to Belushi, along with other more technical problems, but the missing rising star was consistently called out in reviews.
The two stars sniped at each other through interviews to finish out the 70’s, but just a month before John Belushi’s passing, the two managed to bury the hatchet. Belushi went to Nicholson’s mansion seeking advice on an upcoming role in the film Natural Rot, Ed Begley Jr., having since kicked his drug habit and living a sober life, was also present. Nicholson and Begley Jr. would comment in a later interview with Bob Woodward that they knew something was wrong with the Blues Brother star, his weight had ballooned and he barely spoke about his wife, seemingly more interested in Jack’s free coke for visitors.
Despite patching things up in the last days of John Belushi’s life, the fallout from his behavior on Goin’ South clouded Hollywood for years after the fact. Jack Nicholson would go on to write and direct in other films, including the 1990 Chinatown sequel The Two Jakes, with significantly less drama and conflict than his one attempt at directing Belushi. For those curious in seeing the final product, Goin’ South can be streamed on Amazon Prime, with significantly less Belushi than originally intended.