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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Coventry manís book reflects on life of nephew, John Belushi

5/28/2009 - South Side Leader
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By Joyce Rainey Long

COVENTRY — Bill Samaras always knew his nephew would be a superstar.

Bill Samaras holds the book he’s been writing about his nephew, John Belushi, that features many family photographs. A photo of Dan Aykroyd, Samaras and John Belushi will be included in the book, along with a photo of Samaras and Belushi during the filming of “The Blues Brothers.”
Photo courtesy of Bill Samaras
The Coventry resident now is writing a book about comedian John Belushi filled with personal photographs, family interviews, letters and mementos. A professional photographer, Samaras took pictures of his nephew from his birth to his death in 1982. He also kept all of the letters Belushi sent him, which are featured in the book.

“For some reason, every time I was with John, I took photos,” said Samaras, 80. “It was just an instinct. He was a well-liked kid.”

He also has photos of Belushi as a baby, a teenager at family gatherings, while he was filming movies, publicity photos Samaras took and also pictures of his funeral.

“I have John at every stage in his life,” said Samaras, adding that Belushi is the second child of his older sister, Agnes Belushi, of Chicago.

“I have everything ... I kept a file [on Belushi] and wrote ‘superstar’ on it before John was even on TV,” said Samaras.

Samaras said Belushi wrote to him and thanked him for taking publicity photos and wrote, “You’re more than an uncle, you’re a great photographer.”

The book will include a letter Belushi wrote in 1967 to his uncle while he was at Shawnee Summer Theater in Indiana.

“I got some good parts in the first few plays,” he wrote. “I hope my good luck will continue.”

Belushi went to The Second City, a comedy troupe in Chicago, after the summer theater, then to “Saturday Night Live.” While on the TV show, he also starred in films, including “Animal House.” He died in 1982 at age 33 of an accidental drug overdose.

“My sister and I had no idea he took drugs, and she said, ‘He’s afraid of needles,’” Samaras said. “The people around him protected him from his family. They knew.”

Samaras is hoping his book will show another chapter of his nephew’s life. He’s been working on the project since 1983.

“John’s popularity is never-ending, and no one knows this side of the story,” Samaras said. “It’s a positive family approach.”

He is creating the 100-page book by himself and hopes to publish it within the next year. Samaras said the book is titled “John Belushi, ‘Living Media God,’” which are the words Belushi called himself in a note to him. Samaras said that the words “creator of joy for millions — a life worthwhile” will be included on the book’s cover. The book is dedicated to Samaras’ late wife, Mary Ann.

“It’s a very touching tribute to Bill’s nephew,” said Renee Lamielle, of Green, who has seen pages of the book. “I know a little more of John’s personal life, and I can see him as a child growing up instead of a movie star.”

Lamielle appears in a small photograph in the book holding a “Blues Brothers” mug.

Samaras’ friend Dick Hunter, of Springfield, echoes Lamielle’s sentiments.

“The pictures are great,” he said. “They are a nostalgic look at someone who entertained us for a long time. Not all the photos are silly, and you see the other side.”

Samaras has been taking photos since he was a teenager growing up in South Akron. After earning a degree in photojournalism from Kent State University in 1952, Samaras worked nearly 15 years for the Akron Beacon Journal. He said he mostly took feature photographs for “Roto,” a weekly supplement to the paper that included a full-size photo on the cover with inside photo stories. Samaras’ wife and four children were sometimes in his photographs.

“I put as much action and expression as I could generate out of people in my photos,” Samaras said.

He later opened Samaras Studio and took photographs for advertising agencies, weddings, special occasions and portraits, he said. He also worked as a photographer for Akron artist and business owner Don Drumm for about 40 years. Samaras retired in 1995 but still likes to photograph his friends.

“There’s a fascination of people about John,” Samaras said. “He’s more popular than ever the longer time goes on. He’s legendary.”

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