Dan Aykroyd

Dan Aykroyd

Daniel Edward Aykroyd was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and grew up on a farm in Eastern Ontario that had been occupied by his family for six generations. His father was Canada's Assistant Deputy Minister of Transport and his mother was a secretary, also with the Canadian government. His father was also a psychic researcher, so an interest in the paranormal was bred into the future "Ghostbusters" creator from the word go. Rambunctious, hyperactive "Danny" was born ambidextrous, with two different colored eyes and webbed toes, and being raised by Catholic schools and seminary did little to solve any of his conditions. He learned to play drums, took drama and improv classes, and was active in local theater productions, while always holding down several jobs to finance his freedom. Aykroyd entered Carleton University in 1969 and studied political science and criminal sociology while writing and performing sketches with the college's renowned Sock and Buskin Drama Guild, one of the oldest student-run theaters in North America. At the age of 17, he gained his first professional experience with a short-lived sketch comedy TV show called "The Hart & Lorne Terrific Hour" starring future "SNL" producer Lorne Michaels - a good man to have in your corner during the seventies comedy world.Aykroyd left Carleton a few years later, moving to Toronto, where he formed a comedy duo with Valerie Bromfield. He landed local TV jobs; first as an actor, writer, and producer for a series of comedy shorts called "Change for a Quarter;" and as co-writer and co-star of the kids show "Coming Up Rosie," whose fellow castmates included John Candy. In 1972, Aykroyd auditioned and was accepted into the famed Second City comedy troupe, a newly formed Toronto offshoot of the successful Chicago theater. He performed with Second City for two years while working as a TV announcer and managing a nightclub, where he first met future co-star and soulmate, John Belushi. The two clicked instantly, and while hanging out one night, Aykroyd put on a blues record that began Belushi's eventual transformation from a metalhead to a diehard Delta fan. In 1974, Aykroyd joined the Second City company in Chicago, where he earned a reputation for his dead-on impressions - most memorably, one of Richard Nixon as a car salesman. That same year Michaels, who had landed a position developing a late night comedy show for NBC, called Aykroyd to come to New York and audition for what would eventually become "Saturday Night Live."A surprisingly anonymous and protean writer-performer amid a cast that boasted several strong personalities, he specialized in sketch comedy that allowed him to disappear into characters. Aykroyd displayed a flair for inspired mimicry with indelible impressions of Presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon, as well as chef Julia Child. His odd comic creations included the paternal alien Beldar Conehead; E. Buzz Miller, a sleazy late-night cable TV host and his cousin, corrupt maker of children's toys and costumes, Irwin Mainway (who extolled the virtues and defended the safety of the "Bag-o-Glass" toy); and half of two very different "brother acts" - the "wild and crazy" Czechoslovakian brothers (with Steve Martin) and the retro-cool Blues Brothers (with John Belushi). Aykroyd won an Emmy for his writing work on "SNL," but despite the runaway success, both he and Belushi left the show in 1979 amid a deluge of feature film offers.After making his US film debut in Steven Spielberg's period slapstick epic "1941" (1979), Aykroyd and Belushi co-starred in the gargantuan rock'n'roll comedy "The Blues Brothers" (1980), which Aykroyd co-wrote with director John Landis. Over the next few years, what had began as an "SNL" sketch about a pair of Blues-loving outlaws and their quest to save a Catholic School had grown into several albums, a nationwide live tour, an animated series and two feature films.Unfortunately, at the same time the hottest comedy team were enjoying their success, drugs began seeping more insidiously into the backstage world - most particularly with Belushi - a man who had no control over his own appetites. While Aykroyd was far from a choir boy when it came to indulging in the accepted drugs of the day, it was Belushi who was growing increasingly out of control. And despite many attempts made by Aykroyd and Belushi's wife, Judy Jacklin-Belushi, they and everyone else who loved the portly comic could only sit back and watch the star begin his fast spin-out. The fabled team would make one more film together - the misbegotten comedy "Neighbors" (1981) before Belushi fatally overdosed in Los Angeles on March 5, 1982. It would take Aykroyd years to get over the loss and the guilt that he had not done more to save his friend.But oddly enough, after Belushi's death, Aykroyd went on to become an even bigger star on his own terms, becoming a familiar face in '80s film comedy. He sometimes headlined ("Doctor Detroit," 1982; "My Stepmother is an Alien," 1988), but more often than not, shared the lead with comparable comics in a wildly variable series of films - with Eddie Murphy in John Landis' "Trading Places" (1983); Chevy Chase in Landis' "Spies Like Us" (1985); and Tom Hanks in "Dragnet" (1987). Lacking a distinct comic persona, Aykroyd had been most effective in character bits or playing highly stylized characters. A prime example of the former was his splendid comic duet with Albert Brooks in the Landis-directed shaggy dog prologue to "Twilight Zone - The Movie" (1983), while his hilariously uptight Joe Friday in "Dragnet" may have been his most sustained performance. As a screenwriter and performer, however, Aykroyd scored the biggest get of his career with the first multimillion-dollar scare comedy "Ghostbusters" (1984) and its popular 1989 sequel. He co-wrote both with co-star Harold Ramis and shrewdly gave all the best lines to cynical front man Bill Murray - a part he had originally written for Belushi, had he lived.The late 1980s marked a change in direction in Aykroyd's film career. Now amiably beefy and middle-aged, he effectively transformed his screen image and earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination with his first (mostly) dramatic role as the dutiful son in "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989). Aykroyd became a respected character actor in various genres in '90s Hollywood movies, including a relatively restrained performance as the widowed father of a young girl in "My Girl" (1991) and its 1994 sequel "My Girl 2."Following Aykroyd's critically despised debut as a writer-director - the atrocious "Nothing But Trouble" (1991) - Aykroyd provided sturdy support to Julie Kavner in Nora Ephron's "This Is My Life;" meshed well with a talented ensemble in the caper "Sneakers;" and even proved an acceptable Mack Sennett in Richard Attenborough's "Chaplin" - all in 1992. In 1993, he scripted and starred in the feature length version of "Coneheads," an appealing, silly family film that offered amusing cameos by a gaggle of "SNL" cast members from different eras. In 1995 and 1996, Aykroyd's list of movies not to see - "Canadian Bacon" (1995), "Celtic Pride" (1996) and "Getting Away with Murder" (1996), among others - made his few tolerable films - "Tommy Boy" (1995), "Sgt. Bilko" (1996) and "My Fellow Americans" (1996) - seem that much better by comparison. Aykroyd got back on track as a truculent assassin in George Armitage's snappy, stylized "Grosse Pointe Blank" (1997), forever pestering John Cusack to join his fledgling hit man's union, before he dusted off his blues outfit for unfortunate "Blues Brothers 2000" (1998), with John Goodman standing in for the late John Belushi. The film did nothing but prove the old adage, you can't go home again. And as much as Goodman gave it a go, it was not the same without Jake Blues.The former "Not-Ready-for-Prime-Time Player" was ready for prime time in the spring of 1997, when his sitcom "Soul Man" - a spin-off of "Home Improvement" - premiered on ABC. The show cast Aykroyd as a widowed, motorcycle-riding Protestant minister raising four children, and was gone from the schedule by the fall of 1998. Aykroyd served as a creative consultant for the animated "The Blues Brothers" (1998), a mid-season replacement on the UPN Network, and wrote a third "Ghostbusters" film with Harold Ramis, but Bill Murray's lack of interest in doing a third entry left the film idea in limbo for several years.Aykroyd continued to be a regular presence on the big screen, co-starring in "Diamonds' (1999) with Kirk Douglas and Corbin Allred, as three generations of men in search of a missing stash of gems. Focusing on supporting roles in a variety of genres, he also played Jason Biggs' father in the mild teen romantic comedy "Loser" (2000); one of Gillian Anderson's wealthy suitors in the film adaptation of Edith Wharton's period drama "House of Mirth" (2000); as a military officer in "Pearl Harbor" (2001); a cost-cutting insurance office boss in Woody Allen's "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" (2001); the Arizona governor in Reitman's dismal UFO comedy "Evolution" (2001); and - of all things - as Britney Spears' father in her film debut, "Crossroads" (2002). After several memorable cameos over the years - especially as Sen. Bob Dole during the 1996 presidential election - Aykroyd at last formally served as host of "Saturday Night Live" in May of 2003. He also began a recurring role as Danny Michalski on his longtime pal Jim Belushi's hit sitcom "According to Jim" (ABC, 2002-09). On the big screen, Aykroyd had a low-profile role as Drew Barrymore's kindhearted doctor in the romantic comedy "50 First Dates" (2004), before reuniting with Jamie Lee Curtis for a fourth time in the predictable holiday hit, "Christmas with the Kranks" (2006). In 2007, Aykroyd appeared in the much-hyped Adam Sandler and Kevin James vehicle "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," while rumors of a "Ghostbusters" sequel - this one CGI animated - continued to swirl. And all the while, Aykroyd managed his "House of Blues" nightclubs around the world, as well as enjoyed longtime wedded bliss with his wife, actress Donna Dixon, and their family. Aykroyd continued to appear in smaller roles in films such as the Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis satire "The Campaign" (2012), Steven Soderbergh's Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra" (2011), and Melissa McCarthy's "Tammy" (2014), while taking on voice roles such as the title character in the animated "Yogi Bear" (2010). When Paul Feig finally brought forth the much-anticipated "Ghostbusters" (2016) reboot, Aykroyd signed on as an executive producer and made a cameo as a taxi driver.