06 Oct Dan Aykroyd – Business and Blues
He was an original member of the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” on Saturday Night Live (1975–1979). During his tenure on SNL, Aykroyd appeared in a recurring series of sketches about the Coneheads, and the Blues Brothers. For his work on the show he received five Primetime Emmy Award nominations winning for Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series in 1977. After his departure, he has since returned in guest roles.
Aykroyd gained prominence for writing, and starring as Dr. Raymond Stantz in, Ghostbusters (1984), which spawned a sequel and eventually an entire media franchise. He also is known for his comedic roles in Blues Brothers (1980), Trading Places (1983), Spies Like Us (1985), Dragnet (1987), The Great Outdoors (1988), and Coneheads (1993), In 1990, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Driving Miss Daisy (1989). He continued his dramatic roles in My Girl (1991), Chaplin, and Sneakers (both 1992). Aykroyd has done supporting roles in Tommy Boy (1995), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), 50 First Dates (2004), The Campaign (2012), and Behind the Candelabra (2013).
He starred as Reverend Mike Weber in his own sitcom, Soul Man (1997–1998). He has since appeared on various television shows including It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (1990), Home Improvement (1997), Family Guy (2009), The Simpsons (2021) and The Conners (2019). Aykroyd is also a businessman, having co-founded the House of Blues chain of music venues and the Crystal Head Vodka brand.
Aykroyd was born on July 1, 1952 (Canada Day) at The Ottawa Hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. He grew up in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, where his father, Samuel Cuthbert Peter Hugh Aykroyd (1922–2020) lived to be 80 and his mother, Lorraine Hélène Marie (née Gougeon; April 27, 1918 – February 8, 2018) was over 100 when she passed away. His brother Peter died November 21 2021 from and untreated abdominal hernia.
Aykroyd is a heterochromiac syndactylite – he has webbed middle toes on both feet and he has different colored eyes: one is brown and one is green.
Aykroyd developed his musical career in Ottawa, particularly through his regular attendances at Le Hibou, a club that featured many blues artists. He describes these influences as follows: There was a little disco club there called Le Hibou, which in French means ‘the owl.’ And it was run by a gentleman named Harvey Glatt, and he brought every, and I mean every, blues star that you or I would ever have wanted to have seen through Ottawa.
Aykroyd’s first professional experience, which he gained at the age of 17, was as a member of the cast of the short-lived Canadian sketch comedy series The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour with Lorne Michaels, among others. He was a member of the Second City comedy troupe in 1973 in both Toronto and Chicago.
Saturday Night Live[
Aykroyd gained fame on the American late-night comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL). He was originally hired and paid $278 a week, as a writer for the show, but became a part of the cast before the series premiered. The original cast was referred to on the show as “The Not Ready For Prime Time Players”. Aykroyd was the youngest member of the cast, and appeared on the show for its first four seasons, from 1975 to 1979. He brought a unique sensibility to the show, combining youth, unusual interests, talent as an impersonator, and an almost lunatic intensity. Guest host Eric Idle of Monty Python said that Aykroyd’s ability to write and act out characters flawlessly made him the only member of the SNL cast capable of being a Python.
He was known for his impersonations of celebrities such as Jimmy Carter, Vincent Price, Richard Nixon, Rod Serling, Tom Snyder, Julia Child, and others. He was also known for his recurring roles, such as Beldar, father of the Coneheads family; with Steve Martin, Yortuk Festrunk, one of the “Two Wild and Crazy Guys” brothers from Bratislava, Slovakia; sleazy late-night cable TV host E. Buzz Miller 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); Fred Garvin – male prostitute; and high-bred but low-brow critic Leonard Pinth-Garnell. Aykroyd and Jane Curtin famously parodied the Point/Counterpoint segment on the CBS news show 60 Minutes, which featured the liberal Shana Alexander and the conservative segregationist James Kilpatrick, by portraying the two as hating one another;
While Aykroyd was a close friend and partner with fellow cast member John Belushi and shared some of the same sensibilities, Aykroyd was more reserved and less self-destructive. Aykroyd later recalled that, unlike Belushi and others of his peers, he was uninterested in recreational drug use.
In 1977, he received an Emmy Award for writing on SNL; he later received two more nominations for writing and one for acting. In Rolling Stone‘s February 2015 appraisal of all 141 SNL cast members to date, Aykroyd was ranked fifth (behind Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, and Mike Myers). “Of all the original [SNL] greats, Aykroyd is the least imitated”, they wrote, “because nobody else can do what he did.”[
The Blues Brothers
Aykroyd was a close friend of John Belushi. According to Aykroyd, their first meeting helped spark the Blues Brothers act. When they met in a club that Aykroyd frequented, he played a blues record in the background, and it stimulated a fascination with blues in Belushi, who was primarily a fan of heavy rock bands at the time. Aykroyd educated Belushi on the finer points of blues music, and with a little encouragement from then-SNL music director Paul Shaffer, it led to the creation of their Blues Brothers characters.
Taking off with the public as a legitimate musical act, they performed live gigs and in 1978 released the hit album Briefcase Full of Blues (drawn from the fact that Aykroyd, as “Elwood Blues”, carried his blues harmonicas in a briefcase that he kept handcuffed to his wrist, in the manner of a CIA courier; Belushi originally carried the key to those handcuffs). Briefcase Full of Blues eventually sold 3.5 million copies, and is one of the highest-selling blues albums of all time. The band was much further popularized in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, which Aykroyd co-wrote. A sequel, titled Blues Brothers 2000, was released in 1998 and featured John Goodman as Belushi’s replacement.
The Blues Brothers Band continues to tour today, both with and without Aykroyd. The band features original members Cropper and Marini, along with vocalist Eddie Floyd. Aykroyd sometimes performs as Elwood, along with Belushi’s younger brother Jim Belushi, who plays “Brother Zee” on stage. They are most frequently backed by the Sacred Hearts Band.
After leaving SNL, Aykroyd starred in a number of films. Ghostbusters was a hit. Aykroyd originally wrote the role of Dr. Peter Venkman with Belushi in mind, but rewrote it for Bill Murray after Belushi’s death. Aykroyd joked that the green ghost, later known as “Slimer”, was “the ghost of John Belushi” and was based on Belushi’s party-animal personality. Ghostbusters was released in 1984 and became a huge success for Aykroyd, who also appeared as one of the lead actors; the film earned nearly US$300 million on a US$30 million budget.
Aykroyd’s next major film role was in the 1985 spy comedy film Spies Like Us, which like The Blues Brothers was co-conceived and co-written by Aykroyd, and directed by Landis. Aykroyd had again intended for Belushi to be the other lead in the film; the part was instead given to SNL alumnus Chevy Chase. The film was intended as an homage to the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road to … movies of the 1940s to 1960s. Bob Hope made a cameo appearance in the film.
Dragnet, in which Aykroyd co-starred (with Tom Hanks) and co-wrote, was released in 1987. The film was both an homage and a satire of the previous Dragnet series, with Aykroyd playing Sgt. Joe Friday as a police officer whose law-and-order attitude is at odds with modern sensibilities.
Aykroyd appeared in five films released in 1988, all of them critical and commercial failures. A sequel to Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, was released in 1989; Aykroyd and the other co-creators were reluctant to make another Ghostbusters film, but succumbed to pressure from the film’s studio, Columbia Pictures. The film, while considered inferior to the original, was another big hit, earning US$215 million. Aykroyd was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. He was the fourth SNL cast member to be nominated for an Oscar, after Joan Cusack, who was the third.
In 2009, Aykroyd and Ramis wrote and appeared in Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which also featured Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, William Atherton, and Brian Doyle-Murray. In 2010, he played the voice of the title character, Yogi Bear, in the live-action/CGI-animated-film Yogi Bear. That same year, Aykroyd and Chevy Chase guest-starred in the Family Guy episode “Spies Reminiscent of Us“, an homage to Spies Like Us.
In 1992, Aykroyd and Hard Rock Cafe co-founder Isaac Tigrett founded the House of Blues, a chain of music venues, with the mission to promote African-American cultural contributions of blues music and folk art.
Many other music and Hollywood personalities helped to finance it at its start. It began as a single location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, although other locations quickly followed, starting with a venue in New Orleans in 1994. In 2004, House of Blues became the second-largest live music promoter in the world, with seven venues and 22 amphitheatres in the United States and Canada. It was bought by Live Nation in 2006.
In 2007, Aykroyd and artist John Alexander founded Crystal Head Vodka, a brand of high-end vodka known for its distinctive skull-shaped bottle and for being filtered through Herkimer diamond crystals.
In 2016, Aykroyd partnered with TV producers Eric Bischoff and Jason Hervey and game developer Ike McFadden to release an online-casino game that features the Blues Brothers. Aykroyd provided the in-game voice of his Elwood Blues character via voiceover.
In 2009, Aykroyd contributed a series of reminiscences on his upbringing in Canada for a charity album titled Dan Aykroyd’s Canada. He helped start the Blue Line Foundation, which is redeveloping flood-damaged lots in New Orleans and helping first responders buy them at reduced prices. Coastal Blue Line LLC, hopes to eventually rebuild 400 properties in New Orleans.
Aykroyd is a member of Canadian charity Artists Against Racism.
Aykroyd was briefly engaged to actress Carrie Fisher, whom he proposed to on the set of The Blues Brothers, in which she appeared as a jilted girlfriend of John Belushi’s character Jake Blues. The engagement ended when she reconciled with her former boyfriend, musician Paul Simon. In 1983, he married actress Donna Dixon; they met on the set of Doctor Detroit released the same year. They appeared together in four additional films: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983); Spies Like Us (1985); The Couch Trip (1988); and Exit to Eden (1994). They have three daughters, including Danielle (known by her stage name, Vera Sola). The couple announced in April 2022 that they were separating after 39 years of marriage, but would remain legally married.
Aykroyd is a former reserve commander for the police department in Harahan, Louisiana, working for Chief of Police Peter Dale. Aykroyd carried his badge with him at all times. He currently serves as a reserve deputy of the Hinds County Sheriff’s Department in Hinds County, Mississippi. He supports the reserves with a fundraiser concert along with other blues and gospel singers in Mississippi.
Aykroyd’s passions for the outdoors, geology and paleontology, which he attributes to watching his father work on constructing the Gatineau Parkway which included blasting through granite rock formations to run the highway, have led him to join renowned Canadian paleontologist Dr. Philip J. Currie on a number of digs, including fundraising digs and galas as fundraisers for the construction of the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Wembley, Alberta, which recognized Aykroyd’s contributions by naming its theatre the Aykroyd Family Theatre.
Aykroyd considers himself a Spiritualist, stating:
I am a Spiritualist, a proud wearer of the Spiritualist badge. Mediums and psychic research have gone on for many, many years … Loads of people have seen spirits, heard a voice, or felt the cold temperature. I believe that they are between here and there, that they exist between the fourth and fifth dimensions, and that they visit us frequently.
Aykroyd’s great-grandfather, a dentist, was a mystic who corresponded with author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the subject of Spiritualism, and was a member of the Lily Dale Society. Other than Spiritualism, Aykroyd is also interested in various other aspects of the paranormal, particularly UFOlogy. He is a lifetime member of and official Hollywood consultant for the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). Along these lines, he served, from 1996 to 2000, as host of Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal, which claimed to describe cases drawn from the archives of “The Office of Scientific Investigation and Research”. In 2005, Aykroyd produced the DVD Dan Aykroyd: Unplugged on UFOs.
On September 29, 2009, Peter Aykroyd Sr., Dan’s father, published a book entitled A History of Ghosts. This book chronicled the family’s historical involvement in the Spiritualist movement, to which Aykroyd readily refers. Aykroyd wrote the introduction and accompanied his father on a series of promotional activities, including launches in New York and Toronto, appearances on Larry King Live and Coast to Coast AM, and various other public-relations initiatives. Aykroyd also read the introduction for the audio version of the book. In 1997, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry awarded Aykroyd in absentia the Snuffed Candle Award for hosting Psi Factor and being a “long-time promoter … of paranormal claims”. Following the awards, Joe Nickell wrote to Aykroyd asking for the research behind the “cases” presented on Psi Factor, particularly a claim that NASA scientists were “killed while investigating a meteor crash and giant eggs were found and incubated, yielding a flea the size of a hog”.