From the late 1980s through the tail end of the 1990s, the late J.T. Walsh was one of my favorite characters actors. Never once do I recall seeing him give a mediocre performance. I still recall the shock I felt upon learning of his passing, twenty-one years ago, at the relatively young age of 54.
To name just a few of the notable feature films Walsh appeared in:
Good Morning, Vietnam…Breakdown…A Few Good Men…Backdraft…House Of Games…The Grifters…Executive Decision…Tequila Sunrise…Nixon…The Last Seduction…Red Rock West…Tin Men…The Negotiator…Pleasantville…Sling Blade…The Big Picture…The Client…Blue Chips…Things Change…Outbreak…Needful Things…Misery…Narrow Margin…Hoffa…Hannah And Her Sisters…Power…
A few days ago, while doing a little research on the actor and his film roles, I stumbled upon this bit of trivia:
I read Wired in 1988, found it compelling, but also very depressing. As an eighteen-year-old film geek, my interest in the book leaned more towards learning about the productions of several Belushi films I’d really enjoyed, not his addiction problems. To me, that was tabloid-level crap, certainly not what made the performer interesting to me.
When I heard someone was turning Wired into a movie, my first thought was “That’s not going to make a very good movie”. Belushi was iconic. His fans, myself included, weren’t going to want to watch another actor, no matter how talented, doing an impersonation, in service of a story focused on drug abuse and ending in tragedy. Movies about drug addiction, in general, don’t do that well at the box office. Regardless of intent, they’re just too gritty and unpleasant for mainstream audiences.
That said, when I was younger and placed less value on my free time…believing I’d always have an infinite amount of it…I’d watch almost any movie that wound up on my local video store’s shelves. Wired was one of those movies I’d never watch in a theater, but, for a two buck VHS rental? What the hell, why not?
“It’s not just a story about the man. It’s a story about America“.
For all the controversy surrounding its production, I found the film very slight. My disbelief was never once suspended. I was always aware I was watching a movie and not a very good one. The film’s approach to the subject matter felt broad, rushed and superficial. Michael Chiklis is a good actor, but I never bought him as John Belushi.
As for the incident between J.T. Walsh and Dan Aykroyd, I can understand why Aykroyd wouldn’t feel comfortable working with someone associated with a project he found personally repulsive. Who’s to say what conversation (if any) may have transpired between Aykroyd and Walsh before the latter’s dismissal from Loose Cannons. Considering how utterly forgotten Wired turned out to be, the whole affair just strikes me as petty and unfortunate.
But, hey, at least Michael Chiklis and Jim Belushi buried the hatchet.
“You’re at the wrong table.”
Michael Chiklis had been a member of the famed Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills since it was under construction, and this was the first time he’d seen Jim Belushi there. After seven years, Chiklis was not about to lose his one opportunity to square a serious misunderstanding with the actor. He boldly planted himself next to Belushi. Belushi just as boldly glared back, repeating, “You’re at the wrong table.”
All Belushi could see was the young punk who’d played his brother, the late comic John Belushi, in the controversial 1989 film Wired. He hated the way the movie portrayed John and was in no mood to chat up its star. He got up to leave.
“Please, don’t do this,” said Chiklis. “I’ve never met you. Let’s sit down and talk about this.”
It wasn’t that Chiklis needed Belushi’s approval for career reasons. The stocky, raspy-voiced actor had spent five years carrying the ABC police drama “The Commish” and three “Commish” TV movies, just made a cameo in the Oliver Stone film Nixon, and was set to star on Broadway in the one-man show Defending the Caveman. It’s just that Jim was John’s blood, and the last thing Chiklis ever wanted was to hurt the Belushi family.
“‘For my part, it was an homage,'” Chiklis told him. “‘I was an actor who had an opportunity to play a hero of mine. And I did that gig out of love, respect and homage. And if I caused you and your family any pain, I am so sorry, because that’s not what I ever intended.'”
Chiklis stares into a glass of red wine while recalling the story more than a year later. “We ended up almost coming to tears and he ended up giving me a hug, saying, ‘Let’s let it go.’
“So I feel like that chapter of my life is officially closed,” he says. “I didn’t really care about anyone else. The people in the business who didn’t take meetings with me because of it, that’s their whole gig. I don’t have to answer to them. Jim I cared about, because he was John’s family.”