Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

Arts and Entertainment

Screenwriter Who Partied With John Belushi Before Fatal Overdose Dies At 73

Stories like these are only possible with your help!
Your donation today keeps LAist independent, ready to meet the needs of our city, and paywall free. Thank you for your partnership, we can't do this without you.

Screenwriter and photographer Nelson Lyon, a counterculture habitué who also wrote for "Saturday Night Live" during the 1981-82 season, died Tuesday of liver cancer. He was 73. Lyon's promising career was severely damaged in the early eighties after it was revealed that he participated in a three day heroin and cocaine binge that left SNL star John Belushi dead at age 33. The NY Times obituary cuts to this fact in the very first sentence, and goes on to describe Lyon's involvement in Belushi's last days:

Lyon’s account of Mr. Belushi’s final days came to light after he testified about the case before a grand jury in 1983 in exchange for immunity from prosecution. According to his testimony, during the last 24 hours of Mr. Belushi’s life both Mr. Lyon and Mr. Belushi were injected with drugs a half-dozen times by Cathy Evelyn Smith, a Canadian drug dealer then living in Southern California. Mr. Belushi, 33, was found dead on March 5, 1982, in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Ms. Smith said publicly that she had injected him with the mixture of heroin and cocaine that caused his death... The next few days were a kind of movable feast, ranging among Mr. Lyon’s home, a private club on the Sunset Strip and Mr. Belushi’s $200-a-day bungalow at the Chateau Marmont. A “boys’ night out,” Mr. Lyon said Mr. Belushi called it.

Ms. Smith continued giving the two men injections, including one that Mr. Lyon said produced an “aggravated and extreme” feeling and “rendered me a walking zombie.” Mr. Lyon said he left Ms. Smith and Mr. Belushi at Mr. Belushi’s bungalow about 3:30 a.m. on March 5. Mr. Belushi was found dead there that day.

Before that tragic event, Lyon's career was on the upswing. Originally from Troy Hills, New Jersey, Lyon attended Columbia University, and was a regular at Andy Warhol's Factory. Over the years he mixed with everyone from Timothy Leary to William Burroughs to Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh. In 1971, he wrote and directed The Telephone Book, an X-rated feature length porn parody which was, according to the LA Times, later hailed a "neglected masterpiece." Lyon described it as "a dark comedy about a girl who falls in love with the world's greatest obscene phone call." The Times also notes:
When Warhol was struggling with a concept for the cover of the 1971 Rolling Stones album "Sticky Fingers," Lyon told him to incorporate a working zipper into a close-up portrait of jeans, according to an unpublished memoir by Lyon. After Warhol went with the idea, he gave Lyon five Marilyn Monroe prints to pay him, the writer later recalled.
Support for LAist comes from

After the Belushi scandal, Lyon was relegated to directing movie trailers, forming his own company, which he shut down several years ago. Mothersbaugh, a close friend, tells the LA Times, "He was down to nothing in the last couple of years," Mothersbaugh said. "He had burnt all his bridges.... He didn't censor himself, and he was smarter than most of the people he worked for."