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THE SHORT LIFE & FAST TIMES OF JOHN BELUSHI

"Don't give him fucking coke!" So screams John Belushi's wife Judy on the first page of this enervating, pointless docu-drama. And that's how it goes for over 400 pages: working from interviews with 267 people, Woodward offers—without shape, depth, or viewpoint—the dankly depressing, morbidly detailed life of John Belushi, comic actor and (above all) epic drug-user. After a disproportionately brief chapter on his early background, campus cut-up Belushi is suddenly in 1971 Chicago with the Second City comedy troupe; he and girlfriend Judy are into drugs; by page 58 he's in N.Y., in the comedy-revue hit Lemmings. ("He was the star of the show for sure, indelibly certified in the newspaper of record, the New York-fucking-Times.") And then it's on to Saturday Night Live in the mid-1970s, as the pace slows to a crawl in order to document each drug-deal, each snort, each backstage wrangle. Envious of Chevy Chase, "driven to become famous," Belushi became increasingly dependent on cocaine and Quaaludes; while Judy and others cut back on their drug habits, his escalated. Despite the loyalty of Judy (Woodward's primary source) and pal Dan Aykroyd, Belushi was insecure; there were love/hate relationships with his drug-connections, odd liaisons with Barbara Howar (maternal, platonic) and Carly Simon. (She "still loved John. His crazy, impulsive boldness broke down her acute shyness. And they were both reaching for more in their art.") The making of his feature films was to become a nightmare for all concerned—including the benumbed reader: the bomb Neighbors is followed from conception to distribution here, with minutiae and anecdotes, as if it were Gone With the Wind. And eventually, out in L.A., working on problematic movie-projects, Belushi added heroin to his fix, with the well-known fatal results. Woodward adds little to the record when it comes to Belushi's not-very-mysterious death; throughout, in fact, his investigative-journalist approach falls flat—there being nothing much worth investigating. Above all, Woodward seems to have no idea of what's involved in turning bare facts (or reconstructed dialogue) into a satisfying biography. So the result here, though scrupulously documented, is a dreary, empty chronicle, with enough real substance, perhaps, for a New York magazine article; and its audience will be limited to SNL buffs (skit transcripts, backstage tattle) and those with a passionate interest in the drug-habits of such celebs as Chevy Chase, Robin Williams, Treat Williams, Tony Curtis, Carrie Fisher, and Betty Buckley.

Pub Date: June 1, 1984

ISBN: 1451655592

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1984

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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