Photo: Dan Burn-Forti
You may have noticed over the past few years that there are a lot more television programs about psychic phenomena and the paranormal. As much focus as Metaphysics has in the media, we don’t hear much about celebrities who embrace its principles. Because of this, it’s all the more noticeable when an actor talks prublicly about being brought up in a family that embraces the continuity of life. In 2012 London Telegraph article, actor Dan Ackroyd, star of Ghostbusters and many other films and television programs, talks about some of his family’s spiritual experiences, among other things.
Dan Aykroyd: a comedy legend’s spiritual side
After vowing never to make a film with anyone less famous than himself, Dan Aykroyd now directs his energies elsewhere – into the spirit world.
Dan Aykroyd is nestling in a red patent leather booth in a West End bar. There are chandeliers, white vinyl bar stools that are diamond studded, and plenty of dark oak. It’s a strange combination of solid, eccentric and welcoming – just like Aykroyd himself.
It’s 9.30am, and Aykroyd, 59, has just flown in to London on a whistle-stop tour. No signs of jet lag; instead there’s just adrenalin-fuelled enthusiasm. Or perhaps it’s the vodka. He’s here for the UK launch of his own line of the spirit, a flamboyantly packaged fire water named Crystal Head. He hasn’t released a film since the less-than-well-received Yogi Bear, in 2010, and while promoting that film he explained why he’s so picky about his cinematic projects. “I will walk out the door for the pay cheque I deserve and working with the superstars,” he said. “I’m not going to work for people who are unknown.”
It’s impossible to look at Aykroyd without the Ghostbusters theme leaping into your head. Or the image of him and John Belushi laying waste to Chicago as the black-clad Blues Brothers. Those films, which he also wrote, have made Aykroyd revered and rich (the two Ghostbusters films alone have grossed almost half a billion dollars at the box office).
But, today, he’s not interested in talk of his movie-legend status. “I don’t need fame any more,” he shrugs. “People are less interested in me in terms of celebrity. I’m happy to see a new generation being the media focus. I’m happy my day is done. It’s over.” But hasn’t he just finished making a film in New Orleans? “Well, that was because it was very special.” The film, Dog Fight, is a political comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as rival congressional candidates. “The reason I went out the door for Dog Fight is that Will and Zach are two huge comedy stars,” he explains.
“But I don’t want to work any more really in film. I’d have to be called up by triple-A superstars. I get offers all the time from film makers, but they are unknown quantities. I don’t go there and do experiments.
“I’ve read some terrific scripts, but opportunities that have quality present themselves less and less. Everyone who wants to work goes on auditions and makes impassioned pleas. And that was my technique. I got Driving Miss Daisy that way [for which he was nominated for an Oscar]. But it doesn’t interest me to pursue like that any more.”
His passion these days is for spirits – not ghosts, although he’s very passionate about those too, but the kind you drink. Aykroyd was first introduced to the business of drinks when he and Isaac Tigrett (co-founder of the Hard Rock Café) set up The House of Blues, famous rock venue, club, and bar on Sunset Strip which they developed into a franchise and in 2006 sold to Live Nation for $350 million.
In front of me is the skull-shaped bottle containing his very own premium vodka. Crystal Head certainly doesn’t seem like your usual celebrity vanity project; as I discover, Aykroyd can talk about this stuff all day. It is, he says, “bottled in the last government-owned distillery in the world in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador”; it recently won a double gold medal at the “spirit Oscars”; the bottle is modelled on the crystal head skull claimed to have been discovered by Anna Mitchell-Hedges in a temple in Belize in 1924 (and made famous by both Arthur C Clarke and, later, Indiana Jones); Arnold Schwarzenegger, apparently a collector of skulls, “loves this bottle”; Keith Richards was sent a case, back when he was drinking, and it went down well; and it is designed, says Aykroyd, to be so pure it won’t give you a hangover.
Really? “We removed all the oils and the sugar,” he explains. “The oils are the things that give you a hangover, so you can have six to eight shots and not feel bad in the morning. I’ve had eight shots. I had to experiment on myself. I wouldn’t do that normally.”
Of course, there was once a time when eight shots was nothing for Aykroyd. Perhaps because of his partnership with Belushi, one of the most committed hell-raisers Hollywood has ever known, and perhaps because he’s Canadian, Aykroyd is often thought of as a sensible straight man. Indeed, today he looks very smart in his navy suit and stripy tie – it says businessman, not comedy rebel. As Belushi himself once put it, “He’s Mr Careful and I’m Mr F— It”.
But that’s not quite the case. As a child he was a troublemaker and at the age of 14, he was thrown in jail after being caught drinking vodka in a farmer’s field. In his mid-twenties, he became a writer and performer on a fledgling US television show called Saturday Night Live; while helping turn it into a comedy institution he cultivated a reputation for workaholism and tightly-wound craziness. An avid collector of motorcycles, he would pull up on his Harley Davidson and wear full leathers to work. His office, known as “The Cave”, was piled high with dirty clothes (both his and others’), gun magazines and spare motorbike parts; he once lived there for several months.
He’d regularly turn up to filming with a black eye. His wild after-show parties, at a filthy bar he rented, featured private concerts by the likes of David Bowie and the Stones. And his temper knew no bounds. In 1977, after discovering that he wouldn’t be paid $400 he believed he was owed, Aykroyd attacked an executive’s wall with a chisel and covered it with psychotic Satanic ravings. “He must have worked hours on this thing,” marvelled Belushi at the time.
These days the wildest Aykroyd gets is when he’s mixing cocktails by the lake on his 70-acre estate in Ontario with his wife and three daughters. He admits to having dabbled in drugs in those heady Saturday Night Live years but, unlike Belushi, he always preferred beer and wine to “the powders” (he also owns a vineyard in Ontario), and not to excess. Even his addiction to collecting Harley Davidsons and classic cars has largely gone. “I’ve given most of my bikes away,” he says. “I have two left. The first one I ever owned, a 1971 police bike and a 2003 anniversary edition Harley that was given to me. But you know you can only drive one car at a time and live in one house. I’m purging.”
He and Belushi were best friends and collaborators for eight years – the Lennon and McCartney of comedy. Belushi died after injecting cocaine and heroin at the Chateau Marmont hotel, Los Angeles, in 1982.
Aykroyd was in New York at the time, and after taking the call from their manager he made it his mission to dash to Belushi’s wife’s house before she heard the news on the radio. He later led the funeral procession on his Harley Davidson, and friends said it took him years to recover from the loss.
Is it true that Belushi often appears in his dreams? “Not so much dreams, but it’s his energy coming back. We were in Martha’s Vineyard where we used to have houses and we were swimming like the old days. I lost another friend in 9/11, Berry Berenson. She was Tony Perkins’s [who played Norman Bates in Psycho] wife. In the dream she said: ‘I’m helping the people through who don’t understand,’ and she’s on the flight helping people into yellow. That dream was very vivid.”
Aykroyd’s belief in the afterlife has been with him since childhood. His great grandfather was both a spiritualist and a dentist (“back then it was without anaesthetic”), and his father – an apparently practical man who bought his son a lawnmower for his 12th birthday – wrote an encyclopedic book on the subject, A History of Ghosts.
Seances were such an everyday topic in the Aykroyd house that he has never considered the paranormal a strange thing to talk about. In his great grandfather’s day the family even had their own medium. “He channelled all kinds of personalities in the old farmhouse by the lake,” says Aykroyd. “And my great grandfather used to review all the psychic acts that came through our town. Once he reviewed precipitating painters – the operator sits three feet from a canvas without paint or brushes. They wiggle their fingers and an image appears on canvas.”
Instead of growing up reading comics, or National Geographic, Aykroyd read the British Society of Psychics magazine. He still lives in the family farmhouse, and says it has “a history of spiritual activity that would blow your mind”. He’s been awoken by strange noises and unexplained lights, and says friends and relatives have reported invisible hands pulling off their sheets in the night. His mother is the family sceptic, yet she’s not entirely immune. “My mother speaks about a time when she was nursing me and an old couple came to the end of the bed,” says Aykroyd. “The image faded away. She pulled out an album and saw that it was my great grandfather Sam and Jenny, his wife, coming to approve the new child.” Belushi once told an interviewer that he and Aykroyd would take regular trips to the house to wait for his grandfather’s ghost to appear.
“He said he’d seen it before, and I believed him. We used to turn the lights off and wait. He said it started as a green glow…” At Aykroyd’s former house in California, which had formerly belonged to Mama Cass from the Mamas and Papas and was the scene of early rehearsals for California Dreaming, he and his wife called in a psychic after a few too many bumps in the night. They were told that the spirit belonged to someone who’d taken an overdose in the living room; he says this was later confirmed by a friend. He believes ghosts are “a reality of life on this planet”. In fact, it was once put to Aykroyd that, to him, Ghostbusters is a documentary; he didn’t entirely deny it. Nonetheless, Aykroyd regretfully says that he has no talent for clairvoyance. “Although,” he says, “I’ve had some very vivid dreams of deceased friends.” So many of his close friends seem to have died, does he fear death?
“Well, I hope I’m not sliced in half by a plate-glass window. I hope to pass through the veil in my nineties at the farmhouse by the lake where the seances took place with all my great grandchildren around me.
“Everyone fears the cut of the blade. It doesn’t matter after that. I know the spirit survives as there is so much evidence of the survival of the personality in the afterlife.”
Those road trips with Belushi also took in another of Aykroyd’s passions: UFO-watching. His interest was first piqued as a boy, when he saw a cover of Life magazine showing strange lights above Washington. He says he saw strange lights of his own, while peeing off the balcony of his home in Martha’s Vineyard at 3am – two “perfect circles flying in tandem. They did a beautiful zigzag”. He’s now a member of the Mutual UFO Network, America’s largest UFO research group, and has appeared in a riveting documentary on the subject, Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs, in which he soberly talks of credible sightings and government cover-ups. As he proved with an appearance on Larry King Live in 2010, Aykroyd is convinced that aliens are already among us, but haven’t revealed themselves because “they don’t want anything to do with us”. Today he won’t be drawn on the subject, except to say that photos of UFOs are the only things he still collects – but only “really good ones”.
His wife, the actress Donna Dixon, appears to be a kindred spirit. He describes her as “my partner in all things in life and business”, and beams with pride at her recent acceptance into New York’s exclusive Explorers Club. You need to have made a scientific discovery to get in, and Donna’s was to unearth “the bones from a new species of hadrosaurus” on an Aykroyd family dinosaur dig. “She is a true adventurer, full of life,” he says. “She keeps me stable.” Does he ever get unstable? “Of course, I’m an actor. I get nervous every time I play.”
I had read that when he grew up he was obsessive compulsive. He corrects. “I had a slight touch of Tourette’s, which means you talk to yourself and bark and cry out at night. I find myself talking to myself sometimes.” Doesn’t everybody? “Not in strange languages.” He says he’s in good mental health but “there may be an eccentricity or two. The first day of work for Dog Fight I was thinking to myself I can’t remember how to do this, I’m going to blow it, I’m not going to be able to cut the diamond any more. I got to my first rehearsal, then the second, and I thought yep, I know how to do it. But there were moments of trepidation. I’m only human, you know.”
One film Aykroyd desperately wants to make is Ghostbusters 3. He’s been trying to get the gang back together since 1999, when he wrote a first draft of the script. A more recent version, by the writers of the US Office but overseen by Aykroyd, has received a favourable response from the studio, Columbia, and all the original cast bar one: Bill Murray. His cantankerous friend’s refusal to have anything to do with the sequel – which is designed to pass the overalls and backpacks to a new generation of buster – has long been a source of frustration to Aykroyd. Proposed release dates have been and gone, with Murray intermittently popping up to dismiss talk of a new film as “a bunch of crock”, or “a horrible rumour”. Late last year it was even reported that Murray sent a script back to Aykroyd shredded, and with a note reading “No one wants to pay money to see fat, old men chasing ghosts”. Aykroyd vehemently denied this, but he does admit defeat on the Murray situation.
Will the film ever materialise?
“I honestly don’t know. At this point it’s in suspended animation. The studio, the director Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis feel there must be a way to do it, but Bill Murray will not do the movie. He doesn’t want to be involved. He’s got six kids, houses all over America. He golfs in these tournaments where they pay him to turn up and have a laugh. He’s into this life and living it. I know we’d have a lot of fun [but] I can’t be mad at him. He’s a friend first, a colleague second. We have a deep personal relationship that transcends business and he doesn’t want to know.”
He’s recently begun to consider recasting Murray’s role with another actor. Or perhaps, I suggest, his character could come back as a ghost in CGI so the actor doesn’t need to give up the golfing? It’s obviously something that has crossed Aykroyd’s mind, but he wonders if Murray would give his approval even to that.
“We’re not going to do a movie that exploits the franchise. The script has to be perfect. I’m the cheerleader, but I’m only one voice in the matter. It’s a surety that Bill Murray will not do the movie, however there is still interest from the studio.” Aykroyd looks pained. It only seems fair to return to a subject that brings him nothing but joy: alcohol.
Before starting Crystal Head, Aykroyd was one of Canada’s biggest importers of tequila. And it’s when discussing this stuff that Aykroyd reveals a hint of the wild man who rode shotgun with Belushi. Contrary to popular belief, he says, tequila is “a happy alcohol”. So it doesn’t make you crazy? He smiles wistfully. “That could be happiness for some people.”
Read the full article at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/9097816/Dan-Aykroyd-a-comedy-legends-spiritual-side.html