Look, if it’s in any way even remotely possible that a movie cursed with some indefinable yet quantitatively proven fatal quality took out four (if not more) of Hollywood’s greatest funny men…then it is my honor-bound duty to get to the bottom of it.
So without further delay, here’s a look at one of the most persistent contemporary Hollywood urban legends…“The Curse Of Atuk.”
In 1963 the novel The Incomparable Atuk, by Mordecai Richler, saw publication. A fish-out-of-water satire about an Inuit trying to “make it” in New York City, it apparently caught the eye of director Norman Jewison in 1971 & the movie rights were subsequently snapped up.
Flash-forward to 1982, where a screenplay based on the novel is given to mega-star John Belushi. He expressed great enthusiasm for the project, and was set to star.
And flash-forward again to a few months later, when Belushi was found dead in the Chateau Marmont, of a drug overdose.
But that tragic occurrence, in-and-of-itself, did not in any way guarantee Atuk official Movie Curse™ status.
No, it wasn’t until the late 1980s, when breakout comedy star Sam Kinison had actually started filming Atuk, that people started to get slightly nervous.
It’s now 1988, and Kinison, under the mistaken belief that he was given creative control over the film, started to rewrite the script. This all resulted in a lawsuit brought on by United Artists against the comic, alleging that he was giving less than a stellar performance in order to sabotage the movie.
Kinison was off Atuk, and the film remained in stasis until 1994, when the script was passed to John Candy. In the intervening six years, Kinison would die in a fatal car crash…ten years, one month, and five days from the date of Belushi’s death.
Do we have a Movie Curse™ yet?
I’m close…but I’m not feeling it quite yet.
The rumor is that in 1994, John Candy actually died of a heart attack (one day before the anniversary of Belushi’s death, might I add) while reading the script for Atuk. True, or urban legend? Well, being the stalwart Internet journalist I am, I read about one page of Google search results before giving up and making a final verdict. A lot of sites say that Candy died while actually reading Atuk…but more likely, he died while it was in his possession.
OK. Now it’s def looking like a Movie Curse™. But it didn’t reach LEGENDARY STATUS until one more hapless (somewhat large) comedian was caught in its seductive web…
According to the legend, Chris Farley was just about to accept the starring role in Atuk…when he died of a drug overdose, just like his idol John Belushi. Both Farley and Belushi died at the age of 33.
Now the movie is legit cursed…never getting made ever.
Now, you can only imagine the drama of being the screenwriter of Atuk…that’s gotta suck. I mean, you just spent perhaps a few months to a year writing it. And now nobody in Hollywood wants to film it.
Well screenwriter Tod Carroll—who also authored the screenplay for the 1988 Michael Keaton flick Clean and Sober—told the LA Times in 1999 that any rumor of a “curse” on “Atuk” was a load of bunk:
“No matter what anybody’s impression was, I think it’s either coincidence or practical explanation…”
That said, I consulted the authority on urban legends, Creepypasta, on the Atuk curse…and they said it existed. So I guess that settles it.
“But I must warn you, if you ever get to be in one of their movies, don’t be in this one! (James Bond is much safer!)”
Warning duly noted.
The site adds two more possible “victims” of the curse: SNL regular writer Michael O’Donoghue, who maybe read, worked on, and recommended the script to his pals (dead of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1994, the same year Candy passed), and comedian Phil Hartman, who was allegedly “encouraged for a supporting role,” before his wife shot him in 1998.
Of course, there might be another explanation for the Atuk troubles…perhaps a lack of diverse movie roles for actors above a certain weight threshold + health issues associated with the weight/lifestyle of the actors in question.
Or perhaps…it was simply…a curse beyond the ken of mortal understanding.