You may have heard of Jann Wenner, the magazine head honcho who co-founded Rolling Stone Magazine, not to mention helped get the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame together in Cleveland. He was also a man about the town in New York (and San Francisco) in the seventies, eighties and beyond, where he knew the likes of Lorne Michaels and many of the stars from Saturday Night Live, including John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The latter two at one point took an assignment for the magazine and played one of the more over-the top pranks I’ve ever learned about. Yes, the two involved Wenner in a prank about manslaughter.
The Epic Arrest Prank John Belushi And 'Danny' Aykroyd Once Pulled
In his biography Like a Rolling Stone, the longtime socialite told the story. He was at home one night before his magazine moved coasts. Dan Aykroyd, or “Danny,” as Wenner calls him, was at his home having a relaxing evening of “sniffing, sipping and smoking” when he got a call from Louisiana. The voice on the other line had some bad news: he had in custody the two SNL knuckleheads, who were allegedly in custody and were saying they were on assignment for Wenner. The man, who identified himself as the “sheriff of Plaquemines Parish” said:
‘There has been an accident. The vehicle they were driving hit a man earlier this evening. We don’t yet know what will happen, but the man is in the hospital. These gentlemen were driving eighty miles per hour … and Mr. Way-nur, I must also tell you that upon searching their vehicle we found what we suspect to be narcotics.’
According to what Wenner wrote in his biography, he had to think fast – a difficult proposition given what he had been up to of his own accord that night. He made it clear to the sheriff that Belushi and Aykroyd were “freelancers” – not full-time employees – and worked to get the latter SNL star on the phone.
I asked to speak with Danny. John would be useless. Danny told me it had been dark out, he didn’t see the man come from their side of the road. ‘He bounced off the hood and went completely over the car.’ He wanted to explain about what the cops found in their car, about what they scored at Carter headquarters. I told him not to tell me details over the phone and to give me a few hours to find a lawyer for them in Louisiana. I had been totally jolted out of a stoned, slow-motion state, and now had to deal with a manslaughter case, probably worse because of the drugs. I didn’t know what to do. The sheriff came on again. ‘Mr. Way-nur, these are fine boys you’ve got here, but we can’t allow people to be coming into our parish…’
The bit went on in that manner, until Aykroyd could stand it no longer. He got back on the line and spilled the beans.
Then Danny is on again and he’s laughing. Then he passes the phone to John, who is also laughing. I had been had. They were fucking pros.
The Connection Between Jann Wenner And SNL
Jann Wenner met John Belushi at a party he’d thrown in New York around the time of the democratic convention in 1986. They spent significant time together. In Like A Rolling Stone, the head honcho recounted visiting the SNL star in the hospital, and also shared another incident in which he’d chided the comedian for marking up the “research department dictionary” at Rolling Stone that had cost a pretty penny. He was also an attendee at Belushi’s funeral after his death in 1982.
His relationship with Belushi seemed relatively close, as John would often crash on his couch in San Francisco and later when Wenner would live in New York. He said his doorman loved John. In addition, the Rolling Stone magnate in New York would attend tapings at Rockefeller Center on Saturday nights, where Lorne Michaels would let him stand on the studio floor.
But by far my favorite story from the book is this tale of Dan Aykroyd and Belushi’s practical joke from the road. The two did really travel across the South to the San Francisco offices of the rock ‘n’ roll magazine. And Dan Aykroyd really did write an article. It’s called “Jimmy Carter: New South Burn” and it was published in the magazine in 1977.
A couple of years later, the two actors would film Blues Brothers, a comedy story based on characters they'd originated on Saturday Night Live beginning during the 1976 TV season. The movie would put the two actors back into a car together, and its legacy is definitely some of the unbelievable set memories that Belushi and Aykroyd created while filming it.