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The Curse of Atuk

The bizarre connection between an unmade film and the deaths of several beloved actors

Some consider the unproduced screenplay Atuk cursed. Based on Mordecai Richler’s 1963 novel The Incomparable Atuk, the story follows a young Inuit poet and native of Baffin Island. The titular character is transported to Toronto where he oddly becomes an overnight success. After being exalted by Canada’s urbanite citizenry, Atuk quickly adopts the greed and pretensions of metropolitan life. He abandons creating poetry for more ‘lucrative’ schemes, however, his plans all fall flat. The Incomparable Atuk is noteworthy for satirizing the pompousness of a Canadian society attempting to emulate the ‘American Dream.’

In 1977, director Norman Jewison commissioned writer Tod Carroll to adapt the novel for film.

The screenplay would see Atuk become a native of Alaska who longs to explore the world outside his small village. He becomes smitten with the beautiful Michelle Ross who visits his village on assignment. Atuk follows her and her crew back to New York City, where he becomes embroiled in a scheme to plaster an urban metropolis atop Alaska’s wilderness.

Carroll completed his final draft of the script in 1979, and tapped actor John Belushi, a personal friend, for the lead role of Atuk. Belushi was intrigued by the story and accepted the role. However in March of 1982 tragedy struck when Belushi’s trainer, Bill Wallace, found the actor dead inside his hotel room.

According to the autopsy, Belushi died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin. Investigations revealed that rock groupie and backup singer Catherine Evelyn Smith provided the drugs.

Smith was arrested and questioned by police, but ultimately released without standing trial. Speculation ensued that Smith was a police informant, and Belushi’s death was a drug sting gone wrong. Smith eventually served 15 months in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Though the results of Belushi’s autopsy were disputed, official records still labeled his cause of death a drug overdose. He was only thirty-three years old.

Atuk was back on the market and purchased by production company United Artists. United Artists…

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