There are few things Dan Aykroyd would love more than to encounter a real ghoul. The Ghostbusters legend has been touring the UK looking for one.
Surely Northumberland’s Alnwick Castle and Haworth in Yorkshire, where his relation Tabitha Aykroyd was housekeeper to the Brontë sisters, are teeming with ghosts? But none have materialised so far.
For now Dan has to make do with apparitions in his dreams. John Belushi, his best friend and co-star in 1980 film The Blues Brothers, who died in 1982 aged just 33, is a regular visitor, and Dan’s brother Peter started appearing after his death two years ago aged 65.
‘They’re smiling, as they were in life,’ says Dan. ‘They’re reminding me of the good times.’ But he does argue with his brother. ‘I say, “Will you just get into the ambulance?” He had an impacted bowel, but he was very anti-medicine and refused help and it ended up killing him.’
The Blues Brothers was a road movie caper that saw Dan and John getting their old band back together to save an orphanage while being pursued by the police and a murderous mystery woman, and featured musical numbers from legends such as James Brown and Aretha Franklin.
Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters 1984. The Ghostbusters legend has been touring the UK looking for a real ghoul
Dan still regularly performs as a Blues Brother with John’s brother, actor Jim Belushi, and says he feels his friend’s presence then.
‘We dedicate the show to John and I feel his spirit. I feel it when I go into House of Blues [the chain of music clubs in the US that Dan helped found]. Every time I go in I think about him and how much fun he’s missed.’
Next year marks 40 years since the first Ghostbusters film, which followed the madcap adventures of three parapsychologists on a quest to stamp out the spectres haunting New York City.
Dan came up with the movie based on his own fascination with ghosts, and originally wanted John to co-star with him.
‘It has always been in my family,’ says the sprightly 71-year-old Canadian. ‘My great-grandfather was an Edwardian spiritualist. My dad wrote a book about the history of ghosts. I grew up with it.’
My great-grandfather was a spiritualist and my dad wrote a book about ghosts. I grew up with it
Ghostbusters became one of the most iconic films of the 80s, so it’s no wonder it’s been brought back again and again.
The original cast – Dan, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis and Ernie Hudson – returned for a 1989 sequel which didn’t quite match up to the original, but as the generation who watched Ghostbusters as kids grew up, there were fresh efforts to bring it back.
A 2016 female-led reboot with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig was divisive and didn’t turn a profit, but Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the 2021 sequel to the first two films, directed by Jason Reitman (whose father Ivan directed films one and two), was the perfect blend of nostalgia and fresh adventure, with all the original ghostbusters returning (in one form or another).
‘The writers of Afterlife loved the first two movies and wanted to pass the torch to a new generation,’ says Dan.
‘I was 100 per cent on board. I added my whatever talents to make it happen last time and I hope to continue to do so as there are many, many horror stories to be told.’
Ghostbusters became one of the most iconic films of the 80s, so it’s no wonder it’s been brought back again and again
Dan has been filming Afterlife’s sequel in the UK, with Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire filling in for New York, where the film is set, and many of the original cast, including his friend Bill Murray, are involved.
‘I love working with the British crew, they’re superb,’ he says. ‘The studios are state of the art and vie with anything we have in Hollywood.
‘And I have an idea for a sequel I would set here in the UK. There are lots of ghosts and mythical creatures in Scotland.
I put a thousand miles on the car driving up there and it was wonderful. I went to Skye, to the Glencoe valley, Edinburgh, Glasgow… I loved it.
‘I went to Yorkshire too. That’s where my people come from, with Tabitha Aykroyd, the Brontës’ housekeeper, being a forebear of mine. I love it here. Particularly the pubs. Whenever I can I go to a country pub and have steak and kidney pie or a shepherd’s pie with a nice half pint.’
Drink is on his mind today because he’s also promoting his vodka brand Crystal Head, an additive-free brand that comes in a striking crystal skull bottle.
It’s one of a long line of businesses that work quite separately from his showbusiness career.
His wealth is estimated at £200 million, and as well as launching House of Blues in 1992 and Crystal Head in 2007, he also part-owns a company that imports tequila to Canada.
The Blues Brothers, created for SNL, was born out of Dan’s love of blues music, and he still enjoys performing. Pictured: Dan and John Belushi as The Blues Brothers
He’s had some raucous nights out in his time, but has also seen friends like John Belushi fall prey to addiction. He cautions that while he likes a drink, it should be done in moderation.
‘I’m lucky, I can consume alcohol moderately and I don’t abuse it; the simile I use is, just because you have a Ducati motorcycle that goes 250mph it doesn’t mean you take it on the highway and do that,’ he says.
‘One of my favourite nights is with Bill Murray. On a Friday, just before everyone heads home from a set, he invites people to his trailer where he has a full bar and he makes everyone a cocktail or serves wine. Those sessions can go on for two or three hours and then everyone just goes home.’
Dan’s a man of many talents, which he attributes partly to his self-diagnosed Asperger’s. He gets obsessed with things – ghosts, or blues music – but those things have led to his finest achievements.
‘I know a lot of talented people on the spectrum. I’m not medically diagnosed but I know I have a touch of it. It helps with the focus, and there’s something in the mind that pops creatively with people on the spectrum. It’s a good community and people shouldn’t look at it as a handicap, but as an advantage.’
Asperger’s helps with my focus. People shouldn’t look at it as a handicap and as an advantage
Dan was born in Ottawa; his father was a civil engineer and his mother a secretary. He dropped out of university to pursue comedy and made his way to Hollywood, where a group of writers were working on a new late-night comedy show called Saturday Night Live (SNL). He was deemed so talented that he became the youngest original cast member, aged just 23.
‘Some sketches might get me cancelled today,’ he admits.
‘But I think in general, what was accepted then is still accepted now; when humour is skilfully done, it’s still funny. There are more rules today, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. There was a lot of racial and homophobic stuff in the 80s and 90s, and there should be no place for that.’
The Blues Brothers, created for SNL, was born out of Dan’s love of blues music, and he still enjoys performing.
‘We did a concert last year at Joliet Prison where we shot part of the movie, and 8,000 people showed up, dressed as the brothers, driving their version of the Bluesmobile. It was spectacular. It’s like a mission of cultural preservation, preserving the African-American songbook.’
He may be 71, but there’s no stopping him. A year ago he split from Donna Dixon, his actress wife of 39 years and the mother of his three daughters, and he’s in a new relationship. ‘I live with a lady partner and we’re very happy,’ he says, declining to reveal her name. ‘Donna and I are not cohabiting, but we’re great friends. We’re collaborating on a screenplay. We agreed on an amicable separation and we’re both much happier for it.’
He says being busy and dancing keep him young. ‘I know I’m getting older. I drive slower now. I don’t push the late nights. I watch the consumption of things I love, sweets and alcohol. Mostly I’m grateful. For the people I’ve worked with, the people who have supported me.
‘I’m in a good, happy place. I could drop more weight, but I keep dancing because it’s such a big part of extending life.’
He’s already thinking about what will happen when he moves on, though. His friend Harold Ramis, who died in 2014, was brought back as a ghost using computer technology for Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
‘I’m sure that when I pass beyond the veil they’ll come up with a story to incorporate me,’ he says. ‘And as long as my family gets a healthy fee and it’s a good story, I’m fine with that.’
- Dan Aykroyd is the co-founder of Crystal Head Vodka, available from Amazon and crystalheadvodka.com