One of the most vibrant comic personalities of the 1970s and '80s, as well as a noted actor and screenwriter, Dan Aykroyd got his professional start in his native Canada. Before working as a standup comedian in various Canadian nightclubs, Aykroyd studied at a Catholic seminary from which he was later expelled. He then worked as a train brakeman, a surveyor, and studied Sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa, where he began writing and performing comedy sketches. His success as a comic in school led him to work with the Toronto branch of the famed Second City improvisational troupe.
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During this time -- while he was also managing the hot nightspot Club 505 on the side -- Aykroyd met comedian and writer John Belushi, who had come to Toronto to scout new talent for "The National Lampoon Radio Hour." In 1975, both Aykroyd and Belushi were chosen to appear in the first season of Canadian producer Lorne Michaels' innovative comedy television series Saturday Night Live. It was as part of the show that Aykroyd gained notoriety for his dead-on impersonations of presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. He also won fame for his other characters, such as Beldar, the patriarch of the Conehead clan of suburban aliens, and Elwood, the second half of the Blues Brothers (Jake Blues was played by Belushi).
Aykroyd made his feature-film debut in 1977 in the Canadian comedy Love at First Sight, but neither it nor his subsequent film, Mr. Mike's Mondo Video, were successful. His first major Hollywood screen venture was as a co-lead in Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979). But Aykroyd still did not earn much recognition until 1980, when he and Belushi reprised their popular SNL characters in The Blues Brothers, a terrifically successful venture that managed to become both one of the most often-quoted films of the decade and a true cult classic. Aykroyd and Belushi went on to team up one more time for Neighbors (1981) before Belushi's death in 1982. Aykroyd's subsequent films in the '80s ranged from the forgettable to the wildly successful, with all-out comedies such as Ghostbusters (1984) and Dragnet (1987) falling into the latter category. Many of these films allowed him to collaborate with some of Hollywood's foremost comedians, including fellow SNL alumni Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Eddie Murphy, as well as Tom Hanks and the late John Candy. In such pairings, Aykroyd usually played the straight man -- typically an uptight intellectual or a latent psycho. He tried his hand at drama in 1989 as Jessica Tandy's son in Driving Miss Daisy and received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
During the '90s, Aykroyd's career faltered just a bit as he appeared in one disappointment after another. Despite scattered successes like My Girl (1991), Chaplin (1992), Casper (1995), Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), and Antz (1998), the all-out flops -- The Coneheads (1993), Exit to Eden (1994), Sgt. Bilko (1996) -- were plentiful. Likewise, the long-awaited Blues Brothers sequel, Blues Brothers 2000 (1998), proved a great disappointment. Aykroyd, however, continued to maintain a screen profile, starring as Kirk Douglas' son in the family drama Diamonds in 1999.
During the next few years, he found greater success in supporting roles, with turns as a shifty businessman in the period drama The House of Mirth (2000), Woody Allen's boss in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (2001), pop star Britney Spears' father in her screen debut, Crossroads (2002), and (in a particularly amusing turn) as Dr. Keats in the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore comedy 50 First Dates.
Aykroyd also appeared in the 2005 Christmas with the Kranks, alongside Tim Allen and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry with Adam Sandler in 2006. He also provided the voice of Yogi Bear in the big screen adaptation of the titular cartoon -- but none of these projects did particularly well with fans. Aykroyd soon planned to revive the smashing success of the Ghostbusters franchise, collaborating with Harold Ramis to create a script and reunite the original four stars. However, ongoing hold-ups, including the public refusal of pivotal member Bill Murray to participate, continued to push the project back. In the meantime, Akroyd played a recurring role on TV shows like According to Jim, The Defenders, and Happily Divorced.
Since 1983, Aykroyd has been married to the radiant Donna Dixon, a model who holds the twin titles of Miss Virginia 1976, and Miss District of Columbia 1977; the two co-starred in the 1983 Michael Pressman comedy Doctor Detroit. In Aykroyd's off time, he claims a varied number of interests, including UFOs and supernatural phenomena (his brother Peter works as a psychic researcher), blues music (he co-owns the House of Blues chain of nightclubs/restaurants), and police detective work. ~ Sandra Brennan, Rovi