The Cursed Screenplay: Atuk
The screenplay for Atuk was based on the 1963 book The Incomparable Atuk in it’s country of origin, Canada, and as Stick Your Neck Out in the United States. The novel is about an Inuit that becomes a Toronto transpant, and adopts a greedy, yuppie lifestyle.
A film adaption was actually planned in the early 1970s by Oscar-nominated Director Norman Jewison. Jewison is known for making films that addresses political and social issues and transforming them so that they can be enjoyable to a mainstream audience. And since Atuk is a film that satirizing Toronto society, it was only fiiting that this is the director who bought that rights for the book.
The first actor to express interest in the character of Atuk was John Belushi. Belushi was known for his physical humor, and was on Saturday Night Live for four years, his most famous character being one half of the Blues Brothers, along with Jim Akyroyd. He read for the role of Atuk in early 1982, only to pass away months later due to a drug overdose.
Atuk was put on hold until it entered pre-production yet again, this time with stand-up comedian Sam Kinison. Production on Atuk was halted for more than a week, due to Kinison being promised creative control for the role Atuk by his agent, only for him not to have it. The studio didn’t clear it. According to the Los Angeles Times, the studio tried to accommodate him but but Kinison became difficult. With so many problems halting the production, and Producer Chuck Rovan having trouble finding another lead, Atuk was given up on.
When I first heard about Kinison’s role, I thought since he just walked away from Atuk, he survived. But that wasn’t the case:
There would be two other comedians to suffer from this curse.
John Candy was a Canadian comedian and actor who first came to fame with Second City TV, and appeared in a myriad of comedies such as Stripes, Splash, Cool Runnings, Summer Rentals, and of course my favorite Home Alone. He was close friends with John Hughes and acted in his films, acting in National Lampoon’s Vacation, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and Uncle Buck. Candy was known as an actor who played lovable characters, which makes sense. John Candy was beloved by many.
He died of a heart attack in 1994. With his sudden death, he left behind unfinished projects as well as roles he was interested in…. roles he would never play. His most complete character was the role of Red Feather in Pocahontas, a character who would never see the light of day due to his death. He was considered to play a part in the remake of the 1950 film Last Holiday. This movie actually went on to be produced 10 years later with Queen Latifahattached. But the role that was the scariest was his interest in Atuk, not only because he was the third actor to read for the part, but because John Candy passed away a day before the day Belushi died, 12 years ago in 1982.
In the story of Atuk, most people just mention the actors who died. But few mention the threads in between, such as Michael O’Donoghue. It’s been rumored the O’Donoghue was the one to pass on the script to John Candy. Donoghue died unexpectedly of cerebral hemorgrage.
Chris Farley, like John Belushi, was a cast member on Saturday Night Live. His collaborators included a group of other members, including Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. Along with Tim Meadows, Ro Schneider, and David Spade, they became known as the Bad Boys of SNL. Chris Farley’s most iconic role was of Matt Foley, a motivational speaker.
Farley was massively successful in his comedy work. He appeared in Wayne’s World, Coneheads, Beverly Hills Ninja, and his most famous film Tommy Boy. Like John Candy, when Farley passed away in 1997. He was the fourth actor to have an interest in the role of Atuk; but this tidbit is overshadowed by his other unfinished projects, including that he recorded most of voice work for Shrek before his death.
But the most unsettling part of this story is how Chris Farley died. He died of the same kind of drug intoxication as John Belushi did 15 years prior. Both died of a drug overdose of Speedball, both were 33, both with iconic SNL cast members, and both were considered for the role of Atuk.
And you think that’s where it stops. Fellow SNL cast member Phil Hartman was also attached to the film Atuk, as he was the play a supporting character next to Chris Farley. He later was killed by his wife.
How would you feel if you penned a screenplay and everyone decided it was cursed due to various unfortunate coincidences? Todd Carroll is the name of the screenwriter who adapted Atuk for the screen. He told the LA Times, “No matter what anybody’s impression was, I think it’s either coincidence or practical explanation. I’m not a superstitious person, and it doesn’t have any meaning to me.”