Deaths due to the 'Curse Of Atuk'
Over the course of two decades, seven celebrities lost their lives in mysterious circumstances. The one thing that they all had in common is each of them had at one point or another read the same film script. In this post, we explore the deaths due to the 'Curse Of Atuk'.
Across the civilized world, the written word is the most prevalent of all forms of communication. It has been for thousands of years and it will be for thousands more. From the writings of Homer, Aristotle and Plato through to Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and Tolkien, the written word has shaped our cultures, our societies and philosophies. It has begun and ended wars, traversed space and time and recorded our most cherished and reviled histories. The written word has taught us who we are, who we were and who we will become.
On average, each of us writes and consumes between ten and twenty thousand words per day, whether that be through writing posts, comments, texts, or emails or reading books, newspapers, online articles or even the subtitles on creepy YouTube videos. All too often, it seems we forget that the pen is far mightier than the sword. Screenwriter Tod Carroll was one such person who would discover this in the strangest of ways. In 1977, he was commissioned by Canadian film director Norman Jewison to adapt a novel he had finished reading, Modercai Richler's The Incomparable Atuk. An accomplished writer himself, Carroll took on the project and immediately set to work drafting a film script believing the story had the makings of a blockbuster film.
Summary of the "Atuk"
Titled simply "Atuk", the story itself is a rather simple fish-out-of-water expository piece, filled with satire and scathing social commentary. In the story, Atuk is a young Inuit trapper and hunter who meets and follows a beautiful New York correspondent named Michelle Robinson. Michelle is on an assignment in his village to shoot several commercials for a real estate company. Atuk soon arrives in New York City where he rescues the son of a powerful but corrupt Real Estate mogul, who also happens to be Michelle's employer. The man then hires him to appear in a series of commercials aimed at convincing the public to back his latest idea, building a modern day metropolis in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness.
Atuk naively agrees to become part of the project after learning of Michelle's involvement. But when he discovers the venture's true purpose, which is to raze and destroy much of the ecosystem there, Atuk withdraws and informs the investors who are oblivious to the negative repercussions that venture could result in. Atuk's honesty and dedication wins over the executives, as well as Michelle, thus saving his village and getting the girl in the end. By and large, a typical coming-of-age story with no sinister implications. Carroll was exceptionally proud of his work. Yet he could never have known the havoc his screenplay would wreak upon those who became involved with it.
After undergoing several rewrites, Carroll presented his final draft in 1979 and then sent word to actor-comedian John Belushi, a personal friend who he had in mind from the outset to read the finished piece. Carroll had envisioned Belushi for the role of Atuk and reportedly Belushi loved the concept. In late 1981, he agreed to play the main character in the film. But tragically this would never come to pass. On the morning of the 5th of March 1982, Belushi's friend and trainer Bill Wallace walked into his room at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood to find the actor lying dead on the floor.
After police were summoned and his body was taken to hospital, an autopsy was performed, which found he had died from a combined overdose of cocaine and heroin. Belushi was just 33 years old. The investigation revealed a groupie named Catherine Evelyn Smith had spent the night with him and had produced the lethal mixture, but she claimed she had given him a high dose purely by accident. In the years that followed, there would be reason to suspect otherworldly entities were responsible.
Other Deaths and Mysterious Activities
Although Belushi's death would normally have ended the project altogether, in 1987 United Artists purchased the script and brought it to the attention of another actor-comedian named Sam Kinison. Kinison accepted the lead role and production started the following year, but very little was actually accomplished. Kinison's unreliability on the set, in addition to his extended alcoholism and argumentative nature, resulted in a clash with the film's financial executives, who immediately terminated the project after filming only one scene.
Summer camps of the story say that Kinison had grown dissatisfied with the original script and had secretly commissioned an independent rewrite. It was even suggested that he appeared on the set with the new script in hand. And when executives learned of this, they reportedly fired him on the spot. Although he was no longer part of the film, by the end of the decade, some believe that Kinison's insistence in deviating from the original script resulted in what followed next.
On the 10th of April 1992, Kinison and his entourage were driving along Interstate 95 towards Laughlin, Nevada for a sold-out performance when a drunk driver drifted into his lane and collided head-on with Kinison's car. Although he was able to step out of the vehicle and walk around, Kinison had sustained severe head and neck injuries, which eventually proved fatal. As he lay dying in the arms of one of his friends on the scene, Kinison was heard to say, "I don't want to die. I don't want to die" as though he were pleading with someone only he could see.
After a while, the Invisible presence apparently responded, for Kinison was then heard to reply softly, "Okay, Okay, okay" and then quietly died. He was only 38 years old. Once Kinison's death was made public, some people in the know came to believe the Atuk script had something to do with his death, in the same manner as Belushi, but most did not give this thought any credence.
That was until the screenplay fell into the hands of another iconic film star, John Candy. Candy learned of the project in 1993 and requested a copy of the script. Not long after receiving it, he agreed to become involved in the film and accepted the lead role. He then headed south to Mexico to complete what would be his final film- Wagons East. But on the 4th of March, 1994, whilst on holiday from filming Durango, Candy was found dead in his hotel room from apparent cardiac arrest. He was just 43.
It was from this point onwards that the "Curse of Atuk" was born, and students of the occult would later claim that Candy's untimely death was a result of his simply having the work in his hands. How it came into his hands has also become a matter of debate, as some believe he first learned of the project shortly after Kinison was released from the film, but the popular belief is that comedy writer Michael O'Donoghue gave him the script. O'Donoghue had allegedly been involved in the initial stages of the scripts writing, back when Todd Carroll had first worked on it and had supposedly delivered the script to Belushi in 1981.
In 1994, he presented the script to Candy and discussed several changes he was considering, changes which Candy had apparently agreed to. This theory, however, cannot be proven, for eight months after Candy's death, O'Donoghue himself died of a brain hemorrhage on the 8th of November 1994, another purported victim of the curse. He was 54.
Then, in 1996, United Artists elected to begin a new project based on the Atuk screenplay. They approached comedian Chris Farley to play Atuk, and all indications suggested he was eager to become involved. Farley had been a lifelong fan of John Belushi and modeled his career on that of the late actor. Perhaps he learned that his Idol had at one point been involved with the project and thought to honor him by playing the role he never got to perform, but whether this was the case or not will never be known.
Chris Farley had suffered from extreme obesity, took drugs and drank excessively and this had resulted in a sharp decline in his health. By early November 1997, it was clear that his condition had gotten out of control and attempts were made by friends and family to get him help. Farley's brother John took him to Chicago to receive treatment at the John Hancock Center, but it might have been too little too late. On the night of the 18th of December 1997, Farley had returned to his apartment accompanied by a call girl, and spent the night drinking excessively and taking large amounts of drugs. At some point after 2 a.m., Farley suddenly suffered a massive heart seizure and collapsed begging his female companion to get him help which she refused to do.
He eventually succumbed to the heart attack and died. When the coroner performed the autopsy the following day, he found that Farley had ingested a heavy dose of cocaine and heroin, but the autopsy also revealed a large buildup of atherosclerosis in his arteries, a condition which had been worsening for quite some time. Farley much like his beloved Idol Belushi, died at the age of 33. Sadly, it was not long before another victim came to be connected with the rumored curse of Atuk and whilst the deaths mentioned already are tragic in their own right by far and away the death of Phil Hartman is one of the most heartbreaking.
Hartman had worked extensively with Farley on the TV show Saturday Night Live, and it was Farley who had allegedly wanted them to work together on the Atuk project telling Hartman that the role of Alexander McEwen, the film's villain was the perfect fit for the actor. Hartman apparently read the script and expressed his interest. He suggested they start working 1997, the year Farley died. In May 1998, Hartman's own end came about after he threatened to leave his wife Brynn after a series of heated arguments in response to her out-of-control drug abuse. The couple's marriage had been difficult for several years and while Brynn had been hooked on alcohol and drugs, she was also experiencing problems with controlling her anger.
Despite these issues, Hartman attempted to keep the marriage from falling apart, but not even he was prepared for what happened next. On the night of the 28th of May, 1998, Hartman went to bed after another round with his wife whom he had caught drinking after coming home from a late meeting. At 3:00 in the morning, she entered their bedroom, pulled out a handgun, and shot him three times at point-blank range as he slept, killing him instantly. He was 49.
After fleeing to a neighbor's house, Brynn confessed to killing her husband and when they returned to the scene of the crime, she was heard to declare: "I told you I did it, I told you I did, I killed him, I killed him, and I don't know why I did it!" Her neighbor escorted the couple's children out of the house while she barricaded herself in the bedroom. And when police arrived on the scene, they heard her shouting these same words again before she turned the gun on herself.
With the news of Hartman's and his wife's deaths, proponents of the script's curse were fully convinced that something otherworldly was at play, prompting them to make entreaties to have the script seized and secured. Although they continued to refute the claims of the supernatural, United Artists' executives quietly ordered a seizure of the script and hid it away in one of their main offices, even though several copies are allegedly available elsewhere.
So what are we to take away from this story? Is the curse of Atuk simply an urban legend, or have we connected a set of dots that seem to indicate something foreboding? Is the Atuk script so truly cursed that anyone can die from just reading it. And if that is the case, what dark forces are at play, and why would they go so far as to bring harm to others?
When looking at the deaths of John Belushi, Sam Kinison, John Candy, Michael O'Donoghue, Chris Farley and Phil Hartman, several things stick out as coincidental and make us question whether a curse was really to blame. Consider that each of these men were performers who dealt heavily with drug use of personal addictions. Both Belushi and Farley dabbled in cocaine and heroin, amongst other drugs, and lived painfully depressed lives in private. Candy and Farley each suffered from morbid obesity in the final years of their lives, whilst O'Donoghue spent the latter part of his career dealing with migraine headaches, which undoubtedly required him to rely on prescription medication. Sam Kinison, was also known to be a heavy drinker throughout his career and whilst Hartman himself took few if any drugs, his wife had a deadly relationship with cocaine that might have driven her to kill him.
But these situations are not unique, nor are they the first of their kind. Hollywood is, after all a harsh environment to work in and often times the workload is excessive and can take a huge toll on an actor's Health and well-being. Some will seek the comfort of drugs in order to cope with the stress and pain. So it stands to reason that these deaths like others before them was somewhat inevitable.
If we follow this line of thought, then it can be argued that the curse of Atuk is nothing more than an urban legend. And yet evidence to the contrary is not so easy to ignore. Some researchers have theorized that part of the reason for the curse taking these actors lives was that they are each made suggestions to alter or change key details in the screenplay. No one knows exactly how many drafts Carroll's original script underwent, but it is well known that both Kinison and O'Donoghue attempted to make changes to the final work. And in the case of Kinison, he even had the entire script rewritten to better suit his role.
Another argument in favor of a supernatural explanation is the fact that most of the victims died rather young. None of the actors live past the age of 60, and if this was the work of the curse, it suggests their deaths were somewhat preordained. Some were even unnatural, with Belushi and Farley dying from similar accidental overdoses. Kinison was killed in a car accident and Hartman was murdered by his wife following a heated argument which turned violent.
Finally, the common thread that linked them all together was the fact that they all had at one point or other worked on the television show Saturday Night Live, appearing as guest stars or hosts. John Belushi and Michael O'Donoghue had even worked as original sketch writers for the series, whilst Farley died one month after his final appearance on the show in October 1997. Parallels have been drawn between the Atuk script and the infamous Hungarian song "Gloomy Sunday", which purportedly caused anyone who listened to it to commit suicide for almost no apparent reason. But some researchers theorize the song works on human senses and stimulates certain vibrations within the brain.
Can a screenplay be capable of such a thing as well? If the curse of Atuk did have something to do with these deaths, does that mean the script is dangerous?
Tod Carroll, the screenwriter, denies such allegations to this day, and states that no one has died from reading his screenplay. Several known film executives are also in agreement, but if that is truly the case, why is the original script locked away? And if they truly believe there is no curse, why are none of them willing to resume the project? Perhaps in this modern world where Hollywood seems to have lost its creative spark and refuses to take risks, it could be that Atuk is no longer seen as a lucrative venture. It was written for a different audience of a different era and perhaps it would seem out of place in cinemas today. When all is said and done, the fact remains that in all seven people who were linked in one way or another to this script lost their lives and that in and of itself is tragic. Whatever the cause of their untimely deaths, we must spare a thought for them and their loved ones. May they each rest in peace.