What I’ve Learnt: Dan Aykroyd

Actor, comedian, director, musician, 71
Published: 24 April 2024
Kevin Nixon

I KNOW FOR SURE that many different types of species are operating hyper-advanced aerodynamic platforms, and they’re visiting Earth, coming and going like taxis. As to who these operators are, I don’t know. Are they interdimensional, inter-realm, interplanetary?

I’VE HAD FOUR vivid sightings of craft that were not jets, helicopters, or planes.

I WAS ON MY MOTORCYCLE about eight o’clock at night, and I saw a red beacon flying over the high-tension power lines. There was no sound. It stops right above my motorcycle and shines a light on me. I look up, totally delighted. And the light winks off, and this thing drifts off over the field again.

MY DAD WAS an absolute absurdist. He would go to a grocery store, grab a roll of paper towels, and whip them over to the next aisle to hear the reaction. “Oh, whoa, whoa!” He was wonderful.

I WAS VERY MOUTHY in class all the way through high school because I knew I could get laughs. I was not a good student, but I was an entertaining one.

My parents enrolled me in the St Pius X minor preparatory seminary for boys, which was a priest school in Ottawa. So I went there from grade 9, 10, 11, and I was asked to leave, dismissed in a letter saying, “We believe your son is not a suitable candidate for the priesthood.”

A LITTLE UNDER HALF THE YEAR, I’m at the farm in Ontario. It’s where the family settled in 1826.

WE HAD A FAMILY MEDIUM, and frequent séances took place in the old farmhouse in the 1930s and ’40s, usually on a Sunday morning. The big black Chryslers, Packards, Cadillacs, and Lincolns would come in with the big bosomy matrons and their tiny, skinny little husbands. They’d sit around the table and my great-grandfather Samuel would host.

I WAS STUDYING criminology at Carleton University and expecting that I would go into the corrections service, having worked a summer as a Clerk 5 in the Penitentiary Service of Canada doing inmate catalogues.

I WROTE A MANUAL for deploying weapons in riots for the commissioner. And I thought, “Well, it's an interesting profession.”

BUT I HAD MET A WOMAN named Valri Bromfield in high school, and she said, “You’re not going to be a prison guard. You’re coming with me to Toronto.” And she dragged me off with our audition tape that we’d made on cable TV in Ottawa. It got the attention of Lorne Michaels.

I HAD A PRETTY GOOD LIFE going in Toronto. We were running an after-hours booze can, selling liquor and beer and wine illegally over the counter and making a massive 80 per cent markup. I bought a Harley. I bought a car.

I HAD AN ORIGINAL 1971 Ontario provincial police Harley motorcycle that had been in the display team of the Golden Riders. It went around the world with these stunt riders from the provincial police. Paid USD1,200 for it. And I kept that for a long time.

I RODE THAT BIKE up and down the thruway from the farm to SNL, the entire four years I was on the show. I never flew or took a train or a bus. I never commuted to New York on anything but that bike. Seven hours. Rain or shine. That was my ride.

IT WASN’T SO MUCH my public exposure that I felt in that first year of SNL. It was Chevy’s. I didn’t get much recognition, but Chevy did. I used to walk down the street with him and they were calling his name out, “Hey, Chevy Chase!”

I SAW HOW Chevy was exposed and thought to myself, I don’t want that.

I TRIED COCAINE a couple of times. I didn’t like what it did. It made me speedy. It didn’t help me creatively. But there were others who liked it a lot more.

I STARTED TO PLAY harmonica when I went up north as a road surveyor and tundra-crawler mechanic for the federal Department of Public Works, a job my father got me through pure nepotism. I played the harp up there around the campfire. I kept it up enough so when Blues Brothers came along, I was modestly proficient on it, and still am today.

MY MOTHER USED TO type my essays up when I was in college. Sometimes they were unfinished and I’d say, “It’s ok. They’ll accept this.” And she’d say, “No, you have to round this out. You’ve got to ride home on a third act or a conclusion here. I’m not letting you go until you compose that.”

MY STYLE IS basically all black. Black jeans, black shirt, black jacket, black tie, black hat. Sometimes I’ll go with a white shirt. I really don’t care about clothes. I prefer just to have a rack of black stuff to put on every morning that’s clean.

YOU CAN NEVER SPEND enough time with your children. You can never listen to them enough, give them enough focus and attention. Accept their advice and their criticism. You can never do that enough.

IF THEY’RE COMING after you and saying, “Dad, you were a little profane today” or “Dad, don’t smoke cannabis in the house”“You know, Dad, you’re driving a little too fast,” instead of being defensive, I’ve learnt to back off the throttle, take the smoke outside. Just listen to them. And cut back on the profanity if I can.

WRITING IS HARD. Alone, it’s arduous. With a partner, you can play back and forth. So I prefer to work with a partner.

I'VE WRITTEN EIGHT SCREENPLAYS that got produced. And every one of them, at some point I'd be stopped cold. Where am I going to go next? So usually, I would just go to sleep and dream on it and get up in the morning and I go, “Well, I got a solution to go forward. It may not be the best one, but it's a solution.”

OK, I’VE BEEN sentenced to death. They’re saying, “Well, Dan, this is your last meal. What would you like?” Oh, jeez, Warden, thanks. Well, let me see. I will have a T-bone steak with green peas, Yorkshire pudding and gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts with maple syrup, button-cap mushrooms, preceded by a lemon-zest Caesar salad.

AFTER THAT, I’D LIKE to move on to a Black Forest chocolate cake, all washed down with a fine Brane-Cantenac Margaux. I would like a cigar. [And a helicopter.]

This year, Aykroyd appeared in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, the fifth film in the series he helped launch as a cowriter and costar of the 1984 original.

Originally published on Esquire US

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