Cathy Smith's story starts with a blowjob. She was just a sixteen year-old from Hamilton when she met Levon Helm in 1963; he was the drummer for an up-and-coming Toronto band soon be known as The Band. It was through him that she got involved in the quickly growing music scene in our city, becoming a well-known groupie and occasional back-up singer. Rick Danko, The Band's bassist, called her "the most beautiful girl in Toronto". But he might have been biased; when The Band were up on drug charges, it was young Cathy Smith who gave the cop a blowjob, told him she was fourteen and blackmailed him so he wouldn't show up to court. He didn't; the group got off pretty much scot-free.
There are other stories too. Like, say, the time they were all partying at the Seahorse Motel on Lake Shore. She was in the middle of having sex with Danko when she told him she wasn't on the pill and he lost interest. But just then Helm wandered by, more than willing to pick up where his bassist left off. Six weeks later, Smith discovered she was pregnant. Richard Manuel, the keyboardist, offered to marry her. She turned him down. Instead, she'd end up dating another one of the big names in the Toronto scene, Gordon Lightfoot—it was a notoriously fucked up relationship. He drank a lot. There were drugs. When he thought one of his opening bands was flirting with her, he had them fired. One time, when he got mad at her, he broke her cheekbone.
It seems like it wasn't until the '70s, though, that Smith really got into heroin and drug dealing. When Keith Richards and Ron Wood took a break from the Rolling Stones to come to Toronto and form their brief side project, The New Barbarians, she was their hook up. And when they headed back to Los Angeles, she followed.
Now, in L.A., there's this hotel called the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard, which is absolutely dripping with history. It's where Helmut Newton ran his car into a wall and died, where Led Zeppelin famously drove their motorcycles through the lobby, and where F. Scott Fitzgerald once had a heart attack. It was at the Marmont that a deranged Vivien Leigh covered the walls of her room with photos of her estranged husband, Laurence Olivier, and where Elizabeth Taylor nursed Montgomery Clift back to health after a car accident nearly killed him. It's the same place Jim Morrison fell from his window and almost died while he was trying to swing from a drainpipe, where Howard Hughes used binoculars to spy on girls at the pool from his room in the attic, where Marilyn Manson and Evan Rachel Wood met for the very first time, and where James Dean jumped in through a window to audition with Natalie Wood for Rebel Without A Cause. It's also where Sophia Coppola's new movie was set, where Britney Spears got blacklisted for smearing her dinner all over her face, and where Lindsay Lohan, Graham Parsons, Greta Garbo, Rock Hudson and Rock Hudson's first gay lover all lived at one time or another.
And one night in 1982, the Chateau Marmont is where Cathy Smith and John Belushi were having a party.
They'd met in New York City years earlier when The Band were musical guests on Saturday Night Live. And on this particular night, she was his source for speedballs, which is what they call it when you're insane enough to put heroin and coke in the same syringe and then shoot it into your vein. The vibe, it seems, was pretty sketchy that night. Robin Williams stopped by early on and did a few lines of coke, but was creeped out by Smith and left quickly. Later, it was Robert DeNiro who paid a visit, but he didn't stay long either. By the time the night was over, Smith had injected Belushi with speedballs eleven times. She helped him shower and put him to bed. He was breathing funny, but she left anyway. In the morning, it was Belushi's personal trainer who found his discoloured corpse twisted up in the blankets.
At first, his death was ruled an accidental overdose; his own fault. But a couple of months later, from back home in Toronto, Cathy Smith gave an interview to the National Enquirer admitting that she was the one who bought the drugs and injected them into Belushi's arm. She was extradited back to the States, charged with first degree murder and spent more than a year in prison for manslaughter.
Photo: Dan Akroyd at John Belushi's funeral.
Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.