‘Atuk’: The Cursed Screenplay?

Now, before I get into the meat of this article, I wish to make it perfectly clear that I do not believe in curses. I believe in accidents and coincidence. No matter how bizarre or macabre a situation may seem, to me it’s an accident/coincidence with a possible, reasonable explanation. With that out of the way…

There have been several notable cursed movies over the years. With titles such as The Exorcist and The Omen being two of the most famous. Then there are curses associated with actors like Bruce Lee and his son Brandon Lee. Or even curses connected to a character such as Superman. Just a few examples of supposed curses in movies. But what about a cursed screenplay? Well yes, there is one of those, too, and one that is being blamed for the deaths in the ’80s and ’90s of some of the biggest names in comedy.

The Incomparable Atuk was a novel released in 1963 by writer Mordecai Richler. The book is a satirical tale about a Canadian Inuit who moves to Toronto and loses his simple lifestyle when he is seduced by the greed and pretensions of the big city.

It was going to be one of those fish out of water plots akin to other comedy movies like Crocodile Dundee or Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Rights to the book were bought in the 1970s by Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison and the supposed cursed screenplay was written by Tod Carroll. If you feel brave and wish to read this cursed screenplay, then you can do so right here. I have to issue a warning, though, not because of a curse, but because the screenplay is not very funny.

But what about the deaths this screenplay is said to have been linked to?

1. John Belushi

It has been said that while Carroll was writing the Atuk screenplay, he had John Belushi in mind to play the title role. By the time the screenplay was completed in the early 1980s, Belushi had become a household name thanks to his time on Saturday Night Live, and things seemed to be working out perfectly. Everything was set to go into pre-production and Belushi apparently loved the script and really wanted to play the part too. The movie was set to begin filming in 1982 — but Belushi died of a drug overdose before that could happen.

2. Sam Kinison

The production of Atuk lay dormant for around a decade before the idea to try to get the film off the ground once again came about in the early ’90s. Known for his outlandish attitude and loudmouth comedic approach, Sam Kinison was signed on to play the lead role, and the film even commenced filming. However, after a few days of shooting – Kinison’s overbearing attitude and drug-fuelled lifestyle caused his life to unravel. He was soon fired from the Atuk production and shorty afterwards he was dropped by his agent. Then in 1992, Kinison’s car was struck by a drunk driver in a head-on collision, resulting in his death from the multiple internal injures he sustained.

3. John Candy

In 1994, Atuk’s production was fired up once more, and this time it was larger-than-life comedy actor John Candy who was suggested for the lead role. Candy was said to have been very interested in taking on the role and read the script with great interest, he was set to star in the movie. Sadly, he died of a heart attack before he could sign up for the movie.

4. Chris Farley

Even after the deaths of three stars connected to the film’s production, Atuk was still trying to find its star. It was 1997 when Chris Farley was suggested for the role, and he was all set to sign on for the film, too. Yet the cursed screenplay took another victim when Farley died of a drug overdose that same year.

Coincidentally, Belushi and Farley were both former SNL stars, both 33 at the time of their deaths, and they both died of a drug overdose — and both after expressing interest in playing the title role in Atuk.

5. Phil Hartman

This one is a little tenuous, I admit. It has been said that Farley took the Atuk script to his friend Phil Hartman with a plan to get Hartman involved in the movie too – in a possible supporting role. Six months after Farley’s death and Hartman was fatally shot several times by his wife, before she committed suicide.

So there you have it. An apparently cursed script that is connected to some of the biggest names in comedy from the ’80s and ’90s. But what of the screenplay today? Well, United Artists is said to be the copyright owner and still has the original script in its archives. Perhaps one day the studio will want to once again attempt to get the film off the ground. But would anyone want to sign up to star in a movie with a supposed cursed screenplay?

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One thought on “‘Atuk’: The Cursed Screenplay?

  1. geelw

    Well… four of those performers had issues with heavy substance abuse pre-Atuk and one got shot by his wife. I don’t think there any causality between a terrible script and their leaving the planet other than coincidental correlation.

    That said, if that script is “cursed” I want it sent around Hollywood stat. I don’t believe in curses either… unless it comes to me cursing about all the usual suspects getting picked to play the wrong parts. Perhaps a Canadian Inuit actor needs to play that part just to see if that “curse” disappears?

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