Cathy Smith, the onetime girlfriend of singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot who might be best remembered for inspiring the hit song “Sundown” had she not met up with John Belushi at the Chateau Marmont on March 5, 1982, died August 18. She was 73.
Her death was reported by Canada’s The Globe and Mail. The longtime resident of Maple Ridge, B.C., had been on oxygen and in failing health the past few years, the newspaper said.
Smith, who had been a backup singer (and occasional drug supplier) to the rockers who later would become The Band (she claimed “The Weight” was inspired by her), admitted to injecting Belushi with the heroin and cocaine “speedball” that led to his death at age 33. In a 1986 deal with prosecutors, she pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and several drug charges and served a 15-month prison sentence at California Institution for Women. Upon release, she was deported to her native Canada, where she reportedly took a job in Toronto as a legal secretary.
Until Belushi’s death, Smith was known in rock music circles for singing backup for Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel, later founding members of The Band, and in the early 1970s becoming Lightfoot’s girlfriend and muse. Lightfoot wrote the No. 1 1974 hit “Sundown” about his tumultuous, extramarital and occasionally violent relationship with Smith, the dark lyrics masked by a lilting, bluesy melody: “Sundown you better take care/If I find you been creepin’ ’round my back stairs.” Lightfoot’s Sundown LP also hit No. 1 in the U.S. and Canada. Snmith is credited as a backup singer on one track, “High and Dry.”
In the late 1970s, Smith was a backup singer for country star Hoyt Axton, and, according to Wired, Bob Woodward’s 1984 biography of Belushi, sold drugs to the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood and Keith Richards. Although she had met Belushi briefly when Lightfoot appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1976, she became reacquainted with the comedian through her dealings with Wood and Richards.
Smith was portrayed by Patti D’Arbanville in Wired, director Larry Peerce’s 1989 film adaptation of Woodward’s book starring Michael Chiklis as Belushi.
Smith quickly was reviled for her role in Belushi’s death, but that sentiment that largely was avoided by Belushi’s male drug buddies, including friends Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, both of whom reportedly snorted cocaine with the comedian on the night of his death, according to Shawn Levy’s 2019 book The Castle on Sunset.
But at least one old friend remained loyal. In an interview this week with The Globe and Mail, Lightfoot said, “Cathy was a great lady. Men were drawn to her, and she used to make me jealous. But I don’t have a bad thing to say about her.”