What You Didn't Know About Dan Aykroyd's Paranormal Obsessions

Dan Aykroyd made mere pennies, comparatively, for his work before the premiere of Saturday Night Live in 1975, but the sketch comedy show quickly set off a career that would catapult Aykroyd to the heights of comedy stardom. The man is truly an artist. He's shown his face in over 100 productions, according to IMDB, and he's written or co-written more than 30 of them, including classics like Ghostbusters, Coneheads, and The Blues Brothers. The man has serious comedy chops. Plus, he's obsessed with the paranormal.

This comedy superstar has a serious thing for the spirits beyond our world. As Aykroyd puts it on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (posted on YouTube), he not only believes in the paranormal, he finds the whole idea "entertaining." He grew up with ghost stories that put most campfire tales to shame. His stories weren't told with a flashlight highlighting a face in the dark. They weren't scary, and they didn't focus on vengeful spirits going bump in the night. To Aykroyd, the paranormal is a family tradition backed by generations of research and anecdotes.

Aykroyd's paranormal obsessions didn't start with him; they were passed down through generations. As Dan's father Peter Aykroyd explains on CBC Radio One's program Q (also on YouTube), Dan's great-grandfather, Sam Aykroyd, was a dentist by day and paranormal researcher by night. He was a member of the Spiritualist movement, launched by the Fox sisters in the mid-1800s.

His great-grandfather was part of the spiritualist movement

According to BBC, the Fox sisters' method of spirit communication, a system of knocking sounds seemingly produced from spiritual entities during seances, was a hoax, but that didn't stop Spiritualism from living on in small groups of paranormal believers, including the Aykroyd family.

Peter Aykroyd claims that the Aykroyd generations before him participated in and hosted seances during which spirits communicated through a medium at the family farmhouse, a farmhouse that, according to The Guardian, was still full of spiritualist writings when Dan grew up there. Peter recalls a time when he walked into one of his grandfather's seances as a young boy, describing it as a "performance" and equating it to a fully produced show complete with host and technicians, which could help explain the entertainment factor that drew Dan into the paranormal.

The spiritualist nature of the Aykroyd family continued down the generations. Maybe it was in their blood, or maybe it was the old farmhouse that held the family's paranormal ties. Either way, the obsessions lived on. Dan's father, who'd later write a book on the family's paranormal history, would go on to participate in seances throughout his life, though as Dan explains on Q, he himself has never done it. Dan grew up with the paranormal in a way that others were growing up with religion. To him, it was simply a part of life.

The paranormal gene runs through later generations as well

Dan himself doesn't seem to have had many spiritual encounters, but from what he says on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, he bases his belief on his family's stories. His dad's side of the family was rife with these tales. His mother was a skeptic, but the kind of skeptic who'd had a ghostly encounter of her own. Apparently, Aykroyd's mother had been visited by the spirits of his great-grandparents while nursing him at the farmhouse. Upon calling for Aykroyd's father, the apparitions dissipated. The story could've been a sleep delusion, since Dan says she woke to these spirits standing there. And like any good son, he adamantly believes his mother.

While speaking on Q, Dan admits that his paranormal obsessions were shaped by a mix of his upbringing, psychical research journals, and his "love of old ghost movies from the '30s and '40s." And, over the years, he's molded his own view of spiritualist beliefs that are a bit different from the traditional. To Dan, according to The Guardian, spirits can visit us on the Earthly plane because they're not entirely gone. We see, hear, and feel these entities because they live on in a place that's "between here and there," which Dan describes as being "between the fourth and fifth dimension."

His obsession inspired Ghostbusters

Asked what being a spiritualist means, Dan responded: "Well, to me, it means that ... we look beyond the corporeal for some kind of meaning and reason for living." The phrase suggests a sentiment that's almost religious, which spiritualism isn't at its root. It's more of a pseudoscience — one of the more pseudo of the pseudosciences — and the writer-actor certainly retains some of that pseudoscientific feel as he explains that a person actually has three levels of being: A spirit encompassed by a soul that's encompassed by a body. To Dan, spirits are linked to "the universal everything."

Whether you agree with Dan's spiritualist beliefs or not, at least be grateful that his interest in the paranormal helped give birth to his most famous, long-lived, and beloved franchises: Ghostbusters. According to Vanity Fair, several paranormal elements from the family's history found their way into the original script, including his grandfather's research into contacting spirits with radio technology.

Almost all scripts change in the course of making a movie. Ghostbusters was no different, but the spirit (pun intended) is there. Dan tells Q that the biggest factor from his experience is the Ghostbusters' realist attitude toward ghosts: "These things exist [in the film] and they've got to be dealt with." Ectoplasm and other features of the film are straight out of spiritualism, but Dan's father adamantly disagreed with the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man incident. Apparently, gigantic marketing mascots aren't within the spiritual realm of possibilities.