The mayhem didn’t just happen on-screen when John Belushi and company filmed the riotous college comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House. A few days before shooting began, the stars crashed a real-life fraternity party at the University of Oregon. “We didn’t realize the members didn’t want other guys to be there,” recalls Tim Matheson, who played ladies’ man Otter in the 1978 film. “[Co-star] James Widdoes threw a big cup of beer at them, and it started a melee.”

The actors escaped with only minor injuries, but the movie did major box-office damage when it was released, becoming the highest-grossing comedy at the time. “It was outrageous,” says Tim, 70, who recently did a Q&A after a screening at NJPAC in Newark, N.J. on Feb. 16. “It brought a new spirit to film.”

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The cast of Animal House 25 years after the movie.

Much of its appeal came from SNL wild man John’s anarchic shtick as Bluto, the most hedonistic member of the Delta House’s class of 1962 at fictional Faber College. “John was the only actor who was allowed to improvise,” Tim exclusively tells Closer Weekly. “They just turned the camera on and let him do his thing.” Off camera, John was a sweetheart. “He couldn’t have been cooler,” says Tim. “John was just one of the guys.”

While John tragically died at 33 in 1982, his fellow cast members maintain a tight bond. “Bruce McGill was the best man at my wedding, and I’m still very close to James and Peter Riegert,” says Tim. “It’s sort of like we went to college together.” Forty years later, Animal House keeps finding fans. “It’s become a rite of passage,” Tim says. “My daughter called when she was in college and said, ‘Dad, I’m at a toga party — you’ve gotta say hi to my friends.’ It speaks to a new crowd every year.”