Much like his idol, the late John Belushi, portly comedian Chris Farley hid his dangerous insecurity behind a façade of sophomoric humor. Comically gifted, Farley first made a name for himself in the early 1990s as a corpulent clown on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ), where he established himself alongside compatriots David Spade, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider as the so-called "Bad Boys of SNL." On the eternal late-night sketch show, Farley created such larger-than-life characters as over-the-top motivational speaker Matt Foley, a Chicago "Da Bears" Superfan, a Chippendale's dancer, and himself as talk show host whose nervousness with guests often devolved into asking simple-minded questions. Outrageously uninhibited, Farley's willingness to stretch the boundaries of physical comedy left audiences both laughing and wincing at the same time. As with many popular "SNL" players, Farley segued to movies with cameos as a bouncer in "Wayne's World" (1992) and as Ronnie the Mechanic in "Coneheads" (1993). He made his feature debut in the financially successful comedy "Tommy Boy" (1995), though the critics maligned his next effort, "Black Sheep" (1996) - both of which co-starred his best friend off-screen, David Spade. Sadly, Farley's demons caught up with him, as he succumbed to a drug overdose in December 1997, leaving behind a vast chasm of unfulfilled promise and a legion of bereft fans and friends.
Born Christopher Crosby Farley on Feb. 15, 1964 in Madison, WI, the future funnyman grew up in an environment of textbook suburban normalcy. The oldest son of Maryann and Thomas Farley, Sr., young Chris made a reputation for himself as the class clown. In school, Farley's antics often got him into trouble, but as a summer camp counselor, his childlike exuberance made him extremely popular. After graduating from Marquette University with a degree in communications and theater Farley went to work briefly with his father for the Scotch Oil Company in Madison. Realizing early on that the daily nine-to-five grind was not for him, Farley began performing stand-up at the Ark Improv Theatre in Madison on weekends, and later, at Chicago's Improv Olympic Theater. It was in the latter club that Farley met legendary comedy director, Del Close, who became the first of many mentors to him. Farley went on to refine his act at Chicago's Second City Theatre through the late 1980's, where his fearless physicality generated major buzz.
Eventually word of this outrageous character, Farley-something-or-other, made its way to New York City and up the hallowed floors of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, to the desk of "Saturday Night Live" creator-producer, Lorne Michaels. Farley's hysterical physical lunacy so impressed Michaels at his first audition that the legendary producer hired the rotund young comic on the spot. Along with comic Chris Rock, Farley was only one of two new cast members to join "SNL" for the 1990-91 season. Farley hit the ground running at "SNL," creating his own personal repertoire of characters. Among his most memorable were the overzealous motivational speaker, Matt Foley; Todd O'Connor, one of the Chicago Superfans whose favorite catchphrase was "Da Bears!"; and the spastic Chippendales dancer with pants barely hanging on. Farley also performed memorable impersonations of Meat Loaf, Andrew Giuliani, Roger Ebert, and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. During his five year tenure at "SNL," Farley forged a close bond with his fellow cast mates Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, and his closest friend, David Spade. As a result of their frequent collaborations - as well as their legendary after-hours partying - the unofficial clique of five earned the title, the "Bad Boys of SNL." Due to rising salaries and other peripheral costs, Farley and most of his fellow cast members were released from their contracts with the sketch show following the 1994-95 season to make room for younger, no doubt cheaper, talent.
Like many a cast member before him, Farley focused his attention on his film career during the mid-1990's, making appearances in several films, including "Wayne's World" (1992), "Coneheads" (1993), "Wayne's World 2" (1993) (playing a different character than he did in the previous film), "Airheads" (1994), and in 1995, Farley had an uncredited role as a bus driver in "Billy Madison" starring old castmate, Adam Sandler. Later that year, Farley teamed up with Spade to star in the critically derided but extremely popular, "Tommy Boy" (1995). A financial success, the low-budget comedy earned over $32 million domestically, more than earning back its meager budget and becoming a sort of modern-day buddy comedy class. The following year, Farley re-teamed with Spade to make "Black Sheep" (1996), a similarly dysfunctional comedy about a gubernatorial candidate (Tim Matheson) and his embarrassment of a little brother (Farley). Another buddy hit, "Black Sheep" also earned about $32 million at the box office and even more on home video.
While Farley's marquee value was growing, unfortunately, so too, were his vices. A tenacious party animal since his "SNL" days, Farley's newfound film success only seemed to add fuel to an already raging fire. By the release of his next film, the silly martial arts farce, "Beverly Hills Ninja" (1997), Farley's weight had ballooned to nearly 300 pounds. Despite his obviously deteriorating health, Farley continued physically exerting himself in his roles - "anything for a laugh," he would often say - but before long, Farley's growing dependence on drugs and alcohol began to interfere with his big screen work. During the filming of his final film, "Almost Heroes" (1998), co-starring Matthew Perry, production had to be halted several times due to Farley's frequent trips to rehab and subsequent relapses.
Worried about his self-destructive behavior, Farley's friends rallied to his side and urged the troubled comic to seek treatment. Among those who intervened was Farley's old boss, Lorne Michaels. Three weeks prior to his scheduled Oct. 25, 1997 appearance as guest host of "S.N.L.," Michaels expressed serious doubts about whether Farley could do the job. Recalling the death of his old colleague and friend, John Belushi, Michaels threatened to cancel Farley's appearance, only to relent at the last minute. In the end, it would be a decision that would come back to haunt Michaels. Not surprisingly, Farley's appearance proved to be a disaster: 90 minutes of forgotten lines, missed cues, and derailed sketches, with a sweating, strugggling Farley at the center of it all.
Unfortunately, things were only going to get worse. A frequent patron of high-class hookers, Farley reportedly spent the last day of his life in the company of a prostitute named Heidi. According to reports, Heidi joined Farley at a soiree in Chicago's trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood around 11 a.m. Later that evening, after several hours of hardcore partying, Heidi took Farley back to his apartment where the two continued to smoke crack and snort heroin. According to her statement to police, Heidi claimed to have left Farley's apartment around 3 a.m. the following morning. Severely inebriated, Farley allegedly tried to convince his guest to stay the night before collapsing in his doorway. Assuming he had passed out, the prostitute let herself out, but not before snapping a photo of Farley in this pathetic state.On the afternoon of December 18, some 12 hours later, Farley's body was discovered by his brother, John, lying in the exact same position where Heidi had left him. Pronounced dead at the scene, the autopsy revealed Farley's cause of death to be a speedball overdose (heroin mixed with cocaine). He was just 33 years-old.
Farley's funeral was attended by hundreds of the comedian's close friends and colleagues, as the man was quite beloved by all who knew him. One notable no-show was Farley's best chum, Spade. In an interview several months later, Spade admitted that he simply "could not be in a room where Chris was in a box." In attendance, however, were Lorne Michaels, Phil Hartman, and the rest of Farley's "SNL" Bad Boys brethren. (In a tragic footnote, Hartman would, himself, lose his life just six months later as the result of a drug fueled murder-suicide committed by his wife on May 28, 1998). Yet another Hollywood Babylon fairy tale with a sad ending, the tragedy of Farley's death seemed even sadder, given the eerie predictability of it all. It was said that more than anything else, Chris Farley simply wanted to be John Belushi. Ultimately, Farley's kinship with the late comic, who had wrestled his own dangerous demons before succumbing to a drug overdose on March 5, 1982, proved tragically prophetic in the end.
Cast (Feature Film)
Stunts (Feature Film)
Joined the cast of the long-running NBC variety show, "Saturday Night Live" (left show in 1995)
Earliest non "SNL" TV credit include an appearance on the comedy-variety tribute special, "A Comedy Salute to Michael Jordan"
Feature acting debut, a small role in the comedy, "Wayne's World"
Had a small but memorable role as Ronnie the Mechanic in "Coneheads" the movie
First leading role in a feature, "Tommy Boy"
Cast as a well-meaning but incompetent brother of a gubernatorial candidate (Tim Matheson) in "Black Sheep"
Final film appearance, "Almost Heroes"
Honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (August)