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There’s something about being the life of the party. All of the attention is on you. Rushes of adrenaline can overcome the senses to the point where euphoria percolates at an incredible level. While some genuinely enjoy inheriting this role, elements of sadness can sometimes be seen from underneath the boisterous surface.
In the case of Chris Farley, this scenario sadly played out. The larger-than-life figure made millions of people across the world laugh with comedic acts centering around physicality, buffoonery, and tomfoolery. It appeared as if he was on the cusp of becoming one of the best comics we’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, Farley had a number of demons he was never able to overcome.
Growing Up in Wisconsin
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Christopher Crosby Farley was born on February 15, 1964 in Madison, Wisconsin. Coming from a devout Catholic family, Farley’s parents (Thomas and Mary Anne) also had four other children. Two of them — Kevin and John — are also actors.
A Tremendous Athlete
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Farley flashed insanely good athleticism for a man of his stature. This isn’t too much of a surprise considering his background. In high school, Farley was an All-City football player. In college at Marquette University, Farley played rugby.
Getting Feet Wet at University
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Farley had always been a funny guy. In order to mask his own issues with his weight, he opted to be the one making the jokes as opposed to the one people would joke about. A natural born performer with loads of charisma, Farley entered Marquette’s drama program. Once graduating, Farley studied improvisational comedy back home in Madison before setting his sights for a bigger stage: Chicago.
Welcome to Chicago
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Farley joined Chicago’s Second City Theatre. This famed establishment housed a number of future stars — including Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, and Tina Fey (among others). However, Farley joined in large part because his idol — John Belushi — also got his start here.
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Farley absolutely crushed it during his time in Chicago. His energy seemingly never waned, and he cultivated a number of unique characters in the process. One evening in 1989, a man name Lorne Michaels saw Farley perform in person. This ended up becoming the most important night of Farley’s life.
Saturday Night Live
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After trying out for the show, Farley ended up inking a deal to appear on Saturday Night Live. This put him next to the likes of Adam Sandler, Tim Meadows, Dana Carvey, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Phil Hartman, and David Spade. Farley soon emerged from the group as the show’s top star.
Becoming an Icon
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As he patterned his comedic skill after John Belushi, Farley’s persona began growing to new heights. His role as “Matt Foley the Motivational Speaker” is an all-time classic. Duly, Farley is widely known for his Chippendale’s skit alongside the late Patrick Swayze.
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Farley’s magnetic personality led to him starring in the feature film Tommy Boy. While not critically acclaimed, it did exceptionally well at the box office. Over the last 25 years, many consider it a cult classic. While Farley dabbled in film, there were more pressing concerns he was dealing with off stage.
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Farley’s exuberant persona often spilled into his real life. He was the life of the party, and always was on the go. This included heavy nights of drinking and doing drugs. Duly, his weight yo-yo’d considerably during his career. As his drug habit became a major problem, those involved with Saturday Night Live attempted to step in.
Multiple Attempts to Help
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Friends, members of the crew, and higher-ups within the show all pleaded for Farley to get help for his drug problem. Multiple stints in-and-out of rehab proved to work for spells — but not for extended periods of time. Farley reportedly relapsed at the premier of Black Sheep after disliking the final product. From here, things only got worse.
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In 1995, both Farley and Adam Sandler were fired from Saturday Night Live. Sandler recounted the incident in an interview:
“Yes, we were [fired]. We kind of quit at the same time as being fired. It was the end of the run for us. The fact that me and him got fired? Who knows. We were on it for a few years, had our run, and everything happens for a reason. We kind of understood because we did our thing. It hurt a lot at the time because we were young and didn’t know where we were going, but it all worked out.”
A Constant Struggle
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Farley had a tough time staying sober. Whilst in rehab, he’d have engagements — whether going to films or being a part of an awards show — which took him from the controlled environment. Farley even had fans slip him drugs amidst his sobriety. All of these factors led to a dark last few years.
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Interestingly enough, Farley was slated to voice the role of Shrek (later assumed by Myers). He had even recorded much of the movie before his passing. Additionally, he was attached to the biopic featuring former actor Fatty Arbuckle. This was his chance to be more of a dramatic actor rather than a comedic one. However, the year of 1997 sadly proved to be far too much for Farley to handle.
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In 1997, Farley appeared once again on Saturday Night Live for what turned out to be his final performance. He also appeared as a guest on numerous talk shows — as well as enjoying a guest spot on the sketch show All That. In each appearance, Farley looked pale, visibly heavier, and often was out of breath.
A Sad Death
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On December 18, 1997, Farley was found dead in his Chicago condo. His brother John found him after a reported four-day bender (which included alcohol and a number of drugs). Farley’s death was attributed to an overdose on a combination of cocaine and morphine. He also had severe arterial plaque buildup in his heart. In an ironic yet cruel twist, Farley passed away in similar fashion to his idol, Belushi.
A Final Goodbye
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Farley’s funeral took place in his hometown of Madison. The funeral itself was littered with celebrities — including many of the cast members he knew from Saturday Night Live. Sadly, Farley’s father — who at one time weighed over 650 pounds — died 15 months after his son passed. According to Farley’s mother, Farley’s father “died of a broken heart.”
A Lasting Legacy
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To this day, Tommy Boy remains as one of the most iconic cult classics of the last 30 years. Farley continues to be studied intensely by up-and-coming comics. Very few — if any — have been able to capture the on-screen magic he possessed. One former SNL castmate recently offered a wonderful tribute in the form of a musical number.
Adam Sandler’s Tribute
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In a 2019 episode of SNL, Sandler came back to host the show. As fate would have it, he crafted a song in honor of his late friend. Sandler spoke glowingly about Farley. Many in attendance became quite emotional during the performance.
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Chris Farley was a brilliant comedic mind. Though he battled intensely with a number of vices, it doesn’t take away the lasting impact he left not only on the world of comedy, but also all of the people he touched along the way. Farley will continue to live on in our memories.