Happy Birthday, Chris Farley!

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Christopher Crosby Farley (February 15, 1964 - December 18, 1997) was an American comedian and actor, best known for his five years as a cast member on Saturday Night Live (1990 - 1995). Farley became popular through the Improv Olympic and Second City Theaters in Chicago. It was here that he would meet Lorne Michaels, who would bring him to stardom. Farley's comic style was loud, energetic and shameless. Many of his characters are well remembered today. Farley suffered with problems of obesity and drug abuse throughout his career. The latter would eventually be his demise and he died from the same cause as his comedy idol John Belushi. Chris Farley's legacy lives on through a star on Hollywood Boulevard, through his comedy peers and through the countless fans he inspired.

6f6acae152980ecfb685c2350e114e8cChris Farley was born in Madison, Wisconsin. He was part of a close-knit Catholic family who lived together in an upscale neighborhood. His father owned an oil company and he had four siblings. They attended mass together every week. Farley's father struggled with weight problems himself, eventually growing to 600 pounds. Chris learned to embrace his appearance and created a defense mechanism to avoid being bullied. He used humor. Farley's ability to make his classmates laugh got him many friends at his high school as well as a position on the school Football team. Whenever his teachers heard uncontrollable laughter, they knew Farley must be close by.

Chris Farley attended Marquette University in nearby Milwaukee, majoring in Communications and Theater. Farley quickly established himself as the fumbling class clown and would play memorable pranks to try get the attention of girls. By the time he graduated from college at age twenty-two, he was desperate for time on the stage. Farley moved to Chicago where he performed at comedy grounds Improv Olympic -- the alma mater of his idols Bill Murray and John Belushi. The transition from IO to bigger theater Second City was flawless. He toured with their traveling comedy show then was accepted onto the main stage. Farley frequently stole the show and impressed teacher Del Close.

 

ChrisFarley7Del Close, a legendary comedy teacher who has since passed, believed strongly in Farley. He recommended Farley for roles alongside far more established performers. Other teachers were hesitant, still thinking of Farley as a loud troublemaker. By the late 1980s, Farley's name was buzzing around the comedy circuit. Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels flew to Chicago to see him perform. He was cast as a new member in the Fall of 1990 alongside Adam Sandler and David Space. The rookie new stars would evolve into legends.

Farley struggled with excess and enthusiasm for life's many temptations. He was addicted to eating, drinking and staying up late - a lifestyle fitted to late night comedy. He would also become involved with drugs and prostitutes. Farley began making a six digit salary due to his success playing hilarious characters on Saturday Night Live. Producer Michaels was worried about him. He asked Farley to either join rehab or leave the show. Drug counselor Dallas Taylor worked hard to help Farley's addictions. Farley tried his best to recover but would never quite shake free from these habits.

 

 

Chippendale Dancers (Remix)

ChrisFarley4Some of Farley's most successful characters on the show included Matt Foley, the inspirational speaker who "lived in a van down by the river." He also played a Chippendale's dancer, a Gap Girl, a Lunch Lady and did impressions of celebrities from Jerry Garcia to Newt Gingrich. Farley and Sandler would pull pranks in the Rockefeller Center offices. His need to attract attention and make people laugh was insatiable. Despite the anger and frustration that Farley's addictions brought him, he found time to be religious and attended mass at St. Malachy's Church in Manhattan. He volunteered with the church's eldery parishioners and was described as having an extremely large heart.

 

Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker

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Chris Farley's friends were growing concerned and they held him an intervention. Farley agreed to attend rehab in Los Angeles and reappeared months later with a renewed desire to succeed in comedy. Farley followed in the comic footsteps of his influences John Candy, Jackie Gleeson and John Belushi. "All the fat comics, they're my favorites," he'd say. He would watch their performances repeatedly and emulate their loud, over-the-top acting style.

Brief Clip of Gap Girls

ChrisFarley2Farley's success got him noticed by Hollywood. He landed a part in Wayne's World (1992) and would also appear in the films Coneheads (1993), Airheads (1994), and Billy Madison (1995). In 1995 Farley and his co-stars reached the end of their contracts at Saturday Night Live. He began to focus on movies instead. With the help of his friend David Space, Farley made Tommy Boy (1995) and Black Sheep (1996). Both films were a success and became cult classics. Farley was offered the lead part in Beverly Hills Ninja (1997). But the more his career flourished, the more his drug habits got worse. Farley was experimenting with excesses of cocaine and alcohol. They interfered with his role in Almost Heroes (1998) and Dirty Work (1998), causing the productions to be shut down while he attended rehab again.

 

Farley on Jay Leno, 1997

ChrisFarley6Chris Farley died of a drug overdose in the winter of 1997. He was thirty-three years of age. His health had been visibly declining for months. He was found in his Chicago apartment by his younger brother John. Medical studies suggested that Farley's weight contributed heavily to the result of the overdose. He was buried at the Resurrection Catholic Cemetery after a funeral in his hometown where five hundred comedians and friends paid respect.

Farley's brother Tom Jr. and friend Tanner Colby wrote a biography of Farley's life entitled The Chris Farley Show. Colby also wrote books Belushi: A Biography and The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. Just like his idol Belushi, Farley died from a mix of cocaine and heroin. Apparently Farley had been recording the voice of Shrek (2001) but died before it was finished. His part would be replaced by Mike Myers. Farley was awarded the 2,289th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame right in front of Improv Olympic's West venue. His legacy lives on in the form of comedy's most extroverted, loud and memorable characters.

"Best Of" Moments from Watch Mojo

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Saturday, 15 February 2014
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