The Tragic Life of Chris Farley



The Tragic Life of Chris Farley

VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Jarett Burke
The life of legendary funnyman Chris Farley was one filled with laughter, but also one of pain and escape. For this video, we'll be looking at the tragic life Chris Farley. From his skyrocket to comedy royalty in the 90's to his substance abuse, Chris Farley's life has been a rollercoaster of highs and lows.
Script Written by Jarett Burke

The Tragic Life of Chris Farley

The life of legendary funnyman Chris Farley was one filled with laughter, but also one of pain and escape. While he was skyrocketing up the ranks of comedy royalty in the 90s, he was also abusing drugs and alcohol to mask feelings of inferiority due to being overweight. He used his weight as a tool to create laughter, and – as one former Second City cast member noted – the “fatty falls down” style of comedy Farley embraced made him incredibly famous… and yet also worsened his image of himself. It got to the point where he could no longer tell if people were laughing with him or at him. It was this conundrum, which fueled the substance abuse that ultimately brought his short life to a close – at just 33-years-old – in 1997.

Farley was born into a typical Midwestern, middle-class family in 1964. He grew up in a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, called Maple Bluff where his father owned an oil company and his mother tended to the family. He was an overweight child and ridiculed for his size, but – turning this situation into a positive – Farley used his size to his advantage on the high school football field (thus increasing his popularity, but not really addressing the hurt he carried inside). Also, in a move that would become his trademark comedic style, Chris found out that he could often mitigate cruel jokes being made about his weight by first making jokes about it himself. Thus, he relied on such fat jokes about himself to keep others from mocking him. Once in university, Farley took one step closer to making comedy his profession when he enrolled in theatre classes. He ended up double-majoring in theatre alongside Communications. And, well, as they say, the rest is history from there…

Farley kicked off his comedy career at the ARK Improv Theatre in Madison, and it wasn’t long before he was invited to join the famed Second City Theatre in Chicago. Here he’d team with soon-to-be-SNL buddy Tim Meadows in hit sketches like “Motivational Speaker” and became a standout on the show. Also, it was here that Farley was mentored by improv legend Del Close – the same man who mentored Chris’ comedic idol in John Belushi. In a strange twist of fate, Farley and Belushi (employing similar comedic and life styles) would both end up dead as a result of an overdose in their thirties. But, before that would happen, fame kept rushing at Chris hard and fast. Soon, he was called up to “Saturday Night Live” in 1990 after being discovered by Lorne Michaels. He’d made the big time.

On stage, Farley was a force to be reckoned with, and his physical, chaotic style of comedy was a massive hit on TV – as seen in such sketches as “Chippendales” and Matt Foley, the Motivational Speaker. Like at ARK and Second City, Chris soon became a rising star on SNL, and – along with other young comics like Adam Sandler, David Spade, Tim Meadows, Chris Rock and Rob Schneider – helped create a renaissance of the show in the early 90s. But behind the scenes, Farley was spinning out of control. A bit of a prankster and practical joker, his behavior beame wild and erratic off stage, and his drug and alcohol abuse began to affect his performances on stage. He was suspended from the show multiple times, and forced to seek treatment for his addiction issues, but he could never stay clean. He was even threatened with being fired from SNL should he not clean up his act. Ultimately, being unable to right his downward trajectory, Farley – having angered NBC management – was fired in 1995.

Yet, outsiders didn’t know Farley was struggling with substance abuse, as his film career took off. After first making standout appearances in hit movies like “Billy Madison” and “Wayne’s World,” he then went on to star in his own popular movies like “Tommy Boy” and “Black Sheep.” He was deeply unsatisfied with how “Black Sheep” turned out, however, as it was so similar to “Tommy Boy,” and this seems to have been responsible for a major downturn in his efforts to stay sober. As a result, his next project, “Beverly Hills Ninja,” could not begin until he underwent rehab. Unfortunately, it was to be a short-lived rehabilitation period, as Farley really fell into a decline after making “Beverly Hills Ninja”– one that he tragically wouldn’t be able to recover from. “Ninja” was released early in 1997, and by the time Farley made his first-ever SNL host appearance in October of that year, it was obvious to viewers that his health was in serious decline. He had gained more weight, his voice was hoarse and cracking, and his face was red and flushed.

But, no one expected that, less than two months later on December 18th, 1997, Farley would be found dead in his Chicago apartment as a result of a drug overdose from cocaine and morphine. Also, coroner reports revealed that he was suffering with advanced atherosclerosis (which is a narrowing of the arteries), and this ultimately played a major role in his passing. At just 33 years of age, Farley left this world just like his hero John Belushi: young, famous and unable to escape the pitfalls of substance abuse. His funeral was held in Madison, Wisconsin, on December 23rd and was attended by masses of people, including good friends friends Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Phil Hartman.

What the future held for Farley can only be left to the realm of speculation, but we do know that he was, originally, the voice of Shrek. He also may have been considering a turn toward dramatic roles, such as portraying silent-era comedian Fatty Arbuckle. His tragic death brought all that to a close, but his legacy lives on, and Farley is still very much part of the public consciousness. His movies continue to bring laughter and joy to the hearts of his fans – both old and new alike – and his friends and former castmates keep his memory alive with wonderful stories of the kind-hearted comedian. Chris’ memory has also been kept alive in print and on the small screen as well, with a well-received book about the comedian called “The Chris Farley Show” and a TV documentary entitled “I Am Chris Farley.”

The loss of Farley weighs heavy on fans’ hearts to this very day. He was just too lovable, and thus many, many people fell in love with him and adored him. He provided endless hours of laughter and joy to people, and he was often described as an angel that would do anything for anyone… except for himself, of course. And, that’s the truly tragic part of this story. The idea that his view of himself somehow resulted in his life coming to an abrupt end – when it was far too short and contained so much potential – still brings a tear to our eye more than 20 years after his passing.