THAT WAS AWESOME!
IN SIX SHORT YEARS AS A STAR, CHRIS FARLEY DEFINED ENERGY, EXCITEMENT AND EXCESS. A DECADE LATER, HIS STORY IS TOLD BY THOSE WHO KNEW HIM BEST.
December 16, 2007 — Chris Farley came into this world on Feb. 15, 1964, weighing 12 pounds, 11 ounces. By age 33, he was gone, 296 pounds and dead of a drug overdose on Dec. 18, 1997.
In between, he played some of comedy’s funniest, most eager and energetic characters. On “Saturday Night Live,” he was Matt Foley, the huffing, pants-adjusting motivational speaker who lived in a van down by the river. On his “talk show,” his sole interviewing technique consisted of awkwardly asking guests to “remember when” they did whatever it was they were famous for. And, of course, he co-starred in “Tommy Boy” and “Black Sheep” with his good friend David Spade.
In all, his time in the public eye lasted just six years. On the 10th anniversary of his death, friends, family and colleagues tell The Post what he was like when the lights weren’t on – and how brilliant he was when they were.
Nick Burrows, director of guidance, Edgewood HS of the Sacred Heart, Madison, Wis.: His family is very humble, loving, caring. They own Scotch Oil Co. here in Madison. If you ever met his family, you’d see where Chris got the gifts he did – particularly from his mother. She’s a stitch.
Kevin Farley, brother: Chris was always a really great athlete, but where he really shined was the camp play. He was always the lead and always had the big singing number. He sang Elvis’ “Teddy Bear.” All the parents would come up for the play and they’d be buzzing about how well he did that.
Burrows: He was known around school as the funny guy, but ironically, he wasn’t in any theater or drama here.
Kevin Farley: Growing up, sports were a big thing for us. You didn’t really think of theater. Chris always wanted to be an NFL player. He played football and hockey and he wrestled. We were four boys and my mom had us in sports, partly to get us out of the house, because we’d have destroyed it.
Chris Farley to David Letterman: I got in a lot of trouble at school. One time the nuns were all around me and my mom was in the middle, and they said, “Mrs. Farley, the other students are laughing at Christopher, not with him.”
Burrows: The dean of discipline would call me up and say, “Hey, you need to meet with me about Farley.” So we’d have a meeting with him, me, Chris and Mrs. Farley. She would walk in and go, “What’d my boy do now?” She’d start laughing. The dean of discipline would start the meeting real serious, and by the end of the meeting he’d be cracking up laughing. That’s part of the gift Chris had.
I remember on the senior retreat, we were out in the woods for two days. There was an activity called the Hot Seat, about sharing what you’re good at and what you need to work on. So he says, “I sometimes have this weird feeling that I’m a frog.” Everyone’s laughing. He says, “All of sudden out of the clear blue, I start moving my shoulders and words like ‘ribbit’ start to come out.” Then he’s on his chair and ends up on the table jumping around the room going “ribbit!” like a frog. We were all on the floor just roaring. The priest is looking at me sternly like, “You let this thing get out of control.”
Kevin Farley: After he graduated high school, he got involved with the theater program [at Marquette University] and started to take seriously the comedians he liked. He liked [John] Belushi and Bill Murray and the “Saturday Night Live” crowd.
Chris was always trying to lose weight. The reason I think he liked Belushi growing up was because Belushi was a big guy, too, and he was cool. And he could dance. Chris saw that and thought, hey, man, maybe there’s a way out of this.
He wanted to drop out of college and go into Second City, because he didn’t think college was doing anything for him. But my dad said, “Stick it out and get a degree.”
Burrows: Once he was doing antics in the dormitory, people started saying he should be doing that in comedy clubs. One of his friends at Marquette would say that walking to class in the morning, Chris would jump into a snow bank headfirst and start kicking his legs up in the air.
John Pudner, Marquette classmate: I’ve joked with a few people that Chris got there a year before me and graduated two years after me. He was on the seven-year plan. “Tommy Boy” does tell a lot of his true life, I think.
After Marquette, Farley moved to Chicago and became a star in the improv scene, first at Improv Olympic then at Second City.
Charna Halpern, co-founder, Improv Olympic: Farley came to my workshop. He wanted to get onstage so badly that he was really overdoing it, trying too hard. He was doing the ass crack and all these things. I really didn’t like him at first. One night, Chris came up to me and said, “Let me play tonight!” He was in his third week and driving me crazy in class. I said he wasn’t ready. He was hitting the wall over my head going, “Come on!” Finally, I got so mad, I said, “You can go on my stage, but if you screw up, you’ll never go onstage again.” He got up on stage and he was hilarious.
Tim Meadows, Second City and “SNL” castmate: At Second City, he was supposed to go into a scene and change into this sport jacket. I told him to lay his jacket out so it’s ready, but he’d just throw it in a ball on the floor. He put on the jacket, and both his arms got caught in the lining of the jacket and he couldn’t push his arms out. I started laughing. He was going, “Timmy, help me!” Then with one thrust of energy, he punched both his fists through the jacket lining and walked out onstage and did the scene – classic Farley.
Amy Poehler, Second City alum and current “SNL” cast member: He was ahead of me in Chicago, but when he would come back, I would get to perform with him. The minute he stepped onstage, the audience fell madly in love with him. I’ve never seen anyone commit to
anything harder than he would.
Halpern: He started taking classes with [improv teacher] Del Close, and Del said, “That’s the next Belushi.” He had incredible commitment and would just attack the stage.
Kevin Farley: Lorne Michaels came in and sat in the audience and watched who shined. There was a summer where Chris was sitting on pins and needles. He had gotten the word that Lorne was interested in him, but he didn’t know what was going to happen. Then Lorne called him and said, “Welcome to the show.” Everything changed from there.
In 1990, Farley was one of two new cast members added to “Saturday Night Live.”
Chris Farley to Leno: New York was scary, coming from the Midwest. At first I thought I’d come in all cocky like, “I’m gonna bring this town to its knees!” After about a month, I was like, “I wanna go home.”
Halpern: When he got “SNL,” Del and I took him out for dinner to teach him manners. He was such a slob, a child, an innocent. He’d drink, and beer would go down the side of his face. I’d say, “You don’t have to drink so fast. No one is going to take it away. And don’t pick up Lorne Michaels and hug him.”
Kevin Farley: Once Chris got on “SNL,” I honestly knew that once the public saw what he could do, he wasn’t going to be one of those guys that left “SNL” and went into obscurity. I knew it was gonna get weird.
Meadows: The perfect example of his personality is “The Chris Farley Show.” That’s so much about how he was with famous people. That’s why they wrote that sketch. That’s what he was like with the host or when he first got to New York and met Phil Hartman and Dana [Carvey].
Halpern: He called me from “SNL,” crying before the first show. They were going to make him dance with Patrick Swayze. “They were making fun of the fat boy,” – that was his quote.
Meadows: I don’t know how many shows into it was the Chippendale’s audition sketch, but I’m sure that was early on in his run. He scored really quickly getting in there.
Ellen Cleghorne, “SNL” castmate: I’d never seen a performer like that before. I was very impressed with his ability to access the character and stay in the moment. I actually asked him, “How do you do that?” He didn’t know what the f— I was talking about.
Molly Shannon, “SNL” castmate: He was kind of shy. Sometimes I’d peek into his dressing room, and he’d always kneel down and pray before he performed.
Kevin Farley: He had Victoria’s Secret models that were after him. He had a bigger-than-life personality that these models would flock to. He was a little bit dangerous, too, so they liked that.
Farley quickly won film work – cameos first, followed by starring roles.
Penelope Spheeris, director, “Black Sheep”: I was doing “Wayne’s World” and Lorne said, “I got this new guy on the show, and I got a really good feeling about him. We need to put him in ‘Wayne’s World.’ ” Then he said, “But he’s really shy.” And Chris was shy – shy to the point of putting his tail in the dust. He felt intimidated by the movie set.
Kevin Farley: I think the movies obviously affected him. The pressures of show business are very hard, and he’s a very sensitive guy. He had trouble separating it all. He wanted to make every single scene funny. When things didn’t go well, it took a piece of him.
Halpern: I felt like people were making him a caricature. I personally didn’t like that he was with David Spade, and David was the smart guy and Chris was dumb. Chris could play smart.
Kevin Farley: He was happy with some [movies] more than others. He thought “Tommy Boy” was probably his best. I think “Black Sheep” was a bit of a disappointment.
Farley left “SNL” in 1995. A year later, his substance abuse was out of control. Filming on “Almost Heroes” had to be halted several times so he could go to rehab.
Shannon: From what I know, he really missed the show. I think it was hard for him after he left.
Spheeris: I’ve worked with so many comedians over the years, starting with Richard Pryor in 1969. I could see in Chris that he had all the goods that it takes to be that brilliant comedian. It’s a hyper mix of genius and insanity. If the public never sees the dark side, good for them. But it’s there.
Shannon: When I knew him, he was sober and very involved in AA. I remember one day he had a cold, and I said, “Here, take these Chinese herbs.” And he said, “No, no, no! I can’t take anything!” Just in case it wasn’t part of the program. It was sweet.
When he did come back to host [on Oct. 25, 1997], he was not in as good of shape. It was really evident that he was actively partying. It was really sad.
Kevin Farley: Especially towards the end of his life, he was scared about everything. Obviously, the drugs – he was trying to control those, and trying to keep his life together.
Spheeris: One thing that Chris did say to me, and I scolded him for it very harshly, he was talking about Belushi and how much he loved and admired him as a comedian. He made the statement that he wanted live and die like John. I couldn’t tell if he was being funny or prophetic or what. I said, “Chris, don’t talk like that!”
Halpern: I was with him two weeks before he died. We had a big fight in his apartment. There were always these dregs of the earth following him around giving him drugs. I was hanging out at his apartment and some guys walked in and pulled out something I never saw before. I asked, “Is that crack?” They said, “Yeah.”
On Dec. 18, 1997, Farley was found dead in his Chicago apartment by his brother John. The medical examiner determined he died accidentally from an overdose of cocaine and morphine, with atherosclerosis (a narrowing of the arteries) as a “significant contributing factor.”
Burrows: The evils got him. I know he tried to get it under control, but it got the best of him in the end.
Spheeris: I was surprised Spade didn’t go to Chris’s funeral. [But] here’s the thing. The way Lorne works is that he makes people compete with each other. David and Chris were good friends, especially on “Tommy Boy.” But when they got to “Black Sheep,” Chris had some sort of position in the comedy world that was elevated from David. David was bickering with me because Chris was getting more attention. He never took that out on Chris, but I could see after Chris died, there was a lot of unfinished business there for David. He had had certain competitive feelings toward him, and you feel bad when someone goes. You go, “Oh, man. I wish I wouldn’t have thought that way.”
Halpern: He was just the greatest person, and I can’t tell you how pissed I am.
Poehler: They still tell stories about him at “SNL.” They’ll bring a chair into a scene and someone will say, “I think Farley broke this one.”
THAT WAS AWESOME!