Christopher Crosby Farley (February 15, 1964 – December 18, 1997) was an American comedian and actor. Farley was known for his loud, energetic comedic style, and was a member of Chicago's Second City Theatre and later a cast member of the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live between 1990 and 1995. He then went on to pursue a film career, starring in films such as Coneheads, Tommy Boy, Black Sheep and Beverly Hills Ninja. Influenced by his SNL idol, John Belushi, Farley died of a drug overdose in 1997 at the age of 33.
Farley was born on February 15, 1964, in Madison, Wisconsin and grew up in Maple Bluff. His father, Thomas John Farley, Sr. (1936–1999), owned an oil company, and his mother, Mary Anne (née Crosby), was a homemaker. He had four siblings: Tom Jr., Kevin, John, and Barbara. His cousin, Jim, is Executive Vice President and President, Global Markets at Ford Motor Company.
Farley's family is Roman Catholic and of Irish descent. Farley attended Catholic schools in his hometown, including Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart. According to Joel Murray, a fellow Second City cast member, Farley would "always make it to Mass."
Many of his summers were spent as a camper and counselor at Red Arrow Camp, near Minocqua, Wisconsin. He graduated from Marquette University in 1986, with a double major in communications and theater. At Marquette, he played rugby and discovered a love of comedy.
After college, he worked with his father at the Scotch Oil Company in Madison. He first learned the art of improvisational comedy at the Ark Improv Theatre in Madison, under the tutelage of Dennis Kern (see also: Joan Cusack.)
Farley ventured his way to Chicago, performing first at Improv Olympic. He then attended Chicago's Second City Theatre, starting the same day as Stephen Colbert, initially as part of Second City's touring group. He was eventually promoted to their Mainstage in 1989, and was a cast member of three revues: The Gods Must Be Lazy, It Was Thirty Years Ago Today, and Flag Smoking Permitted in Lobby Only or Censorama.
Along with Chris Rock, Farley was one of the new Saturday Night Live cast members announced in early 1990. On SNL, Farley frequently collaborated with fellow cast members Rock, Adam Sandler, Tim Meadows, Rob Schneider, and David Spade, among others. This group came to be known as the "Bad Boys of SNL."
Popular characters performed by Farley included Matt Foley, an over-the-top motivational speaker who constantly reminded other characters that he was "living in a van down by the river!" The character was created by Bob Odenkirk when he and Farley were performers at Second City. The character's name came from a longtime friend of Farley's who became a Catholic priest and currently serves as head pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. In early renditions of the character, Farley used other names, depending on whom he knew in the audience, until the real-life Foley went to the show and had his name used, at which point Farley felt the name best suited the character and refused to change it. Some of the mannerisms of the character were a combination of the positions Farley noticed his rugby teammates took on the pitch coupled with his high school football coach's habit of squatting down when giving pep talks and the voice his father used when he was angry.
Other famous Farley characters included Todd O'Connor of Bill Swerski's Superfans, a group of stereotypical Chicagoans who constantly shouted "da Bears!"; a Chippendale's dancer, in a famous sketch that paired him with guest host Patrick Swayze; one of the "Gap Girls", who worked together at a local mall; a stereotypical lunch lady, to the theme of Lunchlady Land performed by Adam Sandler; Bennett Brauer, a Weekend Update commentator who often divulged his personal and hygienic problems via air quotes; and himself on The Chris Farley Show, a talk show in which Farley "interviewed" the guest with poorly conceived questions, regularly getting very nervous.
Some of these characters were brought to SNL from his days at Second City. Farley also performed impersonations of Tom Arnold (who gave Farley's eulogy at his private funeral), Andrew Giuliani, Jerry Garcia, Meat Loaf, Norman Schwarzkopf, Dom DeLuise, Roger Ebert, Carnie Wilson, Newt Gingrich, Mindy Cohn, Mama Cass, Hank Williams Jr., and Rush Limbaugh.
Off-screen, Farley was well known for his pranks in the offices of Saturday Night Live. Sandler and Farley would make late-night prank phone calls from the SNL offices in Rockefeller Center, with Sandler speaking in an old woman's voice and Farley farting into the phone and mooning cars from a limousine, and even once defecating out a window. He was also known to frequently get naked and do various stunts for laughs, including imitating Jame Gumb from the then-current film The Silence of the Lambs. Rock once claimed that he probably saw Farley's private parts more than Farley's girlfriend did. Sandler told Conan O'Brien on The Tonight Show that NBC fired him and Farley from the show in 1995.
During his time on SNL, Farley appeared in the comedy films Wayne's World, Coneheads, Airheads, and uncredited in Billy Madison. He also appeared in the music video for the Red Hot Chili Peppers single "Soul to Squeeze", which was a song featured on the soundtrack to Coneheads.
After Farley and most of his fellow cast members were released from their contracts at Saturday Night Live following the 1994–95 season, Farley began focusing on his film career. In his first two major films, Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, he starred with SNL colleague and close friend David Spade. These were a success at the domestic box office, earning around $32 million each and gaining a large cult following on home video.
Farley was particularly dissatisfied with Black Sheep, an attempt by the studio to recapture the chemistry in Tommy Boy, and which was only 60 pages into the script when the project was green-lit. As a result, he relapsed on the night of the premiere, which required further rehab before he could begin work on Beverly Hills Ninja. After his death on December 18, 1997, his final completed films, Almost Heroes and Dirty Work, were released in May and June, 1998, respectively.
Farley was originally cast as the voice of the title character in the film Shrek, recording 85% (or 95%, according to some sources) of the character's dialogue, but died just before recording was finished. The filmmakers felt continuing the film with Farley would be in bad taste, so Shrek's dialogue was re-recorded by former SNL castmate Mike Myers. A story reel featuring a sample of Farley as Shrek was released in 2015. The original version of Shrek was more like Farley himself, according to his brother.
Farley was slated for another voice role in Dinosaur as a young male brachiosaurus named Sorbus who, despite his gigantic stature, was frightened of heights. After his death, the character was rewritten as Baylene, an elderly female Brachiosaurus played by British actress Joan Plowright.
At the time of his death, Farley had been in talks to costar with Vince Vaughn in The Gelfin, and to star in a biographical film about comedian Fatty Arbuckle to be written by David Mamet. Jim Carrey's role in the 1996 film The Cable Guy was originally intended for Farley, but scheduling conflicts forced him to decline. Farley was also offered the role of Ishmael (eventually played by Randy Quaid) in Kingpin, though he was forced by Paramount to turn it down to honor his commitment to star in Black Sheep.
Farley was slated to appear in a third Ghostbusters film, which was at the time intended to be about a new trio of Ghostbusters taking on overpopulation in Hell. Dav Pilkey, author of the children's book series Captain Underpants, had wanted Farley to play the title role in a potential television series based on the books, but discarded the idea after Farley's death.
Farley had been in talks for the lead in an adaptation of the novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Farley even expressed interest in portraying Atuk in an adaptation of the novel The Incomparable Atuk. Both of these shelved projects, along with the Arbuckle biopic, have been alleged to be cursed as Farley, John Belushi, and John Candy were each attached to all three roles, and all three died before any of the films entered production.
For much of his adult life, Farley struggled with alcohol and illicit drug abuse; such addictions caused him to be suspended repeatedly from the cast of Saturday Night Live. Bernie Brillstein, who personally managed John Belushi and whose firm, Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, managed Farley, repeatedly sent Farley to drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
Following his final guest appearance on SNL on October 25, 1997, there was a visible decline in Farley's health. Farley's hoarse voice and flushed skin were the subject of public scrutiny. In the final years of his life, Farley had sought treatment for obesity and drug abuse on 17 occasions.
On December 18, 1997, Farley was found dead by his younger brother, John, in his apartment in the John Hancock Center in Chicago. He was 33 years old. An autopsy revealed that Farley had died of an overdose of cocaine and morphine, a combination called a speedball. Advanced atherosclerosis was cited as a "significant contributing factor." Farley's death has been compared to that of his SNL idol John Belushi, who died at the same age of a similar combination of drugs.
A private funeral was held for Farley on December 23, 1997, at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Over 500 people attended this funeral, including many comedians who had worked with him on Saturday Night Live and on film, such as Dan Aykroyd, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Lorne Michaels, John Goodman, George Wendt and Phil Hartman. Notably absent was Farley's best friend David Spade, who chose not to attend the funeral, stating years later that he had found it too emotionally difficult to do so. Farley's remains were entombed at Resurrection Cemetery.
On August 26, 2005, Farley was posthumously awarded the 2,289th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, located in front of iO West. An authorized biography of Farley, The Chris Farley Show, was written by his brother Tom, Jr.; and Tanner Colby. The song "Purple Stain" from the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 1999 album, Californication, contains the lyric "Farley is an angel and I can prove this" as a tribute to Farley.
A television documentary on Farley's life, I Am Chris Farley, was shown on August 10, 2015. Farley was also the subject of the TV program, Autopsy: The Last Hours of Chris Farley, which premiered on November 19, 2016, on the Reelz channel.
In 2018, Adam Sandler wrote and performed an emotional tribute song dedicated to Farley in his 2018 Netflix stand-up special Adam Sandler: 100% Fresh. Netflix released the song performance on YouTube later that year to commemorate the 21st anniversary of Farley's death. Sandler later played the song live on an episode of Saturday Night Live that he hosted on May 4, 2019.
|1992||Wayne's World||Security Guard|
|1993||Coneheads||Ronnie the Mechanic|
|Wayne's World 2||Milton|
|1995||Billy Madison||Bus Driver ||Uncredited|
|Tommy Boy||Thomas "Tommy" Callahan, III||MTV Movie Awards Best On-Screen Duo (Shared with David Spade)|
|1996||Black Sheep||Mike Donnelly|
|1997||Beverly Hills Ninja||Haru||Nominated — MTV Movie Awards Best Comedic Performance|
|1998||Almost Heroes||Bartholomew Hunt||Posthumous release|
|Dirty Work||Jimmy No-Nose||Uncredited; Posthumous release, (final film role)|
|1990–1995||Saturday Night Live||Various characters||100 episodes|
|1992||The Jackie Thomas Show||Chris Thomas||1 episode|
|1993||The Larry Sanders Show||Himself||1 episode|
|Roseanne||Man in Clothing Store||1 episode|
|1997||All That||Chef Farley||1 episode|
an agreement with the Estate of Chris Farley under which Network (Entertainment) will develop and produce a feature documentary on the life and legacy of legendary funny man Chris Farley. We very much look forward to working with Kevin and the rest of the Farley family to recount Chris' life and work, and the impact he had on all those around him, in an authentic, moving, and of course very funny, way.