If you grew up in the late 1980s and early 90s, you’ll likely be familiar with the late American comedian Chris Farley. August 1 sees the release of I Am Chris Farley, a documentary based on the comedian’s short-lived life and stardom. Working alongside the likes of Adam Sandler, David Spade, Kevin Nealon, Tom Arnold, and other Saturday Night Live (SNL) greats during what could be considered SNL’s Golden Years, Chris Farley was known for his ability to make others laugh by way of his one-of-a-kind characters and physical comedy.
Whether you know him as Matt Foley: Motivational Speaker, trying out for Chippendales, dancing with a large sloppy joe, Fat Guy in a Little Coat, or from one of his popular movies, Chris Farley provided a slew of laughs by way of a number of distinct characters still remembered almost 20 years after his death.
A true comedic talent, Chris Farley was destined for greatness. Farley grew up in Wisconsin, and graduated from Marquette University. Farley performed with a number of improv theater companies before joining Chicago’s well known The Second City, an improv theater group that has also been home to other esteemed comedic geniuses such as Bill Murray, John Belushi, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, and many other popular comedians, actors, and writers.
Farley joined the cast of SNL in 1990. Joining forces with Adam Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock, and Rob Schneider, the group was named the “Bad Boys of SNL” and produced some of the most memorable and gut busting skits in the history of the television show. Almost acting without fear, Farley embraced his time on the show and capitalized on his popularity with the audience and viewers at home. Some of SNL’s most memorable skits featured Farley as the lead: Matt Foley: Motivational Speaker who lives in a van down by the river; Barney, a guy trying out to be a Chippendales dancer alongside a svelte Patrick Swayze; a Chicago Bulls super fan with a high risk of heart attack; a dedicated and sprightly Lunch Lady with a fondness for Sloppy Joes; or Bennet Brauer, a sad newscaster with an affinity for air quotes.
Farley’s fame wasn’t limited to television. After his successful run on SNL, Farley began making movies, one of his first notable roles being a small supporting part in Billy Madison as an overly stressed out bus driver. He later starred as the lead in Tommy Boy, Black Sheep, and Beverly Hills Ninja. Tommy Boy provided one of Farley’s most notable characters, Tommy Callahan, Jr., a seven-year college graduate given the reigns of his family’s auto parts factory after his dad suddenly dies, and it provided one of the most often quoted lines from a film: “Fat guy in a little coat.”
Farley wasn’t just known for his humor — those close to the actor/comedian speak of a man desperate for approval, sometimes bordering on crazy in his quest to be loved by all. With well-known drug and alcohol addictions, and a complex of needing constant approval from his father, Farley spent a good number of his most popular years either searching for his next fix or working on his recovery and sobriety. But his flame burned out too soon, when in December 1997, at the age of 33, Farley was found dead in his Chicago apartment of a cocaine and morphine overdose.
Chris Farley’s legacy, although short, still remains popular and relevant today. The long awaited Chris Farley documentary will once again bring this flashy star back into the light.