The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Chris Farley

Beloved, loud, energetic, gone too soon. Those are all fit descriptions for Chris Farley, whose peculiar comedy stylings delighted Saturday Night Live watchers and moviegoers alike in the 1990s. He brought classic SNL characters, like motivational speaker Matt Foley, to life. He appeared on small, but memorable parts in popular movies like Wayne's World 2 and Billy Madison. Before long, he started getting starring roles in films like Tommy Boy and Beverly Hills Ninja. It seemed that the funnyman had the potential to become a true, cinematic force to be reckoned with. And then, just like that, he was gone. As Biography tells us, Farley died on December 18, 1997. He was only 33-years-old.

As popular, hilarious, and consistently wacky as Farley's public persona was, in many ways he was the archetypal sad clown. He had a lot of hurt, and he dealt with it in ways that often caused endless turmoil behind the scenes ... and, more than once, in public. What is it that made his personal life so troublesome, and his end so untimely and devastating? Let's take a look at the tragic real-life story of Chris Farley.

Chris Farley got fired from Saturday Night Live with Adam Sandler

As his Biography profile tells us, Chris Farley burst into the mainstream as a Saturday Night Live cast member. His tenure started in 1990, and he soon became an extremely well-liked part of the show, paving his way toward movie stardom. However, all good things come to an end ... and in Farley's case, said end came in an extremely uncomfortable way when both he and his best friend, Adam Sandler, were "let go" from the show in 1995. In a 2017 interview with the Daily Beast, Sandler admitted that they were indeed very much fired, and briefly discussed this fateful day in 1995: "We kind of quit at the same time as being fired. It was the end of the run for us. The fact that me and him got fired? Who knows." 

However, Sandler did point out that the two had a good run on the show, and while getting fired hurt them "a lot" back then, other opportunities eventually arose. He also said that he misses Farley, who he views as a dominant force on the show. "He's the strongest presence I've ever seen."

Chris Farley's OCD tendencies

As Patrick Kevin Day of the Los Angeles Times tells us, in 2015 comedians Adam Sandler, Lena Dunham, Maria Bamford and guest host Judd Apatow gathered in an episode of The Late Late Show. They ended up talking about their various obsessive-compulsive disorder tics, which everyone but Sandler admitted to. However, Sandler revealed that his friend, Chris Farley, had an apparently quite serious and definitely rather strange OCD quirk: the hefty comedian felt compelled to lick things. "Chris Farley, everywhere we went, was licking everything," Sandler said. He also told an example of Farley's strange compulsion: Once, the comedians were on their way to have dinner, and walking down the street, when Farley suddenly paused and told Sandler: "Antsy, you just gotta give me a minute." After Sandler agreed, Farley ran a hundred feet back on the street, stopped to lick a mailbox, and ran right back. 

In Mike Thomas' book, The Second City Unscriptedseveral people who knew Farley during his days at the Chicago comedy theater also describe him as a person who showed clear symptoms of OCD. His reported quirks in those days included touching the walls and stairs, kissing parking meters, licking the back of the stage and performing complex licking rituals with his belt. Fellow cast member John Rubano once challenged Farley about his behavior ... at which point the big man merely turned around, and walked away without saying a word.

Chris Farley's troubles with addiction

Chris Farley's life was often tumultuous because of his fondness for drink and drugs. As Rolling Stone tells us, by the time of his untimely death on December 18, 1997, he had been doing a lot of things for a long, long time. Cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and mushrooms were all on the table, along with alcohol and his penchant for overeating. 

While Farley was a man with many vices, he was also acutely aware of his shortcomings and often tried to get his destructive habits under control. He went to Overeaters Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. He did stints at rehab and weight loss centers. According to Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly, during his final two years alone Farley made at least 17 trips to rehab, and attempted all sorts of purges, programs, and regimes. He visited one particular detox center, Hazelden, so often that a friend of his said "they should've named a wing after him."  Unfortunately, none of Farley's many attempts at cleaning up his act stuck, and the comedian always relapsed sooner or later. 

Chris Farley's crushed athletic dreams

Everyone who's familiar with Chris Farley's peculiar brand of comedy knows that he was extremely physical and agile for such a large man. This was not a mere fluke, as he really did have great athletic prowess. A 1998 Rolling Stone article by Erik Hedegaard tells us that Farley was an excellent athlete during his school years, his excess weight belying a significant talent for sports. He was a fantastic swimmer, and his size made him a natural choice for the football team. At the peak of his athletic prowess, he was an All-City defensive lineman, but his high school dreams of becoming a pro would never become reality, seeing as his 5'9", 230-pound frame was not quite large enough to make it in the big leagues. 

Having been let down by his own size, young Farley was left to "find another way to make sense of his life." Since he was still quite big enough to draw ridicule from other kids, and had developed a habit of making fun of himself as a coping mechanism, he decided to draw inspiration from his hero, John Belushi, and make comedy his new "contact sport." Still, while his original, football-themed career plans didn't really pan out, the physical training helped his whirlwind style of comedy. Saturday Night Live boss Lorne Michaels has even described Farley as an athlete who "knew how to use his body" and "could play hurt." 

He was bullied as a child

Chris Farley was notoriously on the heavier side, and as his interview with Rolling Stone's Erik Hedegaard reveals, this was not always easy for him. Hedegaard describes how Farley revealed a childhood full of bullying by listing the many nasty names other kids used to call him. "Fartley, Lard Ass, Tubby and, of course, Fatso was standard," Farley said. As his Biography profile notes, he used his talent for comedy as a "defense mechanism," often mocking his own weight before others could.  

Even fame and adulthood didn't always bring Farley reprieve from the occasional nasty remark, and the barbs weren't always weight-themed. He told Hedegaard a story of meeting Hustler Magazine's founder Larry Flynt at the Academy Awards, and says that the publisher told him: "It's good to see somebody make it that didn't make it all the way through puberty." It goes without saying that Farley was less than impressed by this burn, and indeed, he described his general reaction as "Well, f**k you, a**hole!" 

Chris Farley's serious heart condition

Chris Farley suffered from a serious heart disease called atherosclerosis, which Colin Bertram of Biography notes the authorities considered "a significant contributing factor" to his death. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute tells us that the condition is no laughing matter, as it makes the fat, calcium, and other things in your blood build up inside your arteries as a substance called plaque. As the buildup progresses, it disrupts the blood flow, giving your body less and less oxygen-rich blood. This, as you can probably guess, can lead to some pretty serious problems, like strokes, heart attacks or ... well, death.

As it happens, Farley is not the only celebrity who died before their time and suffered from atherosclerosis. According to ABC News, Whitney Houston — another celebrity who struggled with addiction — also had the condition. When Houston died in 2012, the Los Angeles County Coroner's chief stated that the cause of death was "drowning due to atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use." 

Chris Farley's fears and deep insecurities

As funny and talented as Chris Farley was, Emily Bicks of Heavy tells us that his success wasn't enough to calm down his insecurity. Farley was uncomfortable with his weight, and secretly feared that he might lose his comedy edge. In an interview with Rolling Stone's Erik Hedegaard, the comedian opened up about his deep insecurities, and admitted that he was "always terrified."  

According to Farley himself, his often bombastic behavior was a reaction to his fear of people, and he was deeply scared that his movies wouldn't do well and he'd stop getting acting work. Other sources of terror included kissing up to studio executives, losing weight only to find he wouldn't be funny anymore, and even telling a great joke — he felt that when the roar of laughter died down, "the most terrifying silence you've ever heard" followed. 

That's a lot of insecurities piling up on one man, especially one who lived his life in the limelight. Also, it's worth remembering that Farley's fears and insecurities weren't always about his professional life. Some of his fears were also of a religious nature, and he was also quite concerned that he'd never be able to settle down with a nice woman and start a family. 

Chris Farley's violent temperament

In the documentary I Am Chris Farley (via New York Post), comedian Mike Myers tells that he used to do improv with Farley at Chicago's Second City comedy club, and notes that Farley had a reputation as a potentially physically hazardous coworker. "I was scared to death, because he had already knocked someone's tooth out and [given] someone else a scar just from being so crazy," Myers says. 

Farley eventually made it to Saturday Night Live and beyond, but this didn't necessarily mean that his coworkers were any safer than before. In 2016, castmate Adam Sandler revealed on Conan (via David Cornell of Inquisitr) that Farley once threatened to punch his good friend and fellow SNL performer, David Spade. Spade took care to stay out of Farley's reach the following day, even after Farley dismissed his threatening voicemail as a "joke message." In an episode of The Late Late Show with James Corden (via Cinema Blend), Spade said that things once got much worse when the pair was shooting Tommy Boy. Farley hated when Spade went to have drinks with Rob Lowe while he slept, and had his vengeance the next day. "He comes over and he crunches my hand...with his boot," Spade said of the incident. "And then I got up and I threw my Diet Coke on him. It was straight out of Atlanta Housewives ... Then he threw me down the stairs and then they said 'Action.'" Wait, did he say stairs? Ouch. 

The death of Chris Farley

As Erik Hedegaard of Rolling Stone tells us, Chris Farley's brother, John, found the comedian dead in his Chicago apartment on December 18, 1997. According to Colin Bertram of Biography, his system had "traces of cocaine, morphine and marijuana," and he also had an "advanced" heart disease that had caused buildup in his arteries. Farley's actual Biography profile lists his cause of death as drug overdose. 

According to Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly, the four-day bender that ended Farley's life came shortly after the actor returned home from a quick stint at the Hazelden detox center in Minneapolis. Farley, an avid churchgoer, spent a few days going to mass and doing normal holiday preparations, like baking some Christmas cookies and getting a tricked out Christmas tree. His friend, Jillian Seely, says the comedian was quite enthusiastic about an upcoming movie called Almost Heroes.

Unfortunately, this relatively mellow existence didn't last. On December 14, Farley began bar-hopping through the city's drinking establishments, accompanied by various ladies and tearing through a huge quantity of alcohol and narcotics. According to The Chris Farley Show, a biography by Tanner Colby and Farley's brother, Tom (via NY Mag's Sam Anderson), the comedian's last moments were spent taking drugs with a call girl, who eventually stole his watch, took pictures of him collapsed on the living room floor, and left after leaving a note. Farley died alone, and his final words were: "Don't leave me." 

He didn't have time to unleash his full potential

It would be wrong to say that Chris Farley wasn't successful or popular. He was certainly both. However, a quick glance at his IMDb page shows that while his idol, John Belushi, had Animal House and Blues Brothers to cement his legacy, Farley never really had his star-making role on the silver screen — apart from some juicy bit parts, the best he has are the likes of Tommy Boy and Beverly Hills Ninja. Had Farley lived a little longer or been a little luckier, however, the situation might have been very different. 

In 2012, Bradford Evans of Splitsider looked into some of the parts Farley never got to play. Some of the roles Farley allegedly missed during his lifetime included roles in The Cable Guy (the role went to Jim Carrey) and Kingpin (Randy Quaid), but the juiciest, most potentially legendary parts are the ones that he allegedly missed because of his untimely demise. He was supposed to have a major role in Ghostbusters III, which ultimately never saw the light of day. He was reportedly considering to star in the film version of A Confederacy of Dunces, and had already met David Mamet about a non-comedic role in a biopic about Fatty Arbuckle. Oh, and as CNN tells us, Farley was the guy they originally cast in the titular role in Shrek, and he even recorded nearly all of the ogre's lines before passing away. 

Attempts to help Chris Farley were unsuccessful

Chris Farley's various addictions were not a surprise to those close to him or, especially towards the end, the public. Erik Hedegaard of Rolling Stone writes that one columnist called his demise the "least-surprising premature death of a celebrity in show business history." 

That's not to say people didn't try to help him along the way. Old friends and family were painfully aware of his excesses, and people from his Saturday Night Live boss, Lorne Michaels, to fellow actors such as Dan Aykroyd, David Spade, and Tom Arnold, and Farley's own manager, tried to get him to cut out his vast intake. However, good advice worked just as badly as rehab clinics on Farley, and sooner or later he was back to his old ways. This was particularly bad during his final days, which his friend, Jillian Seely, describes in a heartbreaking way: "I know he wanted to get sober, but it was like he had cancer and the chemo treatment didn't work anymore."

One thing that people found actually worked on Farley was, well, work. Farley himself was aware that whenever he was making movies, he had no choice but to stay clean, because the studios wanted to protect their investment and made sure he was on his best behavior. As such, when he was making Almost Heroes, daily AA meetings were reportedly a requirement. When he was recording his lines for Shrek, things were even stricter, and he was watched around the clock.