The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts

( 22 )


After his star-making turn on Saturday Night Live and three straight number-one hit movies, Chris Farley's overdose at the age of thirty-three seemed like just another sad Hollywood story of indulgence and excess-and an eerie parallel to the fate of his idol, John Belushi.

While fans knew Chris as the sweaty, swaggering Motivational Speaker and the hyperkinetic Chippendales stripper, his family and friends knew him as a deeply spiritual and earnest kid who never stopped trying ...

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After his star-making turn on Saturday Night Live and three straight number-one hit movies, Chris Farley's overdose at the age of thirty-three seemed like just another sad Hollywood story of indulgence and excess-and an eerie parallel to the fate of his idol, John Belushi.

While fans knew Chris as the sweaty, swaggering Motivational Speaker and the hyperkinetic Chippendales stripper, his family and friends knew him as a deeply spiritual and earnest kid who never stopped trying to make people laugh. This oral biography includes exclusive interviews with those who knew him best: David Spade, Chris Rock, Lorne Michaels, Alec Baldwin, and other celebrity contemporaries; his brothers Tom, Kevin, and Johnny; and his closest childhood friends. The result is a portrait, hilarious and heartbreaking, of young man whose battle with addiction began long before he became famous.

This is a book about the intersections of comedy, celebrity, performance, and family-with a deeply moving message about the demons that face even the most gifted among us.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Chris Farley's older brother Tom is director of the Chris Farley Foundation, an institution dedicated to educating young people about addiction and inspired by the tragic early death of his comedian sibling. Farley has teamed up with Colby (coauthor of Belushi: A Biography and also aA National Lampoon Radio Hour A head writer) for this rip-roaring memory mosaic, talking to "all the people who either knew Chris the best or were there at the important moments in his life." The interview quotes have been rearranged into a chronological narrative, which starts with Farley's childhood pranks in Madison, Wis., and moves on to the Marquette University theatricals that revealed Farley's flair for improv. Chicago's Second City catapulted him to Saturday Night Live, where he performed many well-remembered characters. Next came movies, but drugs, alcohol and rehab lurked in the background of his rise to fame. Molly Shannon recalled: "He was just indulging in everything: girls, Chinese food, drugs, booze, cold syrup. Everything." With talents such as Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Conan O'Brien and David Spade analyzing his humor and detailing Farley's escapades and hijinks, this is a boisterous book the comedian's fans will want to buy, borrow or steal. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Chris Farley's unique comedic talents catapulted him to national fame via television's Saturday Night Live and films such as the popular Tommy Boy. His flair for improvisation and his ability to connect with people were outstanding. His life, however, was eclipsed and ultimately cut short by ongoing alcohol and drug addiction. Here, his brother, Tom Farley Jr., and Colby (coauthor, Belushi) provide an honest and compelling portrait of Farley from his early years until his death in 1997. The unusual structure of the book adds to its poignancy; each chapter contained in the three acts of Farley's life is a well-organized compilation of vivid reminiscences from family and former schoolmates, TV and film personalities, and community center workers. A heartbreaking story of a complex man emerges: the popular public figure, the kindhearted private one-a religious man, caring friend, and dedicated volunteer to the aged and homeless-and an insecure, troubled individual, who, despite a supportive network and wholehearted attempts at rehab, succumbed to his addictions. Essential for fans.
—Carol J. Binkowski

Kirkus Reviews
Family, friends and colleagues remember the late Saturday Night Live star. When legendary comedy-improv writer and instructor Del Close first saw Chris Farley perform, he commented, "Oh, that's the next John Belushi." That praise would prove prophetic in both a positive and a negative way: Like Belushi, Farley's rapid rise to fame was attended by a lifelong battle with weight problems and substance abuse. In this moving oral biography, older brother Tom Jr. and former National Lampoon Radio Hour head writer Colby (co-author: Belushi, 2005) assemble a layered, in-depth portrait of both Farley's professional and personal lives, culled from more than 130 interviews with dozens of his closest friends and confidantes. After quickly ascending through the ranks of ImprovOlympic and Second City in Chicago, Farley landed his dream job at SNL-and later, starring roles in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep, among others. (Farley was also the original choice for the voice of Shrek, but his death led to the hiring of Mike Myers.) His colleagues universally recognized his talent, boundless energy and lust for life, but it quickly became clear that he was also battling demons that had been lingering since adolescence: Irish-Catholic guilt; addictive personality; the self-imposed pressure to please everyone around him, especially his father, who was extremely loving but also an obese alcoholic, enabling his son's issues with alcohol. During the course of the ten years leading up to his death, Farley was in and out of various rehabilitation centers, at one point staying clean for three years. But he was unable to overcome his problems and died of an overdose in December 1997. The editors deserve credit foreliciting such heartfelt remembrances (not all of it positive) from an impressive list of celebrities-Alec Baldwin, John Goodman, Lorne Michaels, Conan O'Brien, Chris Rock, David Spade, Kevin Nealon, Rob Lowe, Al Franken, Penelope Spheeris and many more-but readers should also pay close attention to Farley's family and friends, who get right to the heart of this flawed but humble, remarkably compassionate and enormously talented performer. Essential for Farley and SNL fans, and a sterling example of oral biography-well-structured, consistently engaging and simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616804589
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/6/2008
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Tom Farley, Jr., Chris’s older brother, is president and managing director of the Chris Farley Foundation, which educates young people about substance abuse and addiction.
Tanner Colby is former head writer of the National Lampoon Radio Hour, and coauthor of Belushi: A Biography. He lives in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt


Irish brothers share one of the strangest relationships on earth. We fight like hell among ourselves on a daily basis, but one word or action against one brother brings the wrath of God down upon you from the others. That was Chris and me. We were always competing, whether it was driveway basketball, touch football, or Monopoly. Most of the time, these games would end in a brawl. Nothing bloody, mind you. Drawing blood would bring the fury of Mom or Dad down on all of us. No, most of the time we'd strike a few blows and then run like hell. And let me tell you, nothing was more terrifying than being chased through the neighborhood by a crazy, mad Irish sibling who outweighed you by twenty-five pounds and had a brick in his hand!

But rare was the time that I wouldn't come running if Chris was in trouble. I was the older brother; that was my job. And, Chris being Chris, it was a job that put me in harm's way more times than I would have liked. One such time, when I was in eighth grade and Chris was in sixth, he got into a fight with a classmate. He tackled the kid and threw him to the ground, landing on top of him and breaking his collarbone. Word got around school that the kid's seventh-grade brother was gunning for Chris. Naturally, I had to step in. I put the word out that the brother would have to go through me first. I found out later that day that the kid's brother was named Rocky. No shit: Rocky! The guy was massive (a future all-city lineman in high school, no less). No fight ensued, but I did learn that I possessed a real gift of what the Irish call "the gab." I talked my way out of it. It was my only defense, without which Chris would have certainly got me killed several times over. Life with Chris was exciting; he brought drama and danger into our lives. But no matter what he put you through, he could always just give you a look and make you laugh. Biy, did he make us laugh.

We always loved to tell "Chris stories." I've heard them from friends, relatives, teachers, coaches—even priests and nuns. You could be the funniest guy in the room just by describing some of the stuff Chris did. For every hilarious thing he did on camera, there were twenty things he did offscreen that just blew it away. He lived to make others laugh, and he was fearless about it. In the years since Chris passed away, there have been countless times when Chris's buddied would find themselves huddled together, sharing these crazy stories. At one time, I even thought that a collection of those stories would make a fantastic book. I still do. But I now believe that those funny stories would not paint the right picture of who this kid was. Chris had far too much depth and way too much pain. We all enjoyed Chris so much, and it's hard to put those things into words.

I began this project by listing all the people who either knew Chris the best or were there at the important moments in his life. I spoke to most of them and gave them assurances that this was a project that our family was behind all the way. I wanted them to be open and honest about their memories, opinions, and feelings about what part of what, for most, was an unforgettable relationship. I'm not sure I was totally prepared for the story that Tanner and I ended up with. The funny stories and outrageous moments are definitely in there, but what emerged was this amazing picture of the multifaceted character traits that Chris possessed. He was hilarious, yes, but he was also a very religious, very caring—and very troubled and addicted person. It's a sad story, no question about it. But it's Chris.

Soon after Chris died, I told my wife that my greatest fear was being sixty years old and trying hard to remember this kid who was my brother. I guess anyone who's lost somebody close can say that. Being able to watch the fun movies and video clips only gets you so far; it's not the full picture. I'm pleased that this book will be something I can pick up when I'm older, remember Chris and his wild life, and be once more amazed that I had such an unbelievable person in my life.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Tom Farley, Jr. Farley, Tom, Jr.

Act I

Ch. 1 A Motivated Speaker 3

Ch. 2 Madison, Wisconsin 11

Ch. 3 An Epiphany 36

Ch. 4 Attacking the Stage 56

Ch. 5 Whale Boy 73

Ch. 6 Super Fan 98

Ch. 7 The Place in Alabama 118

Act II

Ch. 8 A Friendly Visitor 145

Ch. 9 The Magic Sixty-six 171

Ch. 10 The Lost Boys 191

Ch. 11 The Polar Bear Pit 212


Ch. 12 Raising the White Flag 239

Ch. 13 The Devil in the Closet 261

Ch. 14 Fatty Falls Down 290

Ch. 15 The Parting Glass 311

Epilogue 327

Acknowledgments 331

Note on Sources and Method 335

The -ographies 337

Index 343

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 22 )
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  • Posted April 30, 2010

    If You Liked Tommy Boy....

    The Chris Farley Show, a Biography in Three Acts, is an all around great book, and I don't like reading. It's one of the few books that have actually had the ability to make me laugh out loud while reading it. It manages to make you laugh, cry, pity, and admire this comedic clown. If you were ever a fan of Chris's movies, then you will love to read the whole story.
    The biography has been put together by Chris's brother, Tom Farley, and Tanner Colby, writer of the John Belushi biography. These two guys went around to all of Chris's friends and got their own stories about him when they knew him to put in the story. This is what makes the book so easy and enjoyable to read. It's a bunch of short stories told by people such as: Adam Sandler, David Spade, Lorne Michaels, Norm McDonald, Conan O'Brien, and Alec Baldwin. These are some real funny people and when they tell a story, you feel like they're right there talking to you.
    The Chris Farley Show tells about all the aspects of Chris and his life. Everyone knows how he was in his movies: fun, outgoing, bashful, loud, boisterous, good-hearted, family guy and he was all these things. Then you learn about his darker side, his addiction to alcohol, drugs, and even food. His friends and family all tell stories about how wonderful Chris was, how he cared for everyone he met, and also how horrible they all felt every time he "fell off the wagon". Along with all that you also get to hear about Chris's life before fame. Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, he had become quite a popular character in his neighborhood and people recognized his potential for fame.
    The only down side to this story is that the world already knows the end. Every time Chris goes to rehab or tries to get help, you'll think to yourself, "Maybe this time he'll get better". Part of what makes this book so interesting to read is the fact that if makes you think that by reading the book history will change. Knowing the whole story of this man really opens your eyes to who he was.
    All Chris ever wanted to do was make people laugh. He dedicated his life to doing that one thing. This book summarizes his up-bringing, career, and eventually downfall. After you have you will feel that you were one of Farley's friends. You'll wish you could have been a part of his life; that you could be one of the characters who helped write this book. I highly recommend giving it a read and you'll never watch Tommy Boy or Black sheep the same way again.

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