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 for eliciting 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.