"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 off-screen that just blew it away. He lived to make others laugh, and he was fearless about it." - Tom Farley, "The Chris Farley Show - A Biography In Three Acts"
Before Chris Farley was Matt Foley, or Tommy Boy, or a wannabe Chippendale's dancer, he was a very funny and talented Chris Farley.
The Chris I knew at Marquette University during the early 1980s was all of those characters, and more. We lived five doors apart on the same dorm floor sophomore year. His reputation, even then, preceded him when he joined us in Eight South.
The impression left by Chris on the "Saturday Night Live" landscape is matched by only a handful of the more than 120 cast members who have appeared as regulars on the show.
Chris wanted to be John Belushi.
The lives of Chris and Belushi paralleled in many ways. They shared professional roots on the Chicago improv comedy scene at Second City. They both got their big break as unheralded cast members on SNL. They both invented characters and gave us moments that have transcended generations. They both enjoyed successful movie careers after leaving the late night. They both died of drug overdoses at age 33.
Chris would have been 51 this past Friday.
"I want to live fast and die young," Chris said at least once.
The Chris who lived in Schroeder Hall at Marquette University with me showed glimpses of all the characters he brought to life on the small and big screens.
In those days, many of us wanted to be John Blutarsky, having come of age watching "Animal House" well before our 17th birthdays.
Chris came as close to a real-life "Bluto" as anyone.
The Chris Farley you got to know on TV or in the movies was not much different than the real-life Chris who lived in room 815.
We all have Chris stories, many of which were experienced first-hand amid the haze of unbelievably cheap beer and other controlled substances. Our campus was within walking distance of one brewery, and a 35-block bus ride from another.
Many of these memories have faded over time, if they were ever really what we saw in the first place.
Chris was "always on," whether he was in class, hanging out in the dorm, or at a party. He was extremely athletic, despite his size. He used to win kisses by betting any girl who would listen that he could do a hand-stand.
He always cashed in.
John Feehery was my roommate that year. John is currently the President of Quinn Gillespie Communications and Director of QGA Government Affairs in Washington. He likes to call himself a "Republican pundit." John serves as a regular guest on MSNBC, and was the spokesman for then-Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert [R-Ill.] .
John's real claim to fame, however, is that he was the first person to "out me" by putting my real name next to The OBF Column with this humbling piece from 2013.
It was always there on Google, no matter what you read elsewhere.
Barry Calpino, who lived across the hall, is now a big cheese at Kraft foods. More specifically, he's their vice president of product innovation.
They recalled a few gems to add to Chris' Marquette repertoire:
- Dancing on the top of a beer truck with his pants off.
- Interrupting [John's] French literature class and abusing the poor teacher.
- Running through a big plate glass window at the student union late at night.
- Being the pioneer-innovator behind a rugby club drinking game called "butt quarters" - which requires no additional explanation.
And one from John's post-Marquette days.
"I met him when he came to the Hill during the 'Contract with America' [in 1994]. He did a whole sketch where he played Newt [Gingrich]. The sketch was funny. He had no idea who I was. He might have been drunk."
The real-life Matt Foley was a Jesuit priest at Marquette who remained close to Chris for the rest of his all-too-brief life. Matt's youngest brother, Patrick, was my roommate freshman year. I met Matt the day I moved into my dorm.
He told me to be careful, too. Neither one of us listened.
And in case you were wondering, the real Matt Foley never lived in "van down by the river."
Chris was always funny. He didn't have to try, or so it seemed. We have learned since he died he was always trying. Chris wanted to be liked. He was constantly doing whatever it took to get noticed, get laughs, and be the center of attention.
Much has been written about his life, rise, and fall. The book written by his brother Tom, cited above, is the definitive source. If you're interested in Chris' biography, it is an essential read.
Nothing about Chris, including his death, came as a surprise after we parted ways in college. When Chris was named to the SNL cast, on the same day as Chris Rock, I chuckled. I knew he had been doing comedy somewhere. I knew he was funny as hell. He did not disappoint.
One Saturday night near deadline at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, I looked up at the TV and saw Chris dancing topless next to Patrick Swayze. I turned to anyone within earshot and said, "I knew that guy in college."
And I had seen it before.
When Chris finally lost his battle with drugs, fame and his other demons, there was little shock. Just sadness and disappointment. His passing in 1997 brought all the surprise of another AFC East title in Foxborough.
Like any soon-to-be 40-year-old, perhaps "Saturday Night Live" has already seen its best days. It has introduced the world to so much terrific talent. It has been a TV staple since its first episode aired a few hours after Game 1 of the 1975 World Series.
On the same channel, too.
[UPDATE: Chris received a few mentions during Sunday night's 40th anniversary show. Melissa McCarthy did an embarrassingly [for her] tepid and unfunny impression of Matt Foley - complete with a dive on the Weekend Update desk.]
One or two highlights did not do his talent justice. Nor did they tell his story.
Chris was of Midwestern, Irish, Roman-Catholic roots. He was serious about his faith and was in constant struggle with what it took to be a good person. Often, his antics left behind much damage. One weekend - I was out of town - something happened that left one of the walls in our lounge in ruins. The bill was going to be around $800. It soon became clear who did what. It was, no surprise, Chris. We observed a loose code of omerta, so no one was going to rat on the culprit. We were each looking at a bill of about $25.
A few of us went to Chris and explained the situation. We assured him he was safe in terms of being called out, but also explained to him how it was unfair for some kids who never did anything but study to have to be on the hook for his unscheduled remodeling.
He understood, took the blame, and paid the bill.
Rest in peace, Chris.
You'll keep making people laugh for as long we have YouTube and our ever-fading memories.
The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros. Bill is a 1986 graduate of Marquette University and once walked across Wisconsin Avenue with Doc Rivers. Reach Bill on Twitter @realOBF or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go Warriors!