Chris Farley: The Tragic Death of the "Saturday Night Live" Icon

Herbie J Pilato

Beloved actor/comedian Chris Farley, best known for his work on TV's Saturday Night Live, had everything to live but died too soon.

According to, "Chances are that if you were around in the ‘90s and watched Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live or in his films, you absolutely loved him. He was a comedic force — a whirlwind of endless energy hollering and doing pratfalls on stage as Matt Foley, the inspirational speaker who lived in a van down by the river — but also an actor able to convey endearing vulnerability, most notably in his hit film Tommy Boy."

Frequent co-star and SNL veteran Adam Sandler called him “the funniest man I ever knew.”

As chronicles, on Saturday Night Live, breaking character "is a complicated thing." For example, back when Jimmy Fallon was an SNL cast member, for instance, he cracked up on camera so often that it became a nuisance to both the audience and his fellow cast members. Tracy Morgan described Fallon's schtick as 'taking all the attention off of everybody else and putting it on you, like, 'Oh, look at me, I'm the cute one.' Morgan apparently forbade Fallon from breaking in any of his sketches — "I told him not to do my sketches, so he never did' — which seems to imply that Fallon's laughter was more of a calculated act than he might've wanted us to think." 

According to, "along with Chris Rock, Farley was one of the new Saturday Night Live cast members announced in early 1990. On SNL, Farley frequently collaborated with fellow cast members Rock, Sandler, Tim Meadows, Rob Schneider, and David Spade, among others. This group came to be known as the "Bad Boys of SNL."

"Popular characters performed by Farley included Matt Foley, an over-the-top motivational speaker who frequently reminded other characters that he was "living in a van down by the river!" The character was created by Bob Odenkirk when he and Farley were performers at Second City. The character's name came from a longtime friend of Farley's who became a Catholic priest and currently serves as head pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. In early renditions of the character, Farley used other names, depending on whom he knew in the audience until the real-life Foley went to the show and had his name used, at which point Farley felt the name best suited the character and refused to change it. Some of the mannerisms of the character were a combination of the positions Farley noticed his rugby teammates took on the pitch coupled with his high school football coach's habit of squatting down when giving pep talks and the voice his father used when he was angry."

As further documents, "other famous Farley characters included Todd O'Connor of Bill Swerski's Superfans, a group of stereotypical Chicagoans who repeatedly shouted "da Bears!"; a would-be Chippendales dancer, in a famous sketch that paired him with guest host Patrick Swayze; one of the 'Gap Girls,' who worked together at a local mall; a stereotypical lunch lady, to the theme of 'Lunchlady Land' performed by Adam Sandler; Bennett Brauer, a Weekend Update commentator who often divulged his personal and hygienic problems via air quotes; and himself on The Chris Farley Show, a talk show in which Farley 'interviewed' the guest with poorly conceived questions or trailed off about subjects not germane to the guest."

Sadly, behind all the smiles, and as BuzzFeed documents, "Farley struggled with drug and alcohol dependency and went to rehab a number of times. Fans nevertheless were shocked to learn on Dec. 18, 1997, that his brother John found him dead in his apartment from an overdose of cocaine and morphine. He was just 33."

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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