Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Chris Farley - 15 Years Ago

Fifteen years ago today, Chris Farley died.

His death was the result of an accidental drug overdose, along with coronary atherosclerosis. It was the result of a lifestyle of celebrity excess, although one certainly can choose a life of substance abuse and excess without being rich and famous.

There are plenty of stories of Farley's recklessness and how he lived life on the edge. His abuse of drugs and alcohol is well-documented.

But there still was a certain sweetness about him. He projected that Midwestern unpretentiousness. He was so likable; make that lovable.

He was a Wisconsin boy, grew up in a Catholic family, and was a Marquette graduate. He was a Packers fan.

(Photo/Wisconsin Historical Society)

There were traces of Farley's Wisconsin background in his work. He named one of his characters, motivational speaker Matt Foley, after his Marquette rugby teammate, now a Catholic priest. (I'm quite sure that the real Matt Foley doesn't live in a van down by the river.) He wore his Marquette rugby jacket in his movie Tommy Boy.

Even after Farley achieved success, he went to Mass regularly. In many ways, he lived his faith.

I couldn't relate to the excess, but I could relate to him. I knew where he came from. He was one of us.

It's so hard to believe it's been fifteen years.


Read: "Remembering a brother," May 3, 2008

Chris Farley had his faults and weaknesses, but he was a good person. He showed great compassion for those less fortunate.

A story in Tom Farley's book about his brother, The Chris Farley Show, illustrates the care and kindness displayed by Chris.

The New York story [Tom Farley] hadn't heard before is one of the book's most moving: an account by a nun, Sister Peggy McGirl, of Chris' friendship with a 70-year-old homeless man named Willie.

Tom knew that Chris, a devout Catholic, had quietly visited and entertained elderly people served by his Manhattan church, St. Malachy's. What he learned from McGirl was that his brother's relationship with Willie transcended mere volunteer work.

"Chris took Willie out to dinner every week," McGirl says in the book. "Chris treated him as an equal, always. He would take him to Broadway shows, take him out to ball games.

"Whenever he had to go away for work, he'd send Willie postcards, and whenever he came back he always brought Willie a souvenir. They were friends for over five years (until Farley died)."
In some ways, Chris Farley was a terrible role model.

In other ways, he was the best.

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