Chris Farley: Too Much of Everything

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CHICAGO: Let's not take the easy way, which is this: Chris Farley wanted to be John Belushi, and that's why he's dead. Let's say instead that Chris Farley, the funniest fat guy ever to cross a stage or a movie set in a long, long time, is dead of a heart attack at 33 because he was troubled. Manic. Still the fat little kid that no girl would look at, even once he was rich, famous and still on the rise with a $6 million price tag. Or, Chris Farley is dead at 33 probably because for the last five or ten years he has been inhaling massive quantities of drugs, beer, liquor, food, and the unquestioning laughter of audiences both public and private. Because he was never full.

To hear him tell it, maybe wisely and sincerely, maybe in a 'we both now I'll never change' Robert Downey Jr. kind of way, Farley was catching on that maybe there was a point at which to stop idolizing Belushi. "Although I love this kind of comedy, sometimes I feel trapped by always having to be the most outrageous guy in the room," Farley said in 1996. "In particular, I'm working on trying not to be that guy in my private life."

Belushi was that guy. Farley grew up on Belushi, remembers what bar he was in when he heard Belushi died (his first thought, he says, was that he wanted to play him in the movie), walked around the SNL hallways with one eyebrow taped up on his forehead (Belushi's quizzical pirate). On stage, Farley got started doing what were essentially Belushi impressions (until sometime around Matt Foley, motivational speaker, when he finally became Chris Farley, and got into movies).

The early word is that Chris Farley died of a heart attack. The leap to a cause is easy. But what if we say we don't care why he died? (We do.) Then what if he was really on the verge of pulling out of the spin? He had been talking about doing the Fatty Arbuckle story, from a script that David Mamet wrote just for him. A movie movie. In which he would neither crush furniture with his cascading body nor walk into a glass door and then rub his head until his hair stuck out all over. He would not be playing a fat white ninja. He called the Arbuckle idea "a departure from what I've previously done."

That, a departure, was clearly needed. A swerving before the crash. Too late. Man, that guy was funny.