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Chris Farley
Chris Farley on "Saturday Night Live" with David Spade and Christina Applegate, portraying his motivational speaker character who lived in a van down by the river.
Chris Farley on “Saturday Night Live” with David Spade and Christina Applegate, portraying his motivational speaker character who lived in a van down by the river.

Remember that time you saw Chris Farley doing the Saturday Night Live sketch where he interviews someone famous and says something like, “Remember when you were with the Beatles? Yeah, that was awesome.” It was awesome, wasn’t it?

Chris Farley as a young boy
Chris Farley as a young boy

And it’s pretty awesome that Farley was – in real life – a lot like the guy in that sketch. Hopefully, he didn’t beat up on himself quite that much, but he was reportedly often star-struck on the set of SNL.

In the new documentary, “I Am Chris Farley,” we learn through interviews with family members and other comedians and actors that he was as earnest, sweet, innocent, and generous of spirit as he came across. In the film, they call him “a gentleman.”

“He was nice to everybody,” Dan Ackroyd says. Farley is quoted as saying, “I want to be so famous that I can go into children’s hospitals and cheer kids up because they know who I am.” He didn’t say he wanted to buy mansions all over the world or a fleet of Lamborghinis or a private jet.

The problem, of course, is that this boy from Madison, Wisconsin rose to fame quickly, and perhaps it was too much for him. He did everything in excess, including his comedy. And that excess extended to substance abuse. He was in and out of rehab many, many times, and each occasion, he came out determined to beat the problem.

Chris Farley in a "Saturday Night Live" clip from "I Am Chris Farley."
Chris Farley in a “Saturday Night Live” clip from “I Am Chris Farley.”

Adam Sandler says in the film that everyone could always tell when Chris was using again, and they would be heartbroken every time to discover that he hadn’t beaten his addiction. When he died, none of them were surprised, but his death – now nearly 18 years later – still caused several of those interviewed to break down because he was so dearly loved and admired by his peers.

Farley’s penchant for excess is probably one of the reasons he was such a talent. As Lorne Michaels says in the documentary, “His commitment was total.” Others call him “unstoppable.” He was willing to leave it all on stage for a laugh, even if it meant taking his shirt off and baring his ample form next to the buff Patrick Swayze in the famous SNL Chippendale’s sketch. It’s chilling to watch that sketch now knowing that both men died so young.

Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley in the Chippendale's sketch on SNL.
Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley in the Chippendale’s sketch on SNL.

Those interviewed in the film include Bob Saget, Jon Lovitz, Bob Odenkirk, Tom Arnold, Molly Shannon, Will Sasso, and Mike Myers. In his interview, David Spade says that he thinks of Farley pretty much every day. Bo Derek recounts how kind he was to her on the set of “Tommy Boy.” The interviews with his family, such as actor/comedian brother Kevin Farley, are perhaps the most poignant.

These interviews are interspersed, of course, with some of our favorite clips of Chris’ comedy sketches, mostly from SNL, so you’ll laugh plenty despite the sadness of the story. This documentary by Brent Hodge and Derik Murray is a loving tribute to someone who left us too soon and had so much more to give.

“I Am Chris Farley” opens July 31, 2015.

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