Chris Farley’s brother recalls growing up with comic legend, shares how family healed after tragic death
Late comic Chris Farley is the subject of a new "Biography" documentary on A&E. (Steve Granitz Archive 1/WireImage/Getty)
Kevin Farley, the younger brother of late comic Chris Farley, has come forward to share his bittersweet memories about the “Saturday Night Live” legend.
“A&E approached us about making a documentary,” the 53-year-old told Fox News. “And we thought it was a good thing. We’re very touched that people are still talking about Chris 22 years after his passing. It’s just nice to know that.”
A&E is premiering three new documentaries as part of its award-winning “Biography" series exploring the lives and careers of Farley, as well as Jeff Dunham and Jeff Foxworthy.
Airing on Monday, May 27 is the story of Farley, which will highlight rare, personal photos and videos, as well as new interviews with John Goodman, Al Franken, Tom Arnold and Kevin Nealon, just to name a few. All three of Farley’s brothers shared their candid stories on camera.
Farley, the bumbling comic who erupted in vein-popping frenzies during sweat-inducing skits and sketches, was found dead in his Chicago apartment at age 33 in 1997 from a drug overdose. Police said Farley’s brother John called 911 after discovering his sibling’s body in the front room of his home.
“I think it was a struggle for him,” admitted Kevin about his brother coping with fame in Hollywood, all while staying funny at all hours. “But he did the best that he could. He rose to fame very quickly. And I think with that came a lot of pressures that he wasn’t really prepared for. But he did the best that he could. He actually fought very hard.”
“He had dreams,” continued Kevin. “He really enjoyed his work and he enjoyed his life. But addictions can play tricks with your brain and your self-esteem. I think that’s what he struggled with.”
Actor Kevin Farley in 2015. (Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty)
Farley, who embodied the same blubbery, yet lovable slob in films like “Tommy Boy" and “Black Sheep” once admitted in 1996 that maintaining that persona was a daunting experience.
“Although I love this kind of comedy, sometimes I feel trapped by always having to be the most outrageous guy in the room,” said Farley at the time. “In particular, I’m working on trying not to be that guy in my private life.”
In an interview with Steppin’ Out magazine, which came sometime before Farley’s death, his frequent co-star David Spade said he was worried about the 290-pound, size-54 comic.
“He’s my friend and I’m just concerned,” said the now-54-year-old. “He needs to watch his weight, he drinks too much coffee, he smokes.”
Christian Slater (right) with "Saturday Night Live" cast members Chris Farley (left) and Chris Rock (center). — Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
Like his idol, late “SNL” icon John Belushi, Farley had a hearty appetite for food, drink and drugs. Belushi also died of a drug overdose in 1982 at age 33.
“You know growing up, the family sensed that there was something different or wrong,” Kevin reflected about Farley’s addictions. “All of us, family and friends included, tried to help. And I think that’s the way it goes with a lot of addictions these days. When you’re isolated, it’s never a good thing. You have to reach out to people around you, family and friends, for help. I think that’s what we tried to do. And I would suggest that to anybody who knows somebody who’s struggling.”
In the documentary, it was acknowledged that Farley looked up to Belushi. In fact, several of Farley’s characters on the NBC show were inspired by the “Animal House” star. But Kevin insisted there was one special reason why Farley greatly admired Belushi over the years.
John Belushi publicity portrait for the film "Animal House" in 1978. (Getty)
“John Belushi represented a bigger guy who can move pretty well,” said Kevin. “Dance really well. Chris identified with that. Because Chris could dance really well. Chris could move his body really well… He admired that — the movement of John Belushi. And his physical comedy.”
Kevin said that, as children growing up in Wisconsin, he knew Farley had a gift to make people laugh.
“It was kind of like having the Tasmanian Devil in your basement,” Kevin joked. “A lot of people don’t know this, but he was very shy. He was just very kind to everyone. That’s a side a lot of people don’t know about him. But that’s the one I remember most.”
Chris Farley in Toronto, Canada. — George Pimentel/WireImage/Getty
Still, Kevin admitted that their parents were worried about their son’s goals.
“They were nervous,” he shared. “My dad was a businessman and he made his living in business. That was a safer endeavor to go into. He didn’t think too much about show business or comedy. I think my parents were nervous, but they were always supportive. [And] it was a very exciting and surreal moment to see our brother on television… We all knew he would make an impact on ‘Saturday Night Life.’ And he did.”
Farley, a 1986 graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee, performed with Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe before joining the cast of “Saturday Night Live” for the 1990 season. He remained there until 1995.
Kevin said that as Farley’s fame grew, he remained devoted to his family.
(L-R) Actor/comedians Tom Arnold and Chris Farley. (Milan Ryba/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
“He moved to Chicago to be closer to my mother and father, who was in Madison, Wisconsin,” he explained. “Family was always important to him. He wished to start his own family one day. Family always remained a big part of his life.”
The pain of losing the larger-than-life personality that Farley’s loved ones endured behind closed doors was one like no other. Still, they relied on each other for support.
“We all gathered as a family and got through it as a family, you know?” said Farley. “Family helps. We were all there for each other.”
Kevin said he is grateful for the opportunity to relive some of his favorite memories involving Farley and their upbringing in Wisconsin to shed new light on Farley’s brief life. Ultimately, Kevin wants people to remember Farley as he knew and loved him.
Chris Farley and his date at the Mann's Village Theatre in Westwood, Calif. (Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty)
“I just want to remind people he was one of funniest guys that ever lived,” he said. “He was a kind person. That’s what I think his legacy will be.”
“Biography: Chris Farley — Anything for a Laugh” airs Monday, May 27 at 9 p.m. on A&E. The Associated Press contributed to this report.