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How Did Chris Farley Die? Inside the Comedian’s Final Days

Elisabeth Edwards
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / smokeandmirrors / MovieStillsDB

Celebrated comedian Chris Farley was behind some of the most iconic Saturday Night Live (SNL) sketches and comedy movies of the 1990s. It was clear Farley had a knack for making people laugh, but behind the self-deprecating humor and larger-than-life personality, Farley was struggling with something nearly everyone must face: wanting to feel loved.

He was such a brilliant comedian with a promising future, and his life ended at just 33 years old. So how did Chris Farley die? Here’s the heartbreaking story of Farley’s final days.

Farley was made to make people laugh

Christopher Crosby Farley was born on February 15, 1964, in Madison, Wisconsin. Farley loved to make people laugh from a young age, especially as the class clown in his Catholic grade school. He later studied theater and communications at Marquette University before joining the Ark Improv theater group and the Improv Olympic Theater in Chicago.

There, he was mentored by Del Close, a famed acting coach who also taught one of Farley’s biggest inspirations, John Belushi. Farley then started performing his comedy at Second City in Chicago, on the same day that late-night TV host Stephen Colbert started.

Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and David Spade

Chris Farley, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, and David Spade in 1997. (Photo Credit: Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic, Inc / Getty Images)

Before long, Farley was discovered by SNL creator Lorne Micheals and recruited to join a growing cast of other up-and-coming comedians including Adam Sandler, David Spade, and Chris Rock. Farley skyrocketed to fame after his SNL debut in 1990. This was thanks to his bodacious stage presence and hilariously awkward recurring bits alongside his signature physical and self-deprecating brand of comedy.

After his rise to fame on late-night TV, Farley began starring in a number of comedy films like Beverly Hills Ninja, Tommy Boy, Coneheads, and Wayne’s World, often alongside other SNL cast members like his close friend David Spade and comedy legends like Mike Myers. Unfortunately, as his fame grew so did an addiction to drugs and alcohol that would overtake Farley’s life.

Fame led to Farley’s demise

One of Farley’s most iconic SNL sketches that cemented his stardom left many of his friends and castmates wondering if being body shamed over and over on national TV was harmful to Farley’s wellbeing. The “Chippendales Audition” sketch with Patrick Swayze, where Farley danced shirtless beside the Dirty Dancing actor, was a huge success but the SNL cast didn’t see the 1990 sketch as funny.

Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley shirtless in front of a "Chippendales" sign

Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley in the SNL ‘Chippendales’ sketch. (Photo Credit: NBC / CaptainOT / MovieStillsDB)

“‘Chippendales’ was a weird sketch. I always hated it,” shared Farley’s friend and castmate Chris Rock. “The joke of it is basically, ‘We can’t hire you because you’re fat.’ I mean, he’s a fat guy, and you’re going to ask him to dance with no shirt on… You’re gonna get that laugh, but when he stops dancing you have to turn it in his favor.”

Rock continued to explain why the sketch was harmful to Farley: “A more mentally together Chris Farley wouldn’t have done it, but Chris wanted so much to be liked. That was a weird moment in Chris’s life. As funny as that sketch was, and as many accolades as he got for it, it’s one of the things that killed him… Something happened right then.”

Spiraling into addiction

After four seasons on SNL, Farley retired to pursue his acting career in Hollywood full-time. He struggled to find his place in Hollywood and desperately wanted to feel loved and admired by fans, friends, and coworkers.

In a raw and candid interview with Rolling Stone, Farley shared how he felt about searching for love. “This notion of love is something that would be a wonderful thing. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it, other than the love of my family,” he said. “At this point, it’s something beyond my grasp. But I can imagine it, and longing for it makes me sad.”

Chris Farley in 'Tommy Boy'

Farley in Tommy Boy. (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / lokid / MovieStillsDB)

For most of his adult life, Farley battled with alcohol and drug addiction, but by the late 1990s it was clear his health was in decline. His addiction often led to unruly and out-of-control behavior, which resulted in repeated suspensions from filming SNL. Farley was in and out of rehab many times, and the effects of his drug and alcohol addictions were worsened by overeating. His deep longing to find love and acceptance in the spotlight is what ultimately led to his death.

In 1997, Farley made a guest appearance on Nickelodeon’s kid’s comedy show All That. Performing alongside future SNL cast member Kenan Thompson, concerns over Farley’s health emerged after he was noticeably struggling to perform his usual stunt comedy without wheezing and straining. Around this time it was also reported that Farley’s drug habits evolved into much more dangerous addictions including heroin and cocaine.

Chris Farley with swords in Beverly Hills Ninja

Chris Farley as Haru in Beverly Hills Ninja, 1997. (Photo Credit: Sony Pictures / Columbia Pictures / TriStar Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Farley spoke up about feeling pressured to be the funny man at the center of attention even when the cameras stopped rolling. Both his manager and his friend David Spade gave interviews expressing their concerns for Farley’s health.

Farley’s final days

On October 25, 1997, Farley made his final SNL appearance – this time as a host. The episode addressed Farley’s trouble with addiction and frequent outbursts, starting off with a cold open featuring Lorne Michaels as he’s contemplating Farley’s ability to be a good host. SNL actor Tim Meadows chimed in, saying “he will be calm, he will be focused, and he will be good… His party days are over.” Chevy Chase, another friend of Farley’s, acted as his “sponsor” in the sketch.

Chris Farley makes a strange pose on the red carpet

Chris Farley attends the Addicted to Love premiere in 1997. (Photo Credit: SGranitz / WireImage / Getty Images)

Unfortunately, Farley’s performance was not calm, focused, or good. He was clearly exhausted and his vocal cords were strained, making his voice barely recognizable and prompting the show’s producers to consider canceling his appearance. After the troubling experience for cast and crew, it was decided that the episode would be pulled from SNL‘s general circulation and syndication.

How did Chris Farley die?

Around 2 am on December 14, 1997, Farley was reportedly seen in a club called Karma participating in what many have called a four-day binge of drugs and alcohol. The next night, he was spotted at a party at Second City comedy club before being seen at a pub crawl. On the 16th, Farley allegedly spent time with a $300-per-hour call girl, who later claimed the actor was more interested in her giving him cocaine than anything else.

Chris Farley with sunglasses on

Chris Farley in Toronto, Canada in 1996. (Photo Credit: George Pimentel / WireImage / Getty Images)

On December 18, 1997, Farley was found dead in his Chicago apartment wearing only pajama bottoms. He was 33. An autopsy revealed that Farley died from a drug overdose after taking a “speedball,” or a mixture of cocaine and morphine. Severe damage to his arteries also suggested that his addiction and poor eating habits had taken a massive toll on his physical health, which likely contributed to his death.

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Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast

linkedin.com/in/elisabethcedwards