Farley, His Father, Being Funny, and the Facade
August 14, 2011 Leave a comment
This post isn’t necessarily timely to any current news, except that I read The Chris Farley Show, a 2008 biography on the beloved late comedian by his brother, Tom Farley Jr., and Tanner Colby. From nearly every eyewitness account in the book, the first act of Chris’ life goes like this: he had every material advantage, but his father preferred the false strength of silence to truly caring for his son. This created massive holes in Chris’ young life that he quickly used comedy, and later alcohol and drugs, to fulfill.
Tom Farley, Sr., by accounts from his own children, was a man addicted to appearance, food, and alcohol. His son Chris soon followed, except that he used humor to cover his own fears about his stocky build. As Chris grew up, he learned that laughs could gain him everything he wanted: lasting friendships, barroom memories, pick-up lines with women, and even his father’s approval. As his brother Kevin says on p. 19, “What was most important to Chris, really, was that he made people laugh.”
What followed is well-chronicled. Chris became another cliche: the troubled actor who couldn’t curtail his drug-fueled steamroll to death. He died of a cocaine and morphine overdose and a massive heart attack, probably weighing at the time over four hundred pounds. He was thirty-three.
Reading such a book might lead us to despair. “What can we gain from all this destruction?” Much, in the way of warnings:
1. Being Fake Can Be Fatal. From the beginning, the Farley family was conditioned to avoid, cover up, and joke about their own very real problems.
…And when Chris almost went out the window, . . . We acknowledged that Chris had a problem. Except for Dad. He would never even mention the incident. And of course there was no discussion that Dad’s drinking might be a problem. Never. [p.129, Kevin Farley]
In Chris’ case that aversion to dealing with matters openly would be even more multiplied, because if Chris had an eating and a drinking problem, that would mean somebody else in the room (his father) had an eating and a drinking problem. [p.130, Father Matt Foley]
2. Idols Come Back to Kill. The Farleys were raised to avoid and cover up their problems, but within thirteen months both Chris and his father died early deaths from alcoholism and overeating:
We lived in a make-believe world. We were living with the elephant in the room – the literal elephant in the room – that no one wanted to talk about. My dad weighed six hundred pounds by the time he died. But Dad wasn’t overweight. Dad didn’t drink too much. Dad was just Dad. [p.34, Tom Farley]
But time would tell the truth:
The Farleys had this image they projected. . . They would do a lot of different things to cover their problems up. But when you look at the family now, you can see how much of a facade it all was. [p.34, Robert Barry]
3. A Father Really Does Matter. In many ways, everything Chris did was to please his father. But, as the earlier quotes show, this father had all the wrong goals for his son.
You cannot understand Chris Farley without grappling with the relationship between him and his father. That was the dominant force in his life. He talked to his father every day on the phone, and was constantly trying to please him. [p.279, Father Tom Gannon]
4. Your Sins Are Still Yours. Ultimately, Chris Farley is responsible for what Chris Farley did.
You can’t blame your circumstances, and after a certain point you can’t even blame your father. You can’t blame him; you have to have compassion for him. It all comes down to you, and you’ve got to be a man about it. [p.282, Tom Arnold]
As Ecclesiastes 12:14 says,
For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
5. You Can’t Build Your Life on People. Chris lived to make his dad happy and to make others laugh, but in the end it left him lonely, helpless, and suicidal.
The first people we know as God are our parents. And if you don’t get approval from your parents, eventually you can mature and find that from other places. But Chris was never able to do that. He was never able to find it from God or anyone else. [p. 279, Tim O’Malley]
And there’s the lesson most worth learning: when you trust in anyone other than Jesus for your approval, your life will forever be ruined.