I look back at the 90’s and I can remember the Berlin Wall falling, I can remember Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson sex scandals, LA Riots and OJ and MTV News covering them both, I remember homosexuality being talked about as much as AIDS prevention, and I remember music..glorious music. The 90’s drastically shaped our future generations, but the 90’s themselves were a ball of constantly rotating changes and to me, nothing exemplifies that more than Chris Farley.
The 90’s started out with a whimper in the US, on a Monday too, for that matter. Windows 3.0 came out, Time Warner
started, and the US went into a recession. Chris Farley also debuted on SNL along with Adam Sandler, David Spade, and others. Overweight, but clean cut, he had a knack for physical comedy. It was something refreshing, almost like our new decade. Later on in 1990, the US entered the Gulf War and things changed for the US. On September 11th, of that year, George Bush made a speech saying we’d use force to remove Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait. The war raged on until the middle of 1991.
The rest of 1991, then 1992 and 1993 saw grunge music explode onto the scene, the rise of gangsta rap in the mainstream, and Magic Johnson announced he had HIV. Our Presidents changed, our economy improved, and the technology industry seemed to be growing at an alarming rate. Chris Farley was also gaining some major attention on SNL and was being courted for upcoming movie deals. The SNL execs knew Farley was talented, so they put him in everything they could (including bit parts in movies), which seemed to only gain him further attention.
In 1994, the LA area was crippled by an earthquake. Kurt Cobain died and John Wayne Gacy was put to death. Chris Farley began filming Billy Madison with Adam Sandler. It was a rocketship start for both of their careers. Despite the loss of Kurt Cobain, grunge music still kept chugging out new artists as alternative music eclipsed the popularity of the hair metal bands of the 80’s.
In 1995, Chris Farley and Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison was a huge success and despite their popularity, SNL reportedly fired them both from the show. Chris also released Tommy Boy that year and it was the first starring role he’d had. Tommy Boy exploded instantly into 90’s movie pop culture and still has a loyal cult following to this day. Meanwhile in the US, a senate standoff forced a government shutdown, the Unibomber was terrorizing Americans, and Yahoo began.
Riding on the success of Tommy Boy, Farley filmed Black Sheep (again with co-star David Spade) and it was released in 1996. Farley had been noted in the media to be showing the symptoms of an alcohol or drug problem, but media wasn’t as pervasive as it is today, so it was largely dismissed. Chris shed his cleaner cut image, gained even more weight, and grew his hair longer. As movie deals poured in for “at guy” comedy roles, Chris yearned for something more substantial, but came up empty handed. America was also yearning for something more substantial as grunge music became too commercial, fashion was all over the board, and the internet had just become popular to an entire nation of computer crazed (and now confused) “users”.
Chris Farley’s “Black Sheep” was released. It didn’t fare well and Chris’s drug and alcohol problems worsened. Coincidentally, a stock market crash around the world happened at nearly the same time. On the lighter side, Steve Jobs returned to Apple and Titanic hit theaters. The US seemed to be in a funk. Chris Farley was also in a funk. In photographs and TV appearances, he seemed red faced and sweaty, sometimes out of control. His speaking voice had turned hoarse and raspy, and yet, he began filming Almost Heroes with Matthew Perry. Rehab stints didn’t work, and Chris died during filming and the film had to be retooled before it was released.
Chris’s death left the comedy world reeling and a gaping hole was left in the physical comedy arena. Chris is buried in Madison, Wisconsin. His friend Phil Hartman died in 1998 and the SNL world was rocked yet again. 1999 saw the Y2k scare, George Bush announcing he’d run for president like his father, and the start of the Napster lawsuit (damn you Metallica). All in all, the last to years of the 90’s were a lull..perhaps because we were all burned out from the constantly changing environment of the first 8 years. I’d imagine Chris was burned out too just before he died. He skyrocketed to fame, he’d rode the Hollywood rollercoaster and despite trying to always be himself, Hollywood changed him. In the end, he just couldn’t handle those changes.
I was 11 when the 90’s began and I was 21 when they ended. Along the way, I’d grown from a child to a young adult and I still had quite a ride in store over the next few years. Looking back, I can remember the many adventures I had and I can almost remember how it felt to be a part of such drastic changes in America. I can look back now and see that Chris Farley was almost as unprepared for the changes of the 90s as the rest of us were, we just grabbed on and hung on for the ride.
“I’m trying to grow up a little bit and be able to take off the red nose and floppy shoes when I need to.” -Chris Farley in a 1997 interview. Good advice for all of us.