Though Chris Farley died 18 years ago, his outsized physical comedy skills seem greater with each passing year because nobody has come along to eclipse him. I Am Chris Farley, a documentary on the life of the standout comic actor airs tonight on Spike TV, and the timing reminded of a story told to me by Michael Ewing, who partners with Pete Segal in Callahan FilmWorks. They made what for my money was Farley’s best feature film, Tommy Boy and … aw, hell, why not let Ewing tell it?
“When we reached the tenth anniversary of Tommy Boy, we put out a special edition that turned out to be a huge seller for the studio, and Pete and I thought, “Why doesn’t Chris have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?” I called the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the people in charge of bestowing stars, and told them what we were trying to do. They said, ‘We’re so sorry, we can’t put Chris on the Walk of Fame.’ I couldn’t believe it and asked why. ‘Well, it was the way he died, the overdose, the drugs and alcohol. We can’t have that be an example to young people when they walk past the Walk of Fame.’
Ewing was stunned. “I said, are you kidding? If you are going to make judgmental calls on the lives of the people who have stars on that street, you’re going to have to rip up the whole sidewalk.’ I hung up, completely angry and depressed.” He mentioned how troubled he was to Allison Jackson, who was Paramount’s head of special projects at the time. “She said, give me a moment, and she went right to the honorary Mayor of Hollywood, who soon called the Chamber of Commerce and straightened them out. Suddenly, Farley not only had his star, but it was placed right in front of the Improv, where Farley took the stage many times. His whole family came, his mother spoke, Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and David Spade all came out. It was an incredible day.”
Ewing acknowledges that Farley’s excesses always will be part of his legacy but said being in his orbit was a unique experience — and that one of the reasons Farley connected so strongly to so many people was “that he had a way of displaying vulnerability that made everybody who saw him connect with some vulnerability in themselves. Chris was overweight; he made fun of it, but there was a certain sadness in him about that, and it came through. When we made Tommy Boy, Chris was on the wagon, for the whole movie and he really tried. I was lucky enough to have spent a lot of time with him and took him to his AA meeting, and to the priest who counseled him daily in Toronto when we were shooting. He signed a poster for me when it was all over. I didn’t look at it until it was framed and hung in my office. It said, ‘Dear Michael, Please don’t give up on me.’