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Comic Farley’s Antics Recalled in Eulogies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They gathered in a towering Santa Monica cathedral Monday, remembering Chris Farley less as the quixotic comic with a tragic, out-of-control lifestyle than a serious Catholic who quietly took his usual seat in the middle of their cavernous church.

For the parishioners at St. Monica’s, Christopher Crosby Farley was the Sunday regular who still wore a cross given to him as a boy by his mother, the one who still recalled the responses to all the prayers.

But then there was the other Chris Farley--the manic 300-pound Midwesterner who died last month after an accidental overdose of cocaine and morphine.

At age 33, Farley’s death came as a tragic ending to a promising career derailed by drugs, alcohol and excess.

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“Do I have an explanation for it?” asked Pastor Michael Rocha of St. Monica’s, a close friend of Farley’s. “I don’t. Other than this very jovial outgoing man had things in his life that were demons, demons that were almost uncontrollable for him.”

Just as the bighearted, boombox-voiced Farley would have wanted, the more than 300 friends, family and fans who packed the memorial service laughed as much as they cried, as they listened to eulogies by Rocha and actor Tom Arnold.

The lumbering comic actor, who gained recognition for his wild physical antics on “Saturday Night Live” as well as such movies as “Tommy Boy” and “Beverly Hills Ninja,” was found dead Dec. 18 in his Chicago apartment.

Farley’s life took the same course as his comic idol, comedian John Belushi, who was killed by a similar heroin and cocaine combination in 1982.

But little of Farley’s bingeing, and alcohol- and drug-laden lifestyle was apparent to the parishioners at St. Monica’s, where for the last six years Farley had sought refuge from the pressures and put-ons of the fast-lane entertainment world.

Fellow parishioners gave the often shy Farley room to be himself. But sometimes they couldn’t help trying to evoke a bit of the wild man they saw on screen.

Rocha recalled how he once watched Farley in a “Saturday Night Live” rerun in which “he was dressed as this large woman.” The next day, he saw the actor in church.

“I told him I saw him on TV the night before and that he looked very nice in drag,” Rocha recalled. “He made this big face, his mouth just sort of dropped open, and he smiled. I don’t know if he was surprised that I saw him or that I had used the word ‘drag.’ ”

Even as he became more successful, Farley never let on to his star status at church. But when Rocha recently asked him to serve as judge at the church’s annual chili cook-off, he gladly accepted.

Recalled Rocha in his eulogy: “He looked at me and said, ‘I love chili,’ and I said, ‘Chris, you’re going to be judging the chili, you’re not going to be eating it.’ ”

Rocha described how a gung-ho Farley showed up for the cook-off dressed in an apron and chef’s hat and how he patiently shook hands with and signed autographs for fans who mobbed him that day. “That was Chris,” he said.

Comparing Farley to comic greats John Belushi and Jackie Gleason, Arnold described how the manic Farley had worn a powder-blue tuxedo to Arnold’s son’s bar mitzvah, flirting with every woman at the event, including the rabbi’s wife.

Arnold said of the boyish Farley, who was best man at his wedding: “Chris was concerned about his size, and so he made sure that all of us who knew him well saw him naked at least once.”

Born in Wisconsin to a close-knit family, Farley was the middle child of five. After graduating from Marquette University in Milwaukee, he joined the Second City touring company and was performing in Chicago when invited to audition for “Saturday Night Live,” joining the cast in 1990.

Farley’s mother and siblings attended Monday’s memorial. So did a small army of people who once worked with him, from movie grips in blue jeans to fellow comedians in dark suits.

“He was like a giant 12-year-old,” recalled “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. “He wasn’t Hollywoody or show-bizzy. You just wanted to baby him.”

One fellow comedian from Second City recalled how despite his success, Farley never lost his grounding as an overgrown kid from the Midwest.

“Chris was so very childlike,” said the comedian, who asked that her name not be used. “Back in those Chicago days, he would never fail to give a bit of himself to the people who waited for him backstage.

“He attended church every day in a little chapel a few blocks away. And he called his mother every week. In that way, he was very disciplined and in other, more harmful ways, very undisciplined.”

Many who came were fans who wanted to pay their last respects to a comic who had made them laugh.

Even on this day of mourning, many laughed at the Farley routines on “Saturday Night Live,” where he played the wacko weight control guru and even a Budweiser frog.

“Part of the reason people loved Chris so much is because they saw his vulnerability come seeping through in his work,” said fan Bill Normyle. “You could tell even while he was laughing that there was something else going on there.”

Austin Tighe, an attorney from Houston, came to remember a favorite performer whom he had once met in a bar in Chicago.

“We were introduced by friends and hung out for a few hours,” Tighe recalled. “Chris was completely unaffected. I told him how much a fan of his I was, and he just smiled shyly and said, ‘Thanks.’

“Other than that, he was just one of the guys, running around the bars of Chicago.”

As the service concluded, Rocha told mourners that Farley was finally in a place where he would no longer have to worry abut his weight or his critics, a place where he could finally be himself.

“Chris is in heaven, and you can hear the angels laughing right now,” he said. “Though God himself might be a bit straight-faced, because Chris is probably knocking things down that haven’t been touched for years.”


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