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Chris Farley's Black Sheep Jacket

Campaign jacket worn by Chris Farley in the 1996 movie Black Sheep.
(Museum object #2007.86.1)

Around 1995 burly comic Chris Farley, a Madison, Wisconsin native, best known for his five years on the television show Saturday Night Live (SNL), decided to focus on a film career. Farley had made cameo appearances in major theatrical releases such as Wayne's World (1992) and Coneheads (1993), but had not had a starring role. That all changed with the successful release of Tommy Boy in 1995, a movie which co-starred his friend David Spade. A year later Farley and Spade reunited in Black Sheep, in which Farley played Mike Donnelly, the doltish younger brother of politician Al Donnelly (Tim Matheson). Farley wore this campaign jacket, plastered with 12 large "Donnelly for Governor" buttons, in only one scene of the movie, but it was featured in much of the publicity for the film.

Known for his physical comedy, Farley did all of his own stunts and this jacket shows the damage done to it during filming. In one memorable scene in Black Sheep, Farley's character gets his necktie caught in the trunk of a car as it drives away. He ends up being dragged along the pavement for a short distance. There is a significant tear in the right sleeve's elbow and one of the buttons on the front has had part of its design scraped off.

Christopher Crosby Farley was born on February 15, 1964, the third of five children. After graduating from Madison's Edgewood High School in 1982, Chris attended Marquette University in Milwaukee where he earned a degree in communications and theatre in 1986. Immediately thereafter he worked with his father at the Scotch Oil Company, but also concentrated on his comedy career at the Ark Improv Theatre in Madison. From there he relocated to Chicago to work at the Improv Olympic before moving into the big time at The Second City Chicago, where he eventually earned his way to the main stage. While performing at Second City, SNL producer Lorne Michaels discovered Farley and brought him to New York for the show's 1990-1991 season.

Farley, along with Chris Rock, was one of two new cast members that season and together they joined with David Spade, Adam Sandler, and Rob Schneider to become the "Bad Boys of SNL." Farley quickly became famous for his popular characters such as motivational speaker Matt Foley, who lived " in a van down by the river," Todd O'Connor, a stereotypical fan of "da Bears," and Bennett Brauer, a Weekend Update commentator known for revealing his hygienic problems. Farley also performed impersonations of Tom Arnold, Jerry Garcia, Roger Ebert, Carnie Wilson, and Newt Gingrich. At the end of the 1994-1995 season SNL released Farley, along with Sandler, Kevin Nealon, and Phil Hartman, from their contracts and Farley began to pursue a career in film.

Farley's first outing in Tommy Boy succeeded on many levels and was beloved by his fans. Some felt it landed him a place in modern pop culture. Farley's follow-up film Black Sheep, however, was considered by many to be simply an uninspired knockoff of Tommy Boy. Still, the film performed well enough at the box office to allow Farley to continue to earn starring roles in feature films.

His brother Tom Farley, Jr., who then worked on Wall Street, has fond memories of this period of Chris's life. He especially remembers when Chris took a meeting with Paramount Studio executives at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to discuss his participation in Black Sheep, while Tom sat in the next room. At one point Chris called him into the meeting room because the executives wanted to know what a straight-laced older brother of Chris Farley might look like, possibly making Tom the role model for Tim Matheson's character.

Despite the lack of critical acclaim, Farley's first two movies made $32 million each and gained a cult following. Now a bankable star, he had the sole leading role in his next movie Beverly Hills Ninja (1997), which finished first place in box office receipts on its opening weekend. By this time Farley had begun working on his final movie, Almost Heroes, which co-starred Matthew Perry.

For years Farley fought alcohol and drug abuse. Between 1993 and 1997 alone, Farley sought treatment 17 times. During this same period he also participated in numerous weight loss programs. Despite these attempts to control his destructive lifestyle, he never really conquered his problems and, on December 18, 1997, was found dead in his Chicago apartment by his brother John. The autopsy revealed that Chris had died after taking a cocaine and heroin combination, known as a "speedball," with coronary atherosclerosis a contributing factor. The Farley family held Chris's funeral at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Madison and buried him at Resurrection Cemetery. Many of his SNL friends attended the funeral, although David Spade declined, later saying he did not want to "be in a room where Farley was in a box."

Chris Farley's memory has not been forgotten. On August 26, 2005 he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in front of the Improv Olympic West. More importantly, his brother Tom, who now lives in Madison, established the Chris Farley Foundation, which is dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse, in hopes that it can help others avoid his brother's fate. In May 2008 Tom's co-authored biography of Chris, The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts, was published with a photograph of Chris wearing this jacket gracing its cover (although the buttons were digitally removed).

[Sources: Personal interview between WHS Museum staff and Tom Farley, Jr., December 2007; International Movie Database]


Posted on December 06, 2007

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