Gone Too Soon

I recently sat down to watch 2 biographical documentaries, Amy (about Amy Winehouse) and I Am Chris Farley (about Bob Marley. No, I’m kidding. It’s totally about Chris Farley), that were shot through with parallels.

Fame and addiction don’t have to co-exist necessarily, but when they do, the fame feeds the addiction. Literally: you and I might have to choose between cocaine and groceries, or cocaine and prostitution, but they have unlimited resources. Couple that with a need and want for approval, of being adored by everyone except maybe yourself, and it makes for a really bumpy road.

That said, I Am Chris Farley is not entirely the bummer you might think. This film asks: can you make small-dick jokes about your dead brother? And the answer is: yes. The Farleys can! Chris may have been thi-am-chris-farley-trailer-600x300e star, but the funny gene seems to have been a family trait. His brothers recount their idyllic childhood, and their brother’s quick rise to fame, leap-frogging others from Second City immediately into the father-like figure of Lorne Michaels at SNL, where Mike Myers points out Chris was an instant favourite. Dan Aykroyd likens Farley to his own friend (who met a similar demise) John Belushi, and Lorne Michaels thinks of him as the love child that Belushi and Aykroyd never had.

I first came to Saturday Night Live when Farley et. al were at their height. I was 11 or 12 years old and babysitting late athe-first-trailer-for-i-am-chris-farley-gives-insight-into-the-late-comedian-from-those-481485t night, watching television and discovering bits that would be repeated on the playground come Monday morning. Farley, David Spade, and Adam Sandler were clearly friends who wrote for each other and worked together all the time, and it was magical to watch them (dubbed “the bad boys of SNL” along with Rob Schneider and Chris Rock). Then they got bigger than the show itself and started casting each other in their movies – Chris appeared with Spade in Tommy Boy, and with Sandler in Billy Madison. Shit blew up. They werechris-farley-1024 all celebrities. I remember watching the 25th anniversary show in 1999, and Sandler and Spade came back to pay tribute to him just 2 years after his sudden death. Those casts are often very tight, and the remembrances are far too many (send-ups to Belushi and Hartman are equally touching).

Chris Farley had a huge heart and is clearly still missed today. chrisInterviewees are choked up recalling his problems with drinking and drugs and it’s hard to watch the regret on their faces. Farley didn’t want to die.  You don’t go to rehab 17 times because you want to be this way. But his addictive personality was strong and his self-confidence weak, and he died alone on his kitchen floor at the age of 33.

Amy Winehouse died when she was 27. She was messed up before she was famous, she made her fortune on a song that mocked rehab, and it was probably not much of a surprise, but no less a amy-winehousetragedy, when she passed the way she did. Newsweek called her “a perfect storm of sex kitten, raw talent and poor impulse control” while paparazzi documented her wasting away in front of us, in clear emotional and physical distress. It was hard to watch at the time, especially knowing that the people who should have been caring for her were instead treating her like a meal ticket.

In the documentary, all the people in her life come together to speak on her behalf, and theirs – and we’re talking about people who clashed over her in life and defend themselves and their amy_winehouse_0_1437029273actions since her death. You really get a sense of what a tangled mess her life was, but it also manages to be tender. It’s just a story that you wish didn’t exist. This woman with an enormous voice and huge talent poisoned herself to death with alcohol in the end, and everyone was too busy trying to make money off her to notice or care. That’s the tragedy. She was a lost little girl insulated by her money and success, and it killed her.

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47 thoughts on “Gone Too Soon

  1. kdcol

    I loved Chris Farley. I still crack up watching his old SNL skits. Amy Winehouse? I didn’t really know much about her except in the end when the media would post pics of the train wreck she had become. It was weird seeing a celebrity nosedive like that and no one did anything to stop it (or so it at least appeared). I wasn’t surprised when she died, but thought it very sad.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I agree with you on both counts. She seemed to let some not very compassionate people isolate her from anyone who could have done any good. It struck me very much that they both died alone.

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  2. ridicuryder

    Jay,

    I haven’t seen the Farley movie, but I saw Amy a few months ago with a friend. Her observation was that the more people seemed to value her gifts, the more Amy cast them off. Great pain is regularly the precursor to great gifts…we probably should see about getting people help right after that first smash album or hit movie.

    RR

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, I think you’re right. I think her lyrics and a lot of her behaviour were pretty blatant cries for help, but when your livelihood depends on her making records and appearances rather than staying in rehab, well, that makes for a tragedy, doesn’t it?

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  3. fragglerocking

    Don’t know much about Farley, but Amy Winehouse was ours of course, only liked a couple of her songs. In our house she’s considered vastly over rated, but each to his own. She joins a long line of sad super talented people who don’t have the ability to cope with it.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, she was a jazz singer who was perhaps never meant to cross over but did – opening the door for a lot of other “out of the box” female singers, including, likely, Adele. In the documentary, every time they show her singing, they have to provide subtitles because her lyrics are so slurred and hard to discern!

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  4. J.

    Both of these are on my list. Particularly Amy – I know her old man wasn’t too pleased with how he’s perceived in that one. Tragic end to that story – her decline widely documented by the media, but seemed to be ignored by those around her.

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  5. tubularsock

    Jay …… some lives are harsh no matter how funny or talented they happen to be. Sad.

    Speaking of documentaries that aren’t happy, saw THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION last night ……. excellent work. You definitely get the picture in that picture.
    The power structure can out gun you.

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  6. Jordan Dodd

    I don’t really know who Winehouse is, I just know I’ve heard the name before, but it sounds like a raw film. I don’t think it is playing anymore though.

    And 17 tries at rehab. Wow, that is insane. You are spot on, that is not a person who wants to be an addict

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, people need to really realize how much mental illness is just plain old ILLNESS and we need to learn, as a society, to really be part of the solution, because too often they’re left to cope alone, and a lot of the time, in judgement.

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  7. Brittani

    I enjoyed I Am Chris Farley, I wanted to see Amy, but I’m worried about the amount of people that say it almost feels exploitative. I think Amy dealt with enough of that in her life. I’m sure I’ll see it eventually. Nice write up!

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    1. Jay Post author

      I think it shows how SHE was exploited from the minute she got even a tiny but of success. People who loved her were pushed out, and everyone else immediately crowded around with their hands out.

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  8. Gilly

    Sorry to say I have not seen either of these films. I was not an Amy fan – it’s not my kind of music but there were a couple of tracks I liked. She was definitely a meal ticket who was allowed to destroy herself – that does not make sense. I missed the film when my friends saw it but I would still like to see it. Not sure how I missed Chris Farley but I didn’t know who he was until I just watched his 10 funniest moments on YouTube – seemed like maybe he was a larger than life loveable but tragic clown. Saturday Night Live was once my favourite TV show but that was in the Chevy Chase, Steve Martin, Dan Ackroyd, Gilda Radner, Jane Curtain, John Belusi etc etc days. I guess Chris Farley came much later, after I left Canada. Very interesting article – thanks.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I think you’re right on the nose about Farley. And yes, he was on SNL in the early to mid 90s, part of a very strong cast, but I don’t think anyone beats the originals.

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  9. ruth

    I haven’t seen either one of these but yeah, it’s sad how these talented people who seemingly had everything going for them died so soon. I think the need/want for approval is one thing but many of these artists were already unstable psychologically so that certainly played a part.

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  10. Birgit

    I am not a Chris Farley fan. I found him way too hyper and am certain he must have suffered from ADD or ADHD. It’s strange because I even find the 3 stooges funny but not him. Regardless, it is a shame how strong his addictions were and how many people helped down that horrible path. The same is with Amy Winehouse. who had such talent and a great jazz/blues voice. It is sad but both were not a surprise. It’s a shame that they could not find the strength to grab hold of the help that was in front of them

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  11. Allen

    This is a terrific writeup, and after reading this, I definitely want to check out these two films. I also grew up watching Chris Farley, and I remember the shock of his passing. Too often, talent and overindulgence go hand-in-hand.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, I remember it too. Weird how even the death of a stranger can affect us like that. It really makes you reflect on the nature of celebrity in our culture.

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  12. Everyday Adventures at Home... Hurrah!

    My aunt saw the Amy Winehouse documentary at the Gimli film festival last summer – she had the same take on it as you- the people who should’ve been helping her were more concerned with trying to make money off her success. “It’s just a story that you wish didn’t exist”. What a powerful line – it so succinctly describes what one feels when one hears these stories. Take care.

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  13. Dan

    I must track down the Farley doc as I’m a big fan. Tommy Boy is one of my favourite comedies of all time. It makes me so sad to think he died so young and the height of his movie powers.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I know. They talked a little bit in the film about Tommy Boy and how it was shredded by the critics, and how sad that made him because he thought it was good.
      If he was still alive today, he’d see that it’s still beloved by fans all this time later, and often included in any list of the best comedies.

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  14. Jay Post author

    I was thinking of him as the lunch lady during Adam Sandler’s lunch lady song. I don’t know why they thought to make Chris do it, but of course he was perfect, and scene-stealing.
    But I think my favourite bit of him on SNL is when he was doing interviews for the ‘Chris Farley Show’ and had Paul McCartney on.

    Chris Farley: You remember when you were with the Beatles?
    Paul McCartney: Yes.
    Chris Farley: That was awesome.

    Chris Farley: Remember when you were with the Beatles and you were supposed to be dead, and there were all these clues, like you play some song backwards and it’d say, like “Paul is Dead” and everybody thought you were dead and, um, that was a hoax right?
    Paul McCartney: Yeah, I wasn’t really dead.

    Chris Farley: I think we got time for one more question. Remember when you were in the Beatles and you did that album Abbey Road and at the very end of the song, it went: ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make’. You remember that?
    Paul McCartney: Yes.
    Chris Farley: Um, is that true?

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  15. Jay Post author

    Not the best quality, but couldn’t resist.
    Eagle eyes: not Sarah Silverman dressed as chop suey.
    Interesting tidbit: Bob Odenkirk co-wrote this skit.

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  16. Divorce With Me

    I’d didn’t even know there was a Chris Farley doc. I saw the Amy winehouse one and enjoyed it. I don’t know if they told her complete story (I felt like some of the ending was rushed and not completely covered) but it was good and I learned a lot about her. Thanks for sharing with us!

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