Farley was perhaps best known for his five years on NBC's Saturday Night Live, where the heavyset actor with the gift for physical comedy created a series of classic characters including motivational speaker Matt Foley, and too many others to list.
Like many SNL performers, Farley set his sights on movie stardom. He first made the jump to the big screen with small roles in other SNL stars' films. He turns up in both Wayne's World movies, as well as Coneheads and Airheads, but it wasn't until his 1995 performance in Adam Sandler's Billy Madison that film audiences really started to appreciate Farley. In that film, he has a brief scene as a loud-mouthed bus driver who tries to convince Sandler that he's been intimate with teacher Miss Veronica Vaughn. It's classic Farley -- meaning there's lots of sweating, facial contortions, and screaming. In fact, the only thing missing is Farley crashing through a table or making some other broad physical comedy joke.
With people now more aware of the performer, Farley turns in his best performance in 1995's Tommy Boy -- the story of a lovable loser who's forced to save the family business when his father passes. In Tommy Callahan, Farley finds his perfect role -- the oaf with a good heart who isn't the sharpest pencil in the box. He teams up with friend and former SNL cast member David Spade and the two are like a modern day Laurel & Hardy -- right down to the contrast in size. Farley and Spade have great chemistry -- so good that they work together on several more films after Tommy Boy.
Farley next worked on Black Sheep, which saw him playing another Callahan-esque character, but it wasn't as funny as Tommy Boy. After that, it was Beverly Hills Ninja, followed by Almost Heroes and an appearance in Dirty Work -- both released after his passing. While none of these films were as good overall as Tommy Boy, Farley's fun to watch in all of them -- he had a genuine gift for playing a doofus and you get the feeling that he elevates the material thanks to his natural comedic abilities.
Many people love to compare Farley with John Belushi -- another heavyset comedian who died at 33 after launching a successful film career. While there are definitely parallels, I'm not comfortable saying that Farley and Belushi are equals -- Belushi's cinematic body of work is better. That being said, there's nothing that says Farley wouldn't have done great things had he lived longer. The comedian had presence and charisma and wasn't afraid to make himself the butt of a joke. Yet underneath it all, you were never really laughing at Chris Farley -- he was too likable for that -- but instead laughing with him. We'll never know what kind of work Farley would have done as he got older, but the material he left behind seems so filled with promise that he's certainly worthy of being considered as one of the Actors We Miss.