October 26, 2015 — The late comedian Chris Farley and his friend, Fr. Matt Foley — the inspiration for Farley’s famous “Saturday Night Live” character — met as members of the rugby team at Marquette University in 1982. Now, more than 30 years later, Fr. Foley recalls his friendship with Farley in a new film.
In the documentary “I Am Chris Farley,” released in late June, Fr. Foley describes how much he misses his old friend. Fr. Foley, who serves as head pastor at St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, presided over Farley’s funeral in December 1997 after the actor and comedian died of an overdose.
“I think about him a lot. He was a very good friend,” Fr. Foley said. “You think about growing old with somebody, but at 33 his life was ended. He’s missed so many good things.”
The documentary shows the gentler side of the famous comedian that Fr. Foley says is truer to his friend’s spirit than his rowdy legacy.
“Most of us, we’re much more complex than people portray us to be,” Fr. Foley said. “There’s the public persona and then there’s the person you know as a family member and a friend. Chris was that character people think he was, but he was not that character all the time. He also had a reflective side, a spiritual side and a very caring side.”
After Marquette, the two were on the same traveling rugby team. When Fr. Foley was in the seminary, Farley would come out to visit him, and they’d play basketball or talk about faith.
“He was very religious,” Fr. Foley said of Farley, who attended daily Mass while at Marquette.
When Farley was performing in the earlier stages of his career at Second City, an improv theatre in Chicago, he invented an over-the-top but down-on-his-luck motivational speaker character that he named “Matt Foley.” He eventually brought the Matt Foley character with him to “Saturday Night Live.”
In May 1993, Fr. Foley got a call from his old friend. “Matt Foley is going to be on tonight; you’ve got to watch it,” he said. Fr. Foley turned in and heard his name on national TV for the first, but certainly not the last, time. “It was a little shocking,” he admitted. “But I thought the skit was hilarious.”
Some consider it the best skit in “SNL” history. In it, Matt Foley yells, spits, breaks tables and throws himself around trying to get the message across to two kids (David Spade and Christina Applegate) that if they don’t get their act together they, too, will have to live in a van down by the river.
In real life, Matt Foley is a mild-spoken priest who has spent his career bringing faith to some of the toughest places in the world. He spent six years at a mission in Mexico, eight years in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood and did four tours of duty in Afghanistan as an Army chaplain before becoming head pastor of St. James in 2013.
Farley and Fr. Foley maintained their friendship through the years, with Farley asking Fr. Foley for spiritual guidance as he struggled with addiction later in life. They bonded over their deep faith and attended Mass together during Fr. Foley’s visits. When Farley achieved his first year of sobriety, Fr. Foley flew out to New York to celebrate. Farley made it to three years sober, but then fell off the wagon several times. Fr. Foley wishes Farley could have met his own nieces and nephews, been to his brothers’ weddings — which Fr. Foley presided over — and finally beat his addiction.
“He was very much aware of his struggle, but I think he was a good Catholic in practice because he recognized God’s saving grace,” Fr. Foley said. [Source: The Daily Herald]