Ex-'SNL' star, 33, may have had heart attack

Actor-comedian Chris Farley, the rotund actor known for his tightly wound, boisterous comic characters, died Thursday, according to Chicago police.

Farley, 33, was found dead in his apartment in the John Hancock Building located on Chicago’s Near North Side. Police were notified by Farley’s brother John, who discovered the body.

Though early reports said he suffered a heart attack and there was no sign of foul play, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said the cause of death is undetermined, pending the results of an autopsy scheduled for today.

Farley’s early death has brought comparisons to John Belushi, whom Farley regarded as his comic idol. Besides similar high-profile comic careers on stage, TV and film, Farley and Belushi had a history of food, alcohol and drug abuse, and both died at the age of 33.

Farley, who was raised in Madison, Wis., was an alumnus of Chicago’s Second City, the renowned improvisational troupe, where, like Belushi, he developed a series of anguished, manic characters and excelled at the group’s brand of sketch comedy.

His career took off after he followed the well-worn path of Second City performers moving to television’s “Saturday Night Live” in 1990, staying for five seasons.

On “SNL,” Farley honed his manic, physical comedy through such characters as the peripatetic, oft-divorced motivational speaker Matt Foley and the nervous, eager-to-please host of “The Chris Farley Show.”

He also lent his talents to parodying such weighty figures as Mama Cass, Newt Gingrich (an impersonation he re-created on the floor of Congress in 1995 with Gingrich in attendance), Jerry Garcia and Meat Loaf.

“We find it hard to express how tragic it is to lose a valued friend and colleague at such a young age,” read a statement issued by NBC and “Saturday Night Live.” “We will miss his special gifts, including a unique ability to make people laugh. More importantly, we will always remember his warm-hearted nature and deep commitment to his friends and the people with whom he worked.”

Farley managed to parlay his TV personas into roles in such features as “Wayne’s World,” “Wayne’s World 2,” “The Coneheads” and “Airheads.” He landed his first leading role in a film with the 1995 comedy “Tommy Boy,” which he followed with starring roles in “Black Sheep” and “Beverly Hills Ninja.”

He was set to next co-star with Vince Vaughn in Imagine Entertainment’s “The Gelfin” for Universal.

According to a Warner Bros. spokesman, the studio plans to release Farley’s last starring stint, “Almost Heroes” — which had been titled “Edwards and Hunt: The First American Road Trip” and was produced by the now defunct Turner Pictures — in April.

“Chris was a personal friend of mine and ‘The Tonight Show’s’ and we are all deeply saddened by his death,” said “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno. “He was a wonderfully warm and original comedy talent and my thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and fans.”

Farley had recently switched agencies, signing with Endeavor after several years as a client of Creative Artists Agency, where president Richard Lovett said, “We’re saddened by the loss of a great friend and an extraordinary talent.”

Endeavor released a statement that read: “We are saddened at the sudden loss of Chris Farley, whose screen presence was as indisputable as his talent for making people laugh. This is a great loss for the industry and we offer our deepest sympathy to his family and his legions of fans around the world.”

“I am deeply saddened and my heart goes out to Chris’ family,” said fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum Mike Myers.