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20 years after death at Hancock, Chris Farley remembered

Chris Farley, as motivational speaker Matt Foley, tries to inspire David Spade and host Christina Applegate on an episode of "Saturday Night Live." | Edie Baskin

The 20th anniversary of funnyman Chris Farley’s death came and went quietly in Chicago.

Farley died from a drug overdose Dec. 18, 1997, in his home on the 60th floor of the John Hancock Center. He was 33.

The main Chicagoland celebration of Farley’s life was held two weeks ago. It was a private affair at the Lake Forest home of Jack Graham, a college rugby pal from Farley’s days at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

About 60 loved ones who knew Farley from outside the entertainment world gathered for a memorial Mass in Graham’s living room. Shoved-around furniture and folding chairs became pews. A credenza with cloth tossed over it was the altar.

Another old rugby teammate, the Rev. Matt Foley, of St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, conducted the service.

At the event, friends shared news with Farley’s mother, Mary Anne Farley, 82, that the religious order of priests who run Marquette, the Jesuits, had submitted a request for a papal blessing for the Farley family to the office of Pope Francis — who’s also a Jesuit.

Farley’s sister, Barbara, and his brother, Tom, also attended.

Patrick Swayze (left) and Chris Farley audition Chippendales in a skit on “Saturday Night Live” in 1990. | Al Levine/NBC

“Chris was religious,” said Foley. “He was a religious dude. He went to Mass daily at Marquette.”

Following the service, “Farley tales” were exchanged, said Foley, whose name Farley appropriated for his most famous Saturday Night Live character: Motivational Speaker Matt Foley (who “lives in a van down by the river”).

One example of a Farley tale: Farley would fill his back pack with sandwiches from his college dormitory cafeteria. He’d tell friends “I’m still hungry!” and later hand them out to homeless people, Graham recalled.

Another example: Farley would do prank falls in front of pretty female classmates in college and then he’d “laugh and say ‘Really funny! A fat kid falls down and you’re all laughing!'” Foley said.

Chris Farley, the is shown with Saturday Night Live costar Molly Shannon in a scene from the show that aired in October 1997, about two months before Farley died. | NBC photo

“We had two singers come to the Mass,” Foley said. “They sang the ‘Irish Blessing’ – Chris very much enjoyed being Irish – and ‘Amazing Grace.’ He liked the line about ‘saved a wretch like me.’ There were moments in his life where he felt blessed to be saved.”

Marilynn Gardener, president of Navy Pier Inc., the organization that runs Navy Pier, and a college classmate of Farley’s who attended the Mass, said Monday that memories of her old friend flooded her mind this week.

“His laugh was contagious. I can still hear it,” she said.

Kevin Farley, Chris Farley’s brother. | Provided photo

Graham said Farley’s characters on screen were often true reflections of Farley.

“He was kind of an innocent kid with this lack of self-confidence but really he was a dichotomy between that and the fearlessness of doing his job,” Graham said.

“We’re all still pinching ourselves that we got to know him like we did.”

Farley’s younger brother, Kevin, who lives in Los Angeles, regrets he couldn’t make it but said “I’m just grateful that people still remember and love my brother.” He also wanted to share a message with Chris’s fans: “Tell the ones you love that you love them.”