Chris Farley’s Family Suing Fat-Tired Bicycle Makers Trek

The larger-than-life comic’s family could be awarded more than $10 million.

Chris Farley Close-up
Richard Drew / AP Images

The larger-than-life comic’s family could be awarded more than $10 million.

A lawsuit has been filed by the family of late comedian and actor Chris Farley against Trek Bicycle for calling several models in its line of fat-tired bikes “Farley.” The family said the company misappropriated the former Saturday Night Live star’s name and traded in on his brand of “fat guy” comedy.

Trek is based in Waterloo, Wisconsin, about 30 miles away from Madison, Wisconsin, where the funnyman was born and raised, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Trek gave the bike line the moniker in 2013, reported the Wisconsin State Journal. The fat-tired bikes were created to go off-road in rugged conditions.

Farley’s family said that damages could exceed $10 million. They are operating under the name of the company they founded, Make Him Smile Inc., which was created to protect his publicity and property rights.

According to the lawsuit, the Tommy Boy star weighed about 400 pounds and “spent his entire career building, then capitalizing on, his unique brand of ‘fat guy’ humor and acting style.”

The suit also alleges that Farley “carefully guarded and policed his brand,” turning down many offers to capitalize on his popularity, and that he even worried he would jeopardize his career if he shed any weight.

Chris Farley, Saturday Night Live 1992 Cast Photo
Chris Farley, in green suit, with others members of the cast of “Saturday Night Live” — including Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, David Spade, Kevin Nealon, Tim Meadows, and Rob Schneider — in 1992. Justin Sutcliffe / AP Images

The family claims that Trek chose the name Farley for that specific line of bicycles to “immediately associate defendant Trek’s fat bikes with one of their favorite ‘fat’ and ‘loud’ comedians,” and that executives knew they were doing that when they named the bikes.

“Bicycle consumers and the industry as a whole immediately associated its Madison, Wisconsin-built fat, loud, sturdy, rugged, and outlandish Midwestern fat bikes with Farley’s world-famous image as a fat, loud, sturdy, rugged Midwesterner who is arguably the most famous person to have been born in Madison, Wisconsin.”

The lawsuit was first filed in California last September. In April, Trek’s lawyers filed a motion to move the case to Wisconsin. Last Friday, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner ordered the case to be heard in Madison, which is closer to both parties, witnesses, and evidence, reported the Wisconsin State Journal.

Much of the case depends on where Farley lived at the time of his death. If he resided in California, there is a law regarding deceased celebrities’ right of publicity. However, Trek’s lawyers argue that Farley was an Illinois resident when he died in 1997, and “Under Illinois law, no post-mortem right of publicity exists for persons who died before 1999.”

Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chris Farley 1997
In 1997, Chris Farley hung out with film studio executive Jeffery Katzenberg in Las Vegas. Lennox McLendon / AP Images

Additionally, Trek said its use of the name Farley may be allowed by the fair use doctrine and the First Amendment because it does not specifically reference “Chris” Farley.

Farley was 33 years old when he died from a cocaine and morphine overdose, reported the New York Times. The narrowing of arteries supplying the heart muscle was also a contributing factor.