The last time Chevy Chase appeared on Saturday Night Live was for its 40th anniversary special in 2015. It wasn’t a pretty sight. As The Washington Post put it, “He was bursting out of his tux, drinking too much and depressed.” It was a performance that prompted many questions along the line of “Is Chevy Chase okay?”
That was a few years ago. Nowadays, Chase is on the wagon and a heck of a lot lighter. But deep down, he’s still the same guy who both makes America laugh but repels Hollywood. While he gained stardom being SNL’s biggest star and making famous movies like the National Lampoon’s Vacation series, he was burning bridges with everyone in the industry.
He Doesn’t Like SNL (to Put It Nicely)
Whether you like him or not, you can’t deny the fact that Chase is a part of SNL’s history. When he was asked (by The Washington Post) what he thinks of the sketch show these days, he didn’t hold back: “First of all, between you and me and a lamppost, jeez, I don’t want to put down Lorne or the cast, but I’ll just say, maybe off the record, I’m amazed that Lorne has gone so low.” Ouch.
A microphone and digital recorder sat right in front of him, so, clearly, his words were on the record. When he was reminded that the show is extremely popular and millions watch every week, he said that only means that a “Whole generation of s***heads laughs at the worst f***ing humor in the world.” Double ouch.
He Just Can’t Catch a Break
For a while now, Chase has been hanging out at home, waiting for a script to roll in. The man in his late ’70s is eager to work, but he’s been busier with bad press than good opportunities. The first breakout star on Saturday Night Live, who made three of the best ’80s comedies — Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Fletch — wonders why he can’t catch a break.
He can’t help but look sideways at his old pals, like Steve Martin, who is writing musicals, making records and going on tours, or David Letterman who interviews world leaders on Netflix. If you ask Chase (and the WP has), he has a few theories as to why he’s not getting any calls.
He Has Some Theories
For one, there was his disastrous late-night talk show on Fox back in 1993, which lasted only 29 episodes and got a grade of F from Entertainment Weekly. He also thinks it might be due to his move from Hollywood to a quiet town in New York in the mid-’90s to raise his three daughters with his wife, Jayni.
Then, of course, there’s the whole getting old thing – something that generally doesn’t go over well in show business. He did, however, make a brief but proper comeback in 2009, when he signed on to do Community. At the time, he said he was semi-retired, but it was creator Dan Harmon’s writing that blew him away.
Why Did Chevy Chase Leave Community?
Chase was cast as Pierce Hawthorne, an aging millionaire with equal parts cruel and insecure in his personality. All was going well – the critics praised him, and he was happy he agreed to the role – until the Season Three wrap party, when people were reminded why the old comic isn’t in show business anymore.
There had already been some tension behind the scenes. Chase was burnt out and started hating his character. He was also frustrated by Harmon’s lack of organization, which led to long lulls onset and changes to the scripts. Harmon wasn’t liking the pushback. At the wrap party, he shouted, “F*** you, Chevy.” That’s when Chase, Jayni, and their daughter, Caley, left the party.
Chase vs. Dan Harmon
Harmon explained in an email that he did it to “let the cast and crew know how much I valued their patience and professionalism.” Once Chase got home, he sent Harmon an angry voicemail, scolding him for embarrassing him in front of his family. He then called the show “just a mediocre f***ing sitcom.”
What happened next would be just another example of what has been playing out over the years. According to his daughter Caley, whenever somebody gets hurt by her dad, “they run away and tell other people what an a**hole he is” or “they immediately call the Hollywood Reporter or TMZ.”
Chase vs. Donald Glover
Harmon was amused by the whole ordeal. He played Chase’s angry voicemail for a crowd at a small theater to hear. Obviously, somebody taped it, and obviously, Chase’s rant went viral. But this was just one “episode” in the Community run. One time, Chase dropped the n-word at a table read. His explanation: He felt his character was too racist.
According to his co-star Donald Glover, Chase told him, “People think you’re funnier because you’re Black.” The way Glover saw it, Chase was “fighting time. A true artist has to be okay with his reign being over. I can’t help him if he’s thrashing in the water. But I know there’s a human in there somewhere.”
“There Goes My Career”
Once his “racial cracks” were exposed, Chase texted, “There goes my career.” Chase doesn’t deny saying it, but he called it a joke. Apparently, he’s a big Donald Glover fan. Still, Chase was falling hard. Caley, who was living with her dad, watched as his glass of wine became a bottle, and then the wine turned to vodka.
Apparently, she stopped talking to him until his doctors explained something to her. They told her that he had alcohol cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscles, as a result of his drinking. “At that point, I had given up, and I assumed he would die soon,” Caley confessed.
He Can Be Both Arrogant and Sensitive
Chevy Chase has a tendency to be arrogant, unpredictable and cruel. But he’s also hilarious and allegedly sensitive and supportive. When he was asked about his reputation, he said after pondering for a moment: “I’ve already done what I’ve done. I can’t change anything. And I’m old.”
He went further by saying he doesn’t have to worry about what he’s done anymore. “I know who I am. People know who I am who know me. And I’m proud to be who I am. Because I care about people, I care about feelings. I care about warmth, love. It’s everything.”
The First Cast Member to Leave the Show
According to Chase, SNL went downhill after the first two years, which is basically after he left the show. In late 1976, nearing the end of the second season, Chase became the first-ever member of the original cast to leave the show.
Even though he was landing starring roles in films on the strength of his SNL fame, he provided another explanation for his departure. He said it was because of his then-girlfriend, Jacqueline Carlin, who didn’t want to move to New York. And so, he moved to L.A., married Carlin, and was replaced by Bill Murray.
He Blamed His Second Wife
Chase shifted a large part of the blame onto his second wife. He said he would have stayed at SNL if it wasn’t for her. He even said that Lorne Michaels “knew she was wrong for me, but I thought I was in love.”
Nevertheless, he married the model and actress in 1976, but Carlin ended up suing him for a divorce in 1978, 17 months after they tied the knot. She cited threats of violence and asked the court to keep him away from their house. She added that Chase had “lost perspective.”
A Longstanding Beef With Bill Murray
You might have heard that Chase and Murray have a longstanding beef, but if you want to know the full story, then you’re in the right place. It all began when Murray replaced him on SNL after Chase chose to leave (although they already knew each other prior). But the stage was set before Murray ever stepped onto the SNL lot.
There was a time there in the beginning when Chase was the standout performer of the first season in 1975. Known only as Saturday Night, the show featured 32-year-old Chase’s signature bloopers every week, and with his deadpan delivery and good looks, it didn’t take long for him to be a favorite in the media.
He Was Dubbed Johnny Carson’s “Heir”
New York Magazine even called him “the heir apparent to Johnny Carson.” Now, any fan of SNL knows that behind the scenes, it’s an ego-eat-ego world over there. Cast members have to fight each other to get their skits on air, and if someone else succeeds, the resent is quick to build.
Chase’s speedy rise to stardom on the show sparked resentment among the other players, including John Belushi. Chase’s hard personality and putdowns only added fuel to the fire. Chase then won a pair of Emmys in 1976 and attempted a new and improved contract with NBC. What happened, though, was that he negotiated his way out of SNL altogether.
They Were Fine Without Him
Chase left a bad taste in everybody’s mouths, but he didn’t care – he was on his way to Hollywood. A few months later, back in NYC, Murray made his debut. But his reception was cold – audiences weren’t having it. In danger of being fired, Murray made an awkward solo sketch where he made a fundraising-type plea for people to laugh at his jokes. Sad, but true.
Murray eventually found his place among the cast. By the third season, he was tight with Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, and Gilda Radner. The cast had finally proved the show would be just fine without Chase. But just when people started to forget about Chase, he came back to host the show in 1978.
He Made an Unwelcome Return
When Chase was invited back to host the show in early 1978, he stepped back into an environment that was “poisoned” against him, according to Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live. Again, Chase didn’t care, and he did little to appease the situation.
He bossed people around and even tried to get back his old “Weekend Update” segment from the current host, Jane Curtin. It was Murray, who knew Chase from their time together on National Lampoon a few years earlier, who addressed the elephant in the room. He simply told Chase that everyone hated him.
A Backstage Shouting Match
At that point, a shouting match began, and the tension continued through the dress rehearsal. Murray was on a roll and chose to hit Chase where it hurt – zeroing in on his well-known marital problems with Jacqueline Carlin. Murray’s words: “Go f*** your wife; she needs it.”
Chase’s comeback? That Murray’s pockmarked face resembled a landing spot for Neil Armstrong. All this was going down during dress rehearsal for that night’s show, which Chase was hosting. Just before the episode was set to air, Chase confronted Murray in Belushi’s dressing room, challenging him to a duel. Challenge: accepted.
Chase vs. Bill Murray
Murray lunged at Chase, and Belushi leaped between the two men, receiving most of the fists that went flying. Once they were pulled apart, Chase immediately took the stage to deliver his monologue to the clueless audience.
Chase later claimed that he wasn’t shaken at all by the fight, but if you ask his former castmates, they noticed a clear difference in his normally confident demeanor. Either way, the ratings for SNL that week were the show’s highest to date. Fast forward a year and a half, both Chase and Murray were among the cast members invited to the Rolling Hills golf club in Florida to begin shooting Caddyshack.
Caddyshack Was the Icebreaker
According to Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story, the same kind of tension that existed in the hallways of SNL showed up on the film set. While both SNL and the Caddyshack set had drugs being thrown around at all times, the film set had a more “fun, getaway-with-the-boys sort of vibe.”
Chase, who was in the midst of a bitter divorce, found it particularly refreshing. But then he had to shoot a scene with his archenemy, Bill Murray, who wasn’t thrilled about it. But, hey, work is work. More so, the pair had to ad-lib the scene.
A Real “Hollywood Fight”
Remember the scene where Chase tries to play his way through Murray’s quarters in a round of night golf? Luckily, the two comedians were in their element and brought the best out of one another. As a result, their hard feelings evaporated into thin air in their shared goal of delivering pure comedic gold.
It all worked out in the end – Caddyshack was a box office hit, and both Chase and Murray became A-list stars in the following decade. Years later, Murray insisted that he had no ill will toward Chase. “It was really a Hollywood fight; he told Empire in 2012. “Chevy and I are friends now. It’s all fine.” Chase feels the same, by the way.
The Ballad of Chevy Chase
Cornelius Crane Chase was born in Manhattan and grew up in Woodstock. His father, Edward Tinsley, was a Princeton-educated book editor and magazine writer. His mother, Cathalene Parker, was a concert pianist. Chase was named after his grandfather, but the nickname “Chevy” was given to him by his grandmother, based on the medieval English ballad “The Ballad of Chevy Chase.”
Chase is actually a 14th-generation New Yorker whose ancestors arrived in Manhattan in 1624. But it doesn’t make any difference to Chase. His stepbrother John once revealed that Chase told him how “people who defined themselves in terms of their ancestry were like potatoes — the best parts of them were underground.”
Abused by His Own Mother
Chase’s parents divorced when he was four years old, and his father remarried into the Folgers coffee family. In a 2007 biography, Chase alleged that he was physically and psychologically abused by his mother and stepfather, John Cederquist, when he was a kid.
After the divorce, he lived with his mother, who would wake him up in the middle of the night and slap him without any explanation. At 14, when he got into trouble at school, she locked him in the basement for days with nothing but a container to use as a bathroom.
He Hates His Biography
His biography was pretty much a “get out of jail free card” — all his outbursts, bad career decisions, battles with painkillers — they could all be explained by the terrible way he was treated as a child. Chase would rather make the book disappear.
“Chevy Chase hiding in a closet from his mother?” he remarked in an interview. “Good God. Take me for who I am now.” His third wife, Jayni, to whom he’s been married since 1982, insists that her husband’s difficult childhood is an important piece of understanding him.
It Explains a Lot About His Behavior
In her eyes, it explains why he treats people the way he does and how he responds when he feels attacked or ignored. Chase has been on the receiving end throughout his life, and not just by his mother.
He’s been hurt by the friends who don’t call anymore, his former collaborators who blast him, and all those Will Ferrell quotes (he called Chase “the worst host” once). All of it has made Chase even more cynical and critical. Sometimes, he acts as if he has no idea why he gets bashed at all. And at other times, he knows full well why.
That Terrified Kid Grew Up
There are times when Chase admits that the put-down artist he often plays, both on and off-screen, might actually be the manifestation of a terrified, confused kid who was told he’s not good enough. That kid may be in his 70s now, but he still has feelings.
Chase was expelled from high school before being put in an independent boarding school that he eventually graduated from. He was known as a practical joker with a mean streak. In college, he was noted for slapstick comedy and physical humor, like his pratfalls and “sticking forks into his orifices.”
He Kept a Cow in His Room?
In a 2009 interview with the Today show, Chase verified a sort of urban legend in which he was expelled for keeping a cow in his fourth-floor room. However, his former roommate David Felson said in a 2003 interview that Chase left college for academic reasons.
Chase ended up at Bard College in New York, where he graduated in 1967 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He was supposed to be drafted into the army but instead convinced his draft board that he deserved a 4-F classification by “falsely claiming, among other things, that he had homosexual tendencies.”
From Fruit Picking to Drumming
Chase played drums with a college band called The Leather Canary, headed by his buddies Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, both of which later founded the group, Steely Dan. Chase also played drums and keyboards for a band called Chameleon Church, and they even recorded an album for MGM Records before splitting up in 1969.
What people also don’t know about Chase is that before his fame, he worked as a construction worker, audio engineer, cab driver, truck driver, motorcycle messenger, waiter, busboy, fruit picker, produce manager in a supermarket, wine store salesman, and theater usher.
He Was Allegedly Banned From SNL
SNL creator Lorne Michaels has his theory as to why Chase’s image has suffered over the years. “Chevy does shock stuff, which is maybe more forgivable in a 25-year-old or 30-year-old than in a 50-year-old or 60-year-old.”
Michaels also thinks that all the press Chase has been subjected to over the years has been unfair. Like his 1997 hosting turn on SNL. Even after all the hostility and feuds, Chase was invited back to host the show again. But this would be the last time. Many claim that after that show, Chase was banned from SNL. Michaels, however, said, “That’s idiotic.”
The Inappropriate Remark
The whole ban was in response to a reportedly inappropriate remark Chase made to a female colleague. “None of it was particularly shocking to me or upsetting to me,” Michaels said. “It’s just generational.” Will Ferrell, who was part of the cast at that time, recalled what happened.
“I don’t know if he was on something, but he was just kind of going around the room and systematically riffing. First, it was on the guys, playfully making fun, until, when he got to one of our female writers, he made some reference like, ‘Maybe you can give me a h**d job later.’ In hindsight, I wish we’d all gotten up and walked out of the room.”
Taking One Last Swig
Chase dealt with addiction for many years. In 1986, he was admitted to the Betty Ford Center for his prescription painkiller addiction (back pain related to all those pratfalls he took on SNL). In 2016, he was in rehab for alcohol.
When rehab failed, Jayni wrote her husband a note that read, “I do not want to divorce you, but I can’t watch you hurt yourself anymore.” Finally, a few years ago, for reasons he himself can’t really explain, he walked out onto his porch, took one last swig from his vodka bottle and chose to quit once and for all.
The Last Laugh
A few years ago, Chase wanted to get back in the game, so he went to New Orleans to make The Last Laugh, a Netflix movie, alongside Richard Dreyfuss. In it, he plays a manager desperate not to retire (fitting, yes).
Chase and the original cast of SNL were inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. If there was any lingering bad blood, it was gone. Chase walked up to the podium and praised his former peers, including Belushi, Radner and Aykroyd. He then grew emotional: “I can’t tell you to be up there, on that stage, doing that stuff… Oh, God, it was fun. I’ll tell you; I’d do it again in a minute.”
The Wrong Thing at the Wrong Time
Chase admits that he has a knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. When he was shooting Three Amigos in 1986, he made a bad attempt at a joke about the accidental deaths that occurred in director John Landis’ previous film, The Twilight Zone.
He referred to Landis’s overseeing a stunt-gone-wrong that tragically killed three people on the Twilight Zone movie, including Vic Morrow and child extras Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. Chase recalled another time when he, Steve Martin and Martin Short were on a cliffside, 50 feet high, and he made another poorly timed joke.
Just a Bunch of Amigos
Nobody was behind them with ropes tied to their belts, and “Just kidding around, I made some hideous comment about John not taking precautions. Unfortunately, we were wearing mikes, and John could hear us talking. Boy, was he mad! We almost came to blows.”
Anyways, Lorne Michaels produced Three Amigos and declared in an interview that it was the most fun he ever had making a film. That year, the trio hosted SNL, which was the only time the show has had three hosts on one show.
Chase vs. European Vacation’s Director
Chase is famous for his National Lampoon’s Vacation movies but working with him wasn’t a walk in the park for director Amy Heckerling, who did Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless. She signed on to direct the series’ European Vacation after the original director, Harold Ramis, opted out of the sequel.
She and the film’s star didn’t see eye-to-eye. In her words, working with Chase “was not a marriage made in heaven.” In fact, she hated him so much that she was ready to flee the set at any moment. “I couldn’t go on the set unless I knew I had in my hand a physical ticket to New York so that I could just go at any time,” the director said.
Chase vs. Kevin Smith
The Fletch movies, starring Chase, were such hits that writer-director Kevin Smith gave it a shot at a third film but found Chase insufferable. Smith had a vision of the Fletch franchise and asked Chase to be a part of it, but their meeting didn’t go over well.
“Chevy went on to claim he invented every funny thing that ever happened in the history of not just comedy, but also the known world. You ever sat down with somebody who claimed responsibility for stuff he did AND didn’t do? It’s really off-putting,” Smith recalled.
Chase vs. SNL (Again)
When Chase hosted SNL in 1985 (he hosted a total of eight times), he managed to piss everyone off. First, he made fun of Robert Downey Jr.’s father (“Didn’t your father used to be a successful director? Whatever happened to him?”).
Then, he was relentless with Terry Sweeney, suggesting that the show’s first openly gay cast member should star in a sketch where he would be weighed on a regular basis to see if he had AIDS. Yeah, it was harsh. He was then forced to apologize, which according to Sweeney, made Chase “really furious.”
Chase vs. Howard Stern
Back in 1992, Chase was recorded talking trash about the radio king in between commercial breaks on the Larry King show. Howard Stern later got a hold of the tape and played it on-air on his own show. That is, before calling up Chase, who told Stern never to call him again.
A few years later, Stern called a Chase several times at 5 a.m., which made him furious. Allegedly, the two made up, and Chase was even invited to Stern’s wedding. What comes as completely unsurprising, Chase gave a wildly inappropriate toast that only made Stern dislike him even more.
Chase vs. NYPD Blue’s Producer
Chase appeared on Politically Incorrect in 1997. He was accompanied by TV producer Stephen Bochco (who did NYPD Blue), but Chase repeatedly hijacked the conversation to talk about how TV, and particularly Bochco’s work, is “useless and worthless.”
Shortly after, Chase admitted that he isn’t very familiar with Bochco’s work. When Maher tried to get the conversation back on track, Chase declared that he didn’t even approve of Maher’s own show. Bochco suggested that Chase leave the show. Chase was about to walk out, but Maher asked him to stick around.
His Vacation Co-Stars Like Him
Despite all his naysayers, the man still has some admirers and not just his own family. Beverly D’Angelo, who played his wife in all the Vacation movies, is fond of the bond she built with Chase. Unlike his former co-stars, she has never described him as the monster others claim he is.
D’Angelo said they became friends on National Lampoon’s Vacation and have remained friends ever since. She maintains that it was the chemistry between them that created Ellen and Clark Griswold. Even Dana Barron, who played their teenage daughter Audrey, fondly remembers working with Chase. In 2014, she called him a “really kind-hearted man.”
A “Heart Issue”
In late March 2021, Chase returned home after recovering from a “heart issue” that kept him in the hospital for five weeks. “I can only say how happy I am to now be back with my family. I’m feeling good,” Chase told Page Six.
Even after nearly escaping death, he still has it (or doesn’t, depending on how you look at it). He said, “I read. Turn on the TV. Watch the news. All dreck. I see actors, comedians, producers, screenwriters working and, God bless them, but I don’t see anything great on television.”