Cornelius Crane “Chevy” Chase (born October 8, 1943) is an American Emmy Award-winning comedian, writer, and television and film actor. Born into a prominent family, Chase became a sensation as a cast member in the inaugural season of Saturday Night Live, where his Weekend Update skit quickly became a staple of the show. Chase is also well known for his portrayal of the character Clark Griswold in four National Lampoon's Vacation films. In addition to his numerous movie roles, he has hosted the Academy Awards twice (1987 and 1988) and briefly had his own late-night talk show, The Chevy Chase Show.
The name Chevy was a nickname bestowed by his grandmother, derived from the medieval English Ballad of Chevy Chase. As a descendant of the Scottish Clan Douglas, the name "Chevy" seemed appropriate to her.
Chase's parents divorced when he was four; his father remarried into the Folgers coffee family, and his mother was remarried twice. Both his parents died in 2005. His mother, who later married Juilliard professor and composer Lawrence Widdoes, is buried at the Artists' Cemetery in Woodstock, New York. He made recent claims that he was abused as a child by his mother and stepfather, John Cederquist.
Chase was expelled from private schools like New York City's Dalton School and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He did well at the Stockbridge School in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and attended Riverdale Country School in The Bronx. He was valedictorian of his senior class and entered Haverford College, but was expelled (or 'separated') from it after one semester. He then transferred to Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where he studied a pre-med curriculum, dated actress Blythe Danner for several years, and graduated in 1967 with a bachelor of arts degree in English.
Chase did not enter medical school, which meant he would be subject to the military draft only months before the Tet Offensive, at a time when public support was dwindling for the escalating ground war in which U.S. troops were involved. Chase was not drafted; when Chase appeared in January 1989 as the first guest of the just-launched late-night Pat Sajak Show, he revealed why: he had convinced his draft board he deserved a 4-F classification by admitting he was a homosexual.
Instead Chase played drums for a time with the college band The Leather Canary, headed by school friends Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. At the time, Chase called the group "a bad jazz band", but Becker and Fagen went on to success after they changed their band's name to Steely Dan. Chase is gifted with absolute pitch. He played drums and keyboards for a rock band called Chamaeleon Church, which recorded one album for MGM Records before disbanding in 1969. Before becoming famous as a writer, actor and comedian, Chase worked in many jobs including as a cab driver, truck driver, motorcycle messenger, construction worker, waiter, busboy, fruit picker, produce manager of a supermarket, audio engineer, salesman in a wine store, and a theater usher.
Eventually, Chase was replaced by Bill Murray, who got into a legendary backstage brawl with Chase moments before Chase's scheduled 1978 hosting stint on SNL. Witnesses report that Murray initially provoked Chase about his "hated" status on the show, leading Chase to make fun of Murray's bad skin condition (comparing it to the surface of the moon). Laraine Newman, discussing the incident for authors Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller in their history of the show, Live From New York, said Murray took a shot at Chase's reported marital problems. Newman quoted Murray as saying, "Why don't you fuck your wife once in a while? She needs it." The two men were pulled apart by Dan Aykroyd and Belushi. Though the altercation occurred off the air, the story became so widely known that Chase and Murray duetted together during Chase's next hosting appearance, singing a "unity" medley including "We Write the Songs", "We Can't Get No Satisfaction", "We Shot the Sheriff" and "We Are the Walrus". Chase claims he and Murray have long since buried the hatchet on the incident, and appeared in Caddyshack together in a famous unscripted scene.
Chase also had a long running feud with Howard Stern, prompted by Stern calling Chase's home and speaking with his housekeeper on the air. However, Chase's continued harassment from Stern fans at public events led Chase to initiate ending their feud. On September 18, 2008 Chevy appeared on Howard Stern's show on Sirius XM Radio. In his interview with Stern, Chase largely denied having any problems with his SNL costars and offered that if Stern asked any of the surviving cast members, or producer Michaels, they would concur that the first year of SNL was a positive experience. He did validate, with some discrepancies, the story of his fight with Bill Murray. Chevy Chase was a guest and gave a raucous toast at the wedding of Howard Stern and Beth Ostrosky on October 3, 2008.
As of 2008, Chase admits that leaving SNL so soon was the biggest mistake of his career. He said as much when he appeared at the unveiling of Michaels' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. To Shales and Miller he put it this way: "I'm still hurting, I still grieve for all those years that I could have had there." Chase clarified to David Letterman that the reason he left SNL was for his girlfriend, Jacqueline. He stated that he was "infatuated" with her and moved to Los Angeles to marry her, because she wouldn't move to New York where SNL is performed. SNL castmate Jane Curtin, with whom Chase was never close, dubbed this excuse "blame-the-bitch" syndrome.
Chase narrowly escaped death by electrocution during the filming of Modern Problems in 1980. During a sequence in which Chase's character wears 'landing lights' as he dreams that he is an airplane, the current in the lights short-circuited and arced through Chase's arm, back, and neck muscles. The near-death episode caused Chase to experience a period of deep depression, as his marriage to Jacqueline had ended just prior to the start of filming. Chase continued his film career in 1983's National Lampoon's Vacation, directed by Ramis and written by John Hughes. He married Jayni Luke in 1983, and in 1985, he starred in Fletch, the first of two films based on Gregory Mcdonald's Fletch books. Chase joined SNL veterans Steve Martin and Martin Short in the Lorne Michaels-produced comedy ¡Three Amigos! in 1986, admitting in an interview that making ¡Three Amigos! was the most fun he has had on a film. The trio hosted SNL that year, the only time the show has had three hosts on one show.
At the height of his career in the late 1980s, Chase earned around $7 million per film and was a highly visible celebrity. He appeared alongside Paul Simon, one of his best friends, in Simon's 1986 second video for "You Can Call Me Al", in which he lip-syncs all of Simon's lyrics. Chase hosted the Academy Awards in 1987 and 1988, signing on to the proceedings in 1987 with the opener, "Good evening, Hollywood phonies!" Chase filmed a sequel to Vacation, 1985's National Lampoon's European Vacation and then a third, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, in 1989, which, thanks to its holiday theme, has become his most durable film, airing on NBC every December. He played saxophone onstage at Simon's free concert at the Great Lawn in Central Park in the summer of 1991. Later in 1991, he helped record and appeared in the music video "Voices That Care" to entertain and support U.S. troops involved in Operation Desert Storm, and supported the International Red Cross.
Chase's career took a downturn in the late 1980s. Few of Chase's subsequent films have been able to duplicate the critical or commercial success of his early career. As fellow SNL personality Paul Shaffer later joked, "You made us laugh so much... and then you inexplicably stopped in about 1978." In fact, Chase's film successes, Caddyshack, Fletch, and National Lampoon's Vacation, all were products of the 1980s. Chase had three consecutive film flops from his later period: 1991's Razzie award-nominated Nothing But Trouble, 1992's Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and 1994's Cops and Robbersons. The three releases grossed $34 million in the U.S., combined. Even the durable Vacation series ground to a halt, following 1997's Vegas Vacation installment, the only one without the National Lampoon imprimatur. Some of the more recent movies starring Chase (e.g., Vacuums, Rent-a-Husband, Goose!) have not been released in the United States.
In September 1993, Chase hosted The Chevy Chase Show, a weeknight talk show, for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The show was cancelled by FOX after only six weeks. Chase later appeared in a commercial for Doritos, airing during the Super Bowl, in which he made humorous reference to the show. He was Hasty Pudding's 1993 Man Of The Year, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. He starred with Farrah Fawcett in Man of the House, which immortalized the YMCA Indian Guides program in 1995, and received Harvard Lampoon's Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
In 1998, Chase was offered the lead role of Lester Burnham in the Academy Award-winning drama, American Beauty, but he turned it down, fearing that it would tarnish his family-friendly image. The role went on to win Kevin Spacey the Academy Award for Best Actor.
He was roasted by the Friars Club in 2002. Chase was visibly upset by the tone of his fellow comedians, who were unmerciful in their skewering of Chase's slumping career. The roast was televised in 2002, but has not been repeated, nor has it been made available on DVD like similar Comedy Central roasts. In 2005, Chase was the keynote speaker at Princeton University's Class Day, part of commencement activities for the graduating class of 2005. Though he mentioned that he "left his written speech on the corner of the bathtub at home", he spoke for about 15 minutes about sense of humor and the perspective on life that it creates, while also proclaiming, "I strapped my dong down this morning", and discussing deleted scenes from the movie Dirty Work. Chase returned to mainstream movie-making in 2006, co-starring with Tim Allen and Courteney Cox in the comedy Zoom. Chase returned for a series of cameos on SNL's Weekend Update segment for the Fall 2007 season, saying "it's a perfect political year" for him "to get in there and raise a little heck." His first appearance on the segment was on the October 6, 2007 episode.
Chase is an active environmentalist and charity fundraiser. He raised money and campaigned for Bill Clinton in the 1990s and John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential Election. Chase has harshly criticized President George W. Bush with comments like, "This guy in office is an uneducated, real lying schmuck... and we still couldn't beat him with a bore like Kerry." In the same speech he allegedly stunned the crowd at a People For the American Way benefit at the Kennedy Center, referring to the President as a "dumb fuck". Several Bush detractors present at the event distanced themselves from Chase's comments, with Norman Lear remarking, "he'll live with it, I won't".. In September of 2008, Chase appeared on MSNBC to discuss Tina Fey's protrayal of Sarah Palin on the SNL. Chase stated that her impersonation was good, but that it didn't go far enough and that he "personally" wants Tina Fey to "decimate this woman." He also stated that John McCain has "lost his mind" (in reference to McCain choosing Palin as his running mate).
Chase guest-starred as an anti-Semitic murder suspect in "In Vino Veritas", the November 3, 2006 episode of Law & Order, which was apparently inspired by actor/director Mel Gibson's notorious arrest for drunk driving in 2006. Chase himself was arrested for drunk driving in 1995 with a blood alcohol level of more than double the legal limit.
Most recently, Chase guest-starred in the ABC drama series Brothers & Sisters, in two episodes as a former love interest of Sally Field's character. September 18th, 2008, he made his first in-studio appearance on the Howard Stern Show.
Chase is a registered Democrat, and is an outspoken left wing liberal. He has endorsed third party candidate Ralph Nader for the 2008 Presidential election. However, he also endorsed Barack Obama on his appearance on the Howard Stern Show on Sept 18, 2008.