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Chris Farley's family sues Trek over name of fat-tired bikes

The "Godfather" of lowrider bikes

The family of late comedian and film star Chris Farley has filed a federal lawsuit against Trek Bicycle for naming its fat-tired bikes Farley, alleging the Wisconsin-based bike company misappropriated Farley's name and is profiting on his "fat guy" brand of comedy.

Chris Farley was born and raised in Madison, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Waterloo, where Trek is based. Fat bikes have grown in popularity because their wider-than-typical tires allow riders to ride across terrain that would be difficult for other types of bikes, such as sand or snow. 

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Tuesday that the lawsuit originated in California last year but a judge on Friday ordered that it be heard instead in federal court in Madison because that is closer to all of the parties involved.

Make Him Smile, a company founded and run by Farley's family to protect his publicity and property rights, said damages could exceed $10 million. Trek said any damages sought were purely speculative.

Trek has responded that much of the case rests on whether Farley was a resident of California at the time of his death, making his name and image subject to a California law that governs deceased celebrities' right of publicity. Trek's lawyers argue that Farley was a resident of Illinois when he died in 1997 in Chicago from a drug overdose.

Farley graduated from high school in Madison and Marquette University in Milwaukee before going on to star on Saturday Night Live and in several hit movies, including "Tommy Boy" and "Black Sheep."

He weighed about 400 pounds (180 kilograms), the lawsuit states, having "spent his entire career building, then capitalizing on, his unique brand of 'fat guy' humor and acting style."

The lawsuit alleges that Farley "carefully guarded and policed his brand," rejecting overtures from companies he felt did not warrant it, and even feared that losing weight would jeopardize his brand as a comedian. The lawsuit added that Farley "for nearly three decades linked and associated with his … persona and his identity as a fat comic actor willing to go into comic territories others would not seek to traverse," according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The lawsuit alleges Trek chose the name Farley "to immediately associate defendant Trek's fat bikes with one of their favorite 'fat' and 'loud' comedians," and the company's executives knew what they were doing when they made the decision.

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