Hawking From the Grave: a Tribute or a Disgrace?

The late Chris Farley appears in new ad to the chagrin of some fans.

ByABC News
October 28, 2009, 8:21 AM

Oct. 28, 2009— -- Chris Farley died 12 years ago but he's back to life in a new ad for DirecTV.

The television spot shows images of Farley performing one of his comedy bits from the movie "Tommy Boy" as comedian David Spade tosses out wisecracks from a couch.

Viewers have been quick to weigh in, with many calling it tasteless and others insisting it's a tribute.

The line between honoring a dead celebrity and exploiting one can be blurry, as the son of television pitchman Billy Mays is beginning to find out. Mays died in June and his son quickly launched a Web site in his father's memory.

As part of his stated mission to honor his father, Billy Mays III is sponsoring a Hallow-clean Contest and encouraging fans to dress up as a dead Billy Mays for Halloween. Cyber reaction has not been kind, at a time when Billy Mays still appears on TV commercials.

And then there's Joe Jackson, who used the release of the documentary "This Is It," a movie featuring his dead son Michael Jackson, to hold a VIP party at the Palms hotel in Las Vegas. Jackson reportedly charged $3,000 to get in.

While many people find the business of cashing in on a celebrity after death a little creepy, the families apparent don't.

"We should look to Chris' family and friends for the ultimate opinion on this subject," according to a statement released by DirecTV spokesman Jon Gieselman. "They were involved from the beginning of this project and felt that the spot was a great tribute to Chris."

In a statement to ABCNews.com, Spade said, "When DIRECT TV came to me and the Farley family with this idea about 'Tommy Boy,' we talked and thought it would be a cool way to remind people just how funny Chris was. It is a clever homage to my friend and a movie that we loved doing."

The idea of relatives profiting from a dead celebrity's legacy began in the late 1970s, said Roger Richman, a California-based attorney whose agency managed the estates of hundreds of deceased personalities.

"Prior to 1979, it was considered wide-open territory ... anybody could use the image of a dead celebrity any way they wanted without any payment to the family," Richman said.