In the 80s and early 90s, John Candy was one of the most beloved big screen funnymen around, appearing in such comedy classics as Splash, Spaceballs and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. It broke the hearts of fans everywhere when he died far too soon, taken by a heart attack in 1994, aged just 43.
Let’s take a look back at this sadly missed comedy legend with some facts about John Candy you may not have known.
40. Born in Newmarket, Ontario, John Candy was his actual name
Plenty of actors change their name when heading to Hollywood or take on a pseudonym for their acting careers. You might have thought John Candy did just that, given how much his moniker sounds like a stage name – but it was in fact the name he was born with.
John Franklin Candy was born on Halloween 1950 in Newmarket, Canada to parents Evangeline and Sidney James Candy and was raised in a working-class Catholic household. His father was of Scottish and English descent, whilst his mother had Polish and Ukrainian roots.
39. He passed his talent on to his children
Candy met his wife Rosemary in 1979 on a blind date. The couple had two children, Jennifer and Christopher Candy, born in 1980 and 1984 respectively. Both of his kids followed in their father’s footsteps, with Jennifer making a name for herself as an actor and producer.
Her brother, Chris, is also an actor and the pair actually worked together on Where’s This Party? The siblings have both spoken openly about the impact of their father’s life and death on their lives and careers.
38. He was larger than life
It is clear from his work that John Candy was a large actor, but sometimes it’s hard to get a sense of scale on the screen. He actually weighed in excess of 300 pounds (or 21 stone) for most of his adult life. He also had a rather strapping physique, standing at 6’2″.
He was rather sensitive about his size and tried to lose weight and ditch his smoking habit in the early 90s. He was also hyper-aware of his family’s history of heart attacks at a young age, with his father passing away at the age of just 35.
37. He turned down Saturday Night Live
Candy got his big break on Canadian TV comedy series SCTV, and was so devoted to this series that he repeatedly turned down offers to join the cast of more popular rival series Saturday Night Live. However, he did come close to appearing on SNL once, being poised to appear as a guest host of the show in 1985.
Candy actually got so far as to shoot a promo for the episode, alongside Eugene Levy and Billy Crystal. Alas, the episode never actually went ahead due to a writers’ strike.
36. He appeared in films with SNL stars more than any other actor
It’s easy to assume Candy had been a Saturday Night Live performer, as he wound up co-starring in more movies alongside SNL stars than any other actor who was not a member themselves of SNL at the time. At the time of his death, he had appeared in ten films alongside various stars of the show.
These included Stripes with Bill Murray (as well as Harold Ramis, who turned down a job at SNL), and Brewster’s Millions with Richard Pryor. However, this record has since been surpassed by Nick Swardson, who as of 2016 had appeared in 18 movies with SNL cast members.
35. He turned down the Rick Moranis role in Ghostbusters
Candy was offered the role of Louis Tully in Ghostbusters alongside Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray. However, he turned the role down due to conflict over how the character would be portrayed. Instead, the role of Louis Tully was given to John Candy’s SCTV colleague Rick Moranis.
Candy still managed to be involved in the hit supernatural comedy, albeit in a minor way, as he was amongst the many celebs (others including Chevy Chase and Danny DeVito) who pop up in the music video for Ray Parker’s Ghostbusters theme song.
34. He made more John Hughes movies than any other actor
John Candy appeared in more John Hughes films that any other actor, starring or having cameos in seven of his movies. Most famously he appeared in Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles as salesman Del Griffith, co-starring with his good friend Steve Martin. He also made appearances in National Lampoon’s Vacation (written, although not directed by Hughes) and She’s Having a Baby.
What’s more, he played the title character in Uncle Buck, which introduced the world to child actor Macaulay Culkin. This wasn’t the last time he appeared in the same film as Culkin, as Candy also had a small role in Home Alone.
33. Catherine O’Hara was among his best friends
Candy had many good friends in Hollywood, including Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy to name just a few. He often referred to O’Hara as his closest friend, and the pair would work together on several projects including Home Alone. Other actors who had worked with him have praised his incredible talents and business-minded approach.
They would also talk of how much fun he was on set, recalling times they broke down in laughter as Candy would make a face or do something hilarious from behind the camera. Amy Madigan, who worked with him on Uncle Buck, commented that “he was really just an incredibly generous person.”
32. He predicted his own death
According to O’Hara, he contacted her on his way to Mexico to film Wagons East saying he felt something terrible was going to happen in Mexico. After a late-night meal of lasagne, he turned in for the night and sadly would never wake up. He is presumed to have suffered a heart attack whilst sleeping, although no autopsy took place to confirm this.
As well as his hefty weight, Candy was a heavy drinker and smoker until just a few months prior to his death. He was also said to be under a significant amount of stress during the filming of Wagons East, which may have further contributed to his heart attack.
31. His funeral was a Hollywood who’s-who
John Candy’s funeral was packed with friends and family including many Hollywood stars like Tom Hanks, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Catherine O’Hara and Dan Aykroyd, who delivered the eulogy. The service was held at a Catholic church in Los Angeles, which was at full capacity during the funeral. His crypt was located just above fellow actor Fred MacMurray.
Since he was born in Ontario, Canada, a special memorial to commemorate Candy’s career was broadcast across Canada on March 18th 1994 and was viewed by millions. The memorial was produced by the improvisation troupe he had previously been a part of.
30. He was a keen sports enthusiast
Back in 1989, he was seen in attendance at Miami’s Joe Robbie Stadium for the legendary Super Bowl XXIII. The game was between the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers and was a huge deal at the time. As legend has it, towards the end of the game, Joe Montana turned to tackle Harris Barton and spotted a familiar face in the stands.
“Hey, look over there,” the quarterback is said to have exclaimed. “Is that John Candy?” Montana was of course correct: the legend was in the crowd, and the moment made sporting history.
29. The LAPD shut down the busiest freeway in the world to make way for his funeral procession
John Candy was clearly loved by all that knew him personally, and by many millions more who didn’t. This was nowhere more apparent than at his funeral, when Eugene Levy was following the procession heading to the cemetery. He soon noticed the lack of traffic on the 405 freeway, and that police officers were holding traffic.
After asking an officer what was going on, he was informed that the LAPD had made the unusual decision to close the road. The only time this has happened previously was in honour of the President and the Pope.
28. He didn’t only play the funny man
After a string of highly successful movies in the 1980s, Candy’s career was in decline. He decided that in order to revive it, he would try his hand at some more serious roles, and was cast in JFK in 1991. His portrayal of Dean Andrews was critically acclaimed and believed by many to be his best work.
In the movie, the sheen of sweat on his face is noticeable, and he revealed that this was in fact a genuine reaction. This was because he was so nervous at the prospect of working alongside high-brow actors such as Donald Sutherland and Gary Oldman.
27. He plays an annoying passenger in two movies
He appears in two films in which he gets on the nerves of the passengers surrounding him. These movies were 1985’s Volunteers which re-united him with Splash’s Tom Hanks, and of course 1987’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles in which he co-starred with Steve Martin.
In both films, he can be seen in the window seat on the right side of the plane, with an annoyed fellow passenger located to his left. He also bursts into spontaneous song in both films, leading everyone in rousing renditions of Puff the Magic Dragon and The Flintstones.
26. There were strange circumstances surrounding his death
The night before their father’s death, Candy’s children spoke to him over the phone. His daughter, Jen, recalls being distracted with homework and was not fully engaged in the conversation, telling her father she loved him before hanging up.
Jen and her brother, Chris, were at Mass where they were informed of the heart-breaking news, both breaking down into floods of tears.
25. He was a huge animal lover
Candy had a passion for animals. He would constantly bring home strays and was a regular at the local pet shelter. Candy also owned a farm, where he kept herds containing a variety of cow breeds. The family also cared for four Clydesdale horses, named Peaches, Cream, Uncle Buck and Harry Crumb.
Candy’s wife was supportive of all this, despite the fact that she herself was actually allergic to most animals.
24. He loved to help people
Candy was devoted to helping people in real need, which he felt was his duty. According to his daughter, he was constantly working with some sort of charity, including Make a Wish and Paediatric AIDS Foundation. “He liked to make people laugh and feel good,” explained his daughter.
In particular, he loved to work with children, and his Uncle Buck co-stars would remark on how comfortable Candy was around kids, and vice versa.
23. He worked hard to perfect his roles
As previously mentioned, Candy took on the role of Dean Andrews in JFK. This was in an attempt to branch out and play a more serious role. His children took note of his dedication to the film, recalling the time they were having a water fight when he yelled at them for being too loud.
He even had a dialect coach in an attempt to perfect the accent. He worked day and night on the script, determined to portray the figure to the best of his ability.
22. He rarely watched his own work
Some actors revel in their roles and love to watch their characters’ lives play out onscreen, whilst others are more reserved in their approach. Candy definitely seems to fall into the latter of these categories. Candy had great respect for the film industry and loved working with such talented professionals.
However, he was often reluctant to view the final product, despite the passion he had invested in it. He would even refuse to attend premieres, instead sending his wife along and asking her to report back on the scenes that received the most laughs.
21. He owned a football team
As well as an actor, Candy was also regarded as a successful businessman. In 1991, he became a shareholder of the iconic Canadian football team, the Toronto Argonauts. As a Canadian himself, this had been a dream of Candy’s since he was a child.
The high point of this venture saw them winning the 1991 Grey Cup, bringing victory to the city. Sadly, after this, the Argonauts’ popularity began to wane, and the team was sold off in 1994.
20. He turned down a multi-million-dollar deal for Home Alone
When John Hughes offered Candy the small part of Gus Polinski in Home Alone, he offered the actor a share of the movie’s profits. Candy turned down the offer but still took the part, viewing it as a favour to Hughes. Pocketing only $414 for his work, Candy filmed as Gus for 22 hours, slipping some hilarious improvisations into his performance.
No one could have guessed that Candy would miss out on millions of dollars for refusing a share in the film. Grossing $477 million, this film broke the record for the highest-grossing live action comedy, surpassed only by The Hangover Part II in 2011.
19. He was considered for the ‘cursed’ lead role in Atuk, just like John Belushi and Chris Farley, before he died
Before his untimely death, Candy was considering starring in Atuk, a new movie about an Inuit hunter who moves to a modern city. This still unfilmed movie is based on the novel The Incomparable Atuk, written by Candy’s fellow Canadian Mordecai Richler. Candy died while he was still working through the script.
The same fate befell John Belushi and Chris Farley, who were both interested in taking the lead role, in 1982 and 1997 respectively. This coincidence has led superstitious types to speculate that the Atuk script is cursed.
18. He turned down the part of Wayne Szalinski in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
Just as Candy passed on the part of Louis Tully in Ghostbusters, he also declined another role that would be taken by his friend Rick Moranis: that of Wayne Szalinkski in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Candy was offered the role first but felt it wasn’t right for him, and recommended the filmmakers instead cast Moranis.
Wayne Szalinski wound up becoming one of the best-loved characters from Moranis’ body of work, and the actor would reprise the role in sequels Honey, I Blew Up the Kid and Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. Moranis is also poised to play the role a fourth time in upcoming sequel Shrunk.
17. He lived in the notorious Whidden Hall at university
Before his rise to fame, Candy studied journalism and took up theatre classes at Centennial College in Toronto. He joined McMaster University as an undergraduate, where he reportedly lived in Whidden Hall. This hall of residence was notorious for being the epicentre to some of the wildest student pranks and antics.
In fact, it is rumoured that National Lampoon’s Animal House, a comedy starring several of John Candy’s close friends, was based on Whidden Hall. Ivan Reitman, who produced National Lampoon’s Animal House, was an alumnus of the Hall.
16. He sang in a band called Northern Lights for a charity single
Celebrity charity singles were all the rage in 1984 and 1985, including Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, USA for Africa’s We Are The World and the Latin American song Cantaré, cantarás. Canadian celebrities were bitten by the charity single bug, too. Candy, Joni Mitchell, Bryan Adams and many other stars formed a supergroup called Northern Lights.
Their single Tears Are Not Enough was released in 1985 to raise money for relief efforts amid the Ethiopian famine of 1983-85. It was issued by Columbia Records, and it swiftly reached the number one spot in Canada’s Top 40 chart. Within five years, the song had amassed $3.2 million for famine relief, with a 10% portion set aside for Canadian food banks.
15. He was meant to play a talking turkey in Pocahontas when he died
The 1995 Disney movie Pocahontas had a star-studded voice cast, with Billy Connolly, Christian Bale and Mel Gibson among its actors. One part, however, was intended specifically for John Candy – and when he died, the producers got rid of the role altogether. Among Pocahontas’ animal companions, Candy would have provided the voice for Redfeather, a talking turkey.
Following Candy’s death, Pocahontas’ producers in fact decided that all the animal characters should be mute. Critic Peter Travers noted that Pocahontas could have been far more entertaining if it had retained its wise-cracking animals, in the style of The Lion King’s Pumbaa and Timon.
14. The rock band Ween dedicated an album to him
Amid the outpouring of grief over Candy’s death, the rock band Ween decided to pay homage to the comedy legend. The stars of the duo, Dean and Gene Ween (Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman) were in the middle of producing the album Chocolate and Cheese when Candy died.
This album, which was Ween’s first to be assembled in a professional recording studio, was “dedicated in loving memory to John Candy.” In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Gene noted, “We always dedicate our records to one person,” noting that the death of Kurt Cobain around the same time overshadowed Candy’s passing.
13. One of his first TV appearances was on the children’s TV show Cucumber
Candy made his name in comedy films for adults – but his TV origins were in much more child-friendly programming. One of his earliest appearances on the small screen was in a kids’ show called Cucumber. This series, which stands for Children’s Underground Club of United Moose and Beaver for Enthusiastic Reporters, saw Candy play The Weatherman.
This personality is a meteorologist who dresses up as a superhero for his side-gig as a children’s party entertainer. The show was part-educational, part-comedy. Sections of Cucumber were based on Ontario’s primary school curriculum, so the show could be used in classrooms as a teaching resource.
12. His face features on stamps
Hollywood found many ways to commemorate John Candy after his death. His last two films, Wagons East and Canadian Bacon, were both dedicated to him. But in his homeland of Canada, Candy was honoured with a postage stamp bearing an illustration of him stroking his chin in thought.
The stamps, set at 51 cents, were created in 2006 as part of the new Canadians in Hollywood series. Other stars who graced the postage art were Fay Wray, Lorne Greene and Mary Pickford.
11. He won two Emmys for his writing
The Toronto branch of the improv-comedy troupe Second City kickstarted Candy’s film career. He was a cast member on their popular television show Second City Television from 1976 to 1979. Thanks to his work on Second City TV Network 90 in 1982-83, Candy – along with the rest of the team – was nominated for no less than nine Primetime Emmy Awards.
He won two of these, including the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program in 1982. He scooped the same award in the following year, for the episodes The Energy Ball and Sweeps Week. Posthumously, Candy won a 1995 Gemini Award for his lifetime contributions to show business.
10. He was supposed to star opposite Sylvester Stallone in a John Hughes warring neighbours movie
As unlikely as it might sound, John Candy came close to co-starring with musclebound action man Sylvester Stallone in movie written and directed by John Hughes, though. The movie was entitled Bartholomew vs. Neff, and it would have cast Stallone and Candy as warring next-door neighbours.
However, when Hughes’ 1991 movie Curly Sue bombed at the box office, Bartholomew vs. Neff fell apart. The film was never made, and Curly Sue wound up being the last movie that Hughes ever directed.
9. He caused trouble by showing up drunk to work more than once
Everyone seems to agree that Candy was one of the nicest guys in the business, but he could still be a little naughty. It’s well known that the comedy star enjoyed a drink – and at times, he enjoyed a drink not long before he was due to work. One occasion when this proved to be a particular problem was during production on Splash.
Director Ron Howard says that Candy showed up drunk for work one morning, having been up all night after meeting Jack Nicholson at a bar. To make matters worse, Candy had a physically demanding morning shoot on a racquetball court.
8. The devil suit in Planes, Trains and Automobiles was his idea
One of the most memorable moments in Planes, Trains and Automobiles sees Candy’s character Wayne unwittingly driving the wrong way down the highway at night. This leads to a surreal moment in which Steve Martin’s Neal first envisages both of them as screaming skeletons, then envisages Wayne as the Devil.
This surreal twist of cartoonish humour in the scene was added at the suggestion of Candy himself. Reportedly, when executives from the studio turned up to see the day’s filming, they were not impressed. Knowing that the film was a fairly down-to-earth comedy, they were confused to see Candy in such an outlandish costume.
7. His Cool Runnings character didn’t actually exist in real life
The last John Candy movie to hit screens before his untimely demise was the 1993 sports comedy Cool Runnings. The film was based on the true story of the first ever Jamaican bobsleigh team to compete in the Winter Olympics. However, although it was based around real events, Cool Runnings took some significant liberties with the facts.
Most significantly, the film casts Candy as coach Irv Blitzer, a disgraced Olympic bobsled contender who was disqualified in the 70s. Irv Blitzer is actually an entirely fictional character. No such man was hired to train the Jamaican bobsleigh team. In reality, the team had a number of coaches, and none of them had ever been caught up in any cheating scandals.
6. The death of John Belushi plunged him into depression
As a successful, heavy-set funnyman with an indulgent lifestyle, John Candy had a lot in common with John Belushi. Because of this, it hit Candy very hard when Belushi unexpectedly passed away in March 1982. In biography Laughing on the Outside: The Life of John Candy, friends recall that Candy locked himself away at home and wouldn’t even answer the phone after Belushi died.
According to actor Dan Hennessey, “John knew it was time to go home, clean up, and get his career in order.” Candy endeavoured to take better care of himself and stopped using drugs – but he couldn’t kick the drinking, smoking and over-eating. Candy died on March 4, 1994, at the age of 43, the day before the twelfth anniversary of Belushi’s death.
5. There was a campaign to name the Canadian Screen Awards the Candys in his honour
In 2013, the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television began a new annual awards ceremony. The official title of the ceremony is the Canadian Screen Awards – but there have been calls for it to have an official nickname. Much as how America’s Academy Awards is known as the Oscars, some feel the Canadian Screen Awards should be dubbed the Candys.
It was felt that this would be fitting both in honour of John Candy, and as ‘Candy’ is suggestive of Canadians. Other nicknames suggested for the show include the Pickfords (in honour of Mary Pickford) or the Normans (in honour of director Norman Jewison) – but none has been officially adopted to date.
4. A crystal he bought his children shattered on the day he died
Candy’s death was not ruled suspicious, but some surprising phenomena occurred at the time. First, Candy himself seemed to foretell his own death, as we mentioned earlier. Secondly, he died the very night he completed shooting his final role. Then on the day that he passed away, as his wife and children were reeling from the shock, something strange happened at home.
Candy was shooting in Mexico when he died, and he’d given his family a large piece of amethyst he’d bought there. On the day of his death, the amethyst – usually a very sturdy crystal – suddenly shattered where it stood. Jen and Chris Candy recall their mother telling them that this was simply their father’s way of saying goodbye.
3. He dropped out of hosting an awards show when they made jokes about his weight
There’s no avoiding that Candy was physically a very big man, and towards the end of his life he was tired of being reminded of it. In 1992, Candy was all set to serve as the host on the Genie Awards before having a sudden change of heart. Candy saw a TV promo that had been prepared for the show, which joked, ‘we got the biggest star we could find.’
Candy, who had been making efforts to lose weight at the time, promptly dropped out of the show in offence. Friends of Candy have remarked that the actor was subsequently sent into a downward spiral of heavy drinking, eating and smoking.
2. Halloween 2020 was dubbed ‘John Candy Day’
He was born in Newmarket, Ontario on 31st October – Halloween itself – in 1950. Because of this, the city of Toronto decided to make Halloween 2020 a little more special. The holiday was dubbed John Candy Day by the Mayor of Toronto, on what would have been Candy’s 70th birthday.
Mayor John Tory explained, “It’s our way of remembering a beloved actor and comedian with roots in Toronto.” While Candy was not born in Toronto, he spent a great deal of his life there and made a big impact on the city. Candy’s kids Chris and Jen were moved by the gesture, declaring it to be “such an honour.”
1. He appeared in his own animated kids’ TV show
As well as being well-loved by adult audiences around the world, John Candy had a big following among children as well. For this reason he got his own cartoon series, Camp Candy, which was set at a fictitious summer camp run by the star himself. Candy voiced himself and also sang the theme song, which was written for the show by famed singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson.
Candy’s children also voiced characters on the show, which proved popular enough to spawn its own Marvel comic book series. Camp Candy premiered in September 1989 and came to an end in 1992 after three seasons, with 40 episodes made in total.