Family & Companions
Canadian funnyman John Candy was known around Hollywood as one of the most amiable, easygoing people to work with. Onscreen, that inherent genial nature combined with his terrific comedic sense created some of most memorable movie characters of the '80s and '90s like "Uncle" Buck Russell and Del Griffith in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" (1987). Candy first became known to millions in the late '70s as a cast member of the legendary Canadian sketch comedy show "SCTV" (Syndicated, 1977-80, NBC 1981-82, Cinemax, 1983) before going on to enjoy success in dozens of features, including seven for the era's box office comedy king, John Hughes. However, the major talent was capable of far more than increasingly subpar Hollywood offerings, and Candy's frustration manifested itself with excessive eating and heavy smoking. When his life was cut short by a heart attack in 1994 at the age of 43, there was a sense that he had only begun to showcase his real depth as an actor.
John Candy was born on Oct. 31st, 1950, in Newmarket, Ontario, and raised in Toronto. When he was five years old, his father died of a heart attack, so John and his younger brother Jim were co-raised by their mom, aunt and grandparents. Good-natured Candy was popular at the Catholic Neil McNeil High School, and he played on the hockey and football teams until a knee injury sent him permanently to the bench. He had already gotten a taste for making people laugh and with his injury, now had more time to devote to school theater. He continued to be an enthusiastic football fan, so went on to study journalism at Centennial Community College with thoughts of a career as a sports writer. After several years of drama classes and perhaps due to the excitement of landing an uncredited acting bit in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film "Hercules in New York" (1970), Candy dropped out of college in 1970 to pursue acting full time.
Candy began networking around Toronto's particularly fertile comedy grounds, meeting people like future co-star Dan Aykroyd, and making appearances in local Canadian film and TV productions. He also landed a position with the Children's Theater in Ontario and his amiable and silly demeanor lent itself to roles in several kids TV programs. In 1972, he and Aykroyd got wind of news that Chicago's influential comedy troupe The Second City had plans to open a Toronto branch of the theater, so the two auditioned. Candy was so well-received that he was invited to Chicago to join the main theater where he built up a solid reputation for several years and formed lifelong associations with fellow comedic actors Gilda Radner, John Belushi and Bill Murray. In 1974, he returned to Toronto where he and Radner joined Aykroyd, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Dave Thomas, and others onstage at the fledgling Second City outpost. In 1976, Candy began to supplement his Second City stage appearances with a recurring role on the late night Canadian TV show, "Ninety Minutes Live" and roles in low-budget flicks "The Clown Murders" (1976) and "Tunnel Vision" (1976), which became coltishly sought after on home video after stars like Candy hit it big.
In October of 1976 Candy and his fellow castmates launched their own weekly half-hour sketch show, "SCTV" (Second City Television), in Canada. "SCTV" sketches were glued together by the premise that they were the programming of a local, low budget TV station in the fictitious town of Melonville. Not unlike the premise, SCTV was a moderately budgeted affair, and though the recurring characters were given a chance to develop into a hilariously complete world of their own, it was a development aided in no small part due to a lack of funding for more wardrobe and sets. Among Candy's most memorable roles during his "SCTV" run were Melonville Mayor Tommy Shanks, chipper polka player Stan Schmenge, and Harry, the guy with the snake on his face.
American audiences first met Candy and the rest of the Canadian cast when "SCTV" began airing in the United States in 1977. By the time the show was picked up by NBC in 1981, he was making a memorable mark in some of the most popular film comedies of the day, playing an Orange Whip-loving sheriff in "The Blues Brothers" (1980) and the wide-eyed innocent mud wrestler "Ox" in "Stripes" (1981). Candy continued with "SCTV" until its cancellation in 1983, by which time he had earned two Emmys for his work on the show. He followed up his auspicious run of films with "National Lampoon's Vacation" (1982), where he was responsible for breaking the news to the Griswold family that Walley World was closed for repairs, and "Splash" (1984) where he was at his back-slapping best as Tom Hanks freewheelin' devil-may-care brother. By now, Candy had established the dependable onscreen personae of the overindulgent fun-loving guy, the lovable loser, the everyman - often a combination of all three.
In 1985, Candy co-starred alongside Richard Pryor in a remake of "Brewster's Millions" and helmed the sadly generic "Summer Rental." Despite these flops, he also made his executive producing debut with "The Last Polka" for HBO. The hilarious special, starring Candy and Eugene Levy, revisited "SCTV"'s Schmenge Brothers and reminded audiences what Candy could do with good material that played to his strengths. The busy year landed him on Playgirl magazine's list of Most Desirable Men.
One of the finest roles in Candy's career came with 1987's "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," with the portly actor portraying a lonely, chatty, traveling salesman with that everyman quality Candy was always able to convey beneath the laughter. He was especially touching with in the final scenes when he showed his vulnerability to Steve Martin's character, admitting, that despite his bravado, he had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. He followed up this tour-de-force by returning to the "SCTV" school of humor with the classic sci-fi spoof "Spaceballs" (1987), where he played a half-man/half-dog takeoff on Chewbacca in "Star Wars." "Uncle Buck" (1989) also showcased Candy at his best - as a fun-loving and unrefined but well-intentioned substitute parent - able to elicit compassion from an audience like few modern comedic characters. The film overshadowed Candy's directing debut "Who's Harry Crumb" (1989) and lackluster fare like "Speed Zone" (1989) and "The Great Outdoors" (1988), co-starring fellow Canuck comic, Aykroyd. That same year, Candy debuted a weekly syndicated radio show "Radio Kandy" and an animated kids show "Camp Candy" (NBC 1989-90) where an animated version of the rotund comedian ran a kids summer camp. The show was adapted into a comic book for an imprint of Marvel Comics.
Following the 1991 flop "Nothing But Trouble," for which he received a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress (he had appeared in drag in the film), Candy broke free from the string of turkeys with a more dramatic turn, starring in "Only the Lonely" (1991) opposite screen legend Maureen O'Hara. A chance role of a crooked New Orleans attorney in the epic "JFK" (1991) (after meeting Steven Spielberg at a party) further proved that Candy's talents had been underutilized by Tinseltown. With "Cool Runnings" (1993), Candy seemed to be enjoying a career upswing in his well-reviewed role as a former Olympic star charged with training a Jamaican bobsled team.
In 1994, Candy made his directing debut with the Fox TV movie, "Hostage for a Day," in which he co-starred with George Wendt. Though he did not know it, he was running out of time. After traveling to Mexico to shoot the Western, "Wagons East," on the evening of March 4, after a particularly grueling day of shooting in the desert heat, Candy died in his sleep from a heart attack. He had been experiencing a great deal of pain due to a hip injury that was scheduled for replacement after shooting, and was battling a weight of over 350 pounds. Longtime friend Aykroyd delivered Candy's eulogy several days later, at a lively funeral service that included Chevy Chase, Tom Hanks, Rick Moranis, Bill Murray and others. In a page straight of out of Ed Wood film fare, "Wagons East" was completed using a Candy body double and released in theaters in 1995. The Michael Moore film "Canadian Bacon" was the final Candy film to be released and the last chance for fans to appreciate this gentle comic giant's talents.
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Special Thanks (Special)
Appeared in satirical revue, "Creeps" in Toronto
First met Dan Aykroyd through Toronto underground theater scene
Member of Second City Comedy Troupe, Chicago (along with John Belushi, Shelley Long, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray)
Feature film debut, "The Class of '44"
First starring role, "Going Berserk"
TV executive producing debut, "The Last Polka", an HBO comedy special (also starred)
Feature executive producing debut, "Who's Harry Crumb?" (Also starred)
Directing debut, "Hostage For A Day", a Fox TV-movie (also acted), did not air until April 1994, after Candy's death
Final released feature, "Canadian Bacon"