Every body has a story.
Every body has a story.
October 31, 1950-March 4, 1994
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Content warning: this article contains potentially disturbing content, including references to death and poor career choices. Please use your best judgment as to whether you wish to read this content. Language is PG-13.
John Franklin Candy was born on October 31, 1950, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, into a typical middle class family consisting of car-salesman dad Sidney, housewife Evangeline “Van” (née Aker), and (three-years-older) brother James Candy.
Candy’s life hit its first major roadbump before he reached school age. In 1955 his father died of a heart attack. Fortunately his mother had family members nearby who helped her out with raising the boys.
Throughout his youth Candy attended Catholic schools, graduating from Neil McNeil Catholic High School. During his tenure there, he played hockey (ice) and football (Canadian). Some sources claim he trod the boards there in the school’s theater productions; other sources say he did not. Whatever the case, his dream at that time was to become a professional Canadian footballer, not an actor—until a knee injury (he said he lost a kneecap, but it’s unclear whether he was being literal or figurative) made it necessary for him to come up with a Plan B.
[Side note: Canadian football is neither soccer nor American football, but it’s similar to the latter.]
After high school Candy attended Centennial Community College in Toronto, where he studied journalism and acting, and/or McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, where he studied something else and acting. Other McMaster students of the era included future comedy icons Eugene Levy, Martin Short, and Dave Thomas, so if he went to school there, it must have made for some raucous dorm parties.
Candy only stayed in college for a couple of years before trying his luck in the real world. It didn’t take long before he was hired for some bit parts, and, more importantly, secured a spot in the venerable Chicago comedy troupe The Second City, alongside Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Gilda Radner, and Dave Thomas. When Second City opened a second venue in 1973—this one in Toronto—Candy went there. While fulfilling his Second City obligations, he also appeared in several small television and film roles.
As Candy’s comedic talent and self-effacing personality were becoming known to a wider audience, so was his reputation for being a generous and selfless man. Even before he started earning the big bucks, he would often pick up the tab for a dinner out with his equally cash-strapped friends, and as soon as he learned his way around a sound stage, he would lend a supporting hand to newcomers to the game.
The television series Saturday Night Live debuted in 1975, and Aykroyd, Belushi, and Radner left The Second City to seek fame via that enterprise. Candy stayed behind, but only a year later he was presented with his own opportunity to bring his talent to the masses, via the 1976 comedy sketch show Second City TV (SCTV). He stayed with SCTV from 1976-1979, again using some of his spare time to play various bit parts.
Besides leaving SCTV in 1979, Candy set out on another adventure that year, marrying Rosemary Hodor, the woman to whom he would be wed for the rest of his life. They had two children together, Jennifer and Christopher. Not too long after he married, Candy purchased a farm north of Toronto, where he and his family coexisted peacefully with cows, horses, dogs, and cats for many years.
In another 1979 first, Candy was cast in his first (albeit small) role in a major motion picture—Steven Spielberg’s 1941. Even with the hot team of Aykroyd and Belushi in the leading roles, the movie did not do as well as expected. Never fear, the following year Candy again teamed up with Aykroyd and Belushi, this time appearing in a small role in the much more popular The Blues Brothers.
1981 saw him in the Bill Murray vehicle Stripes, an uncredited guest spot on Saturday Night Live, and as a regular on SCTV’s new incarnation of the time, SCTV Network 90. He stayed with the latter until 1983, and scored two Primetime Emmys for his writing contributions to the show.
Speaking of 1983, it was a pretty good work year for Candy. He had a small part in the fan-favorite movie National Lampoon’s Vacation (allegedly getting paid $1,000,000 for what was basically a cameo role), he starred in the little-known film Going Berserk, and he had a substantial role playing the brother of Tom Hanks’s character in another fan favorite, Splash. According to Splash director Ron Howard, Candy was the consummate professional—except for one day. Candy showed up late that day, and when Howard gave him a pass for it, Candy further admitted that he was drunk. He had met Jack Nicholson in a bar the night before, and a starstruck Candy was so excited that Nicholson knew him by name, he let Nicholson persuade him to drink all night. The incident apparently didn’t have a long-lasting negative effect on Candy’s acting efforts: he went on to earn an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Films Saturn Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor—and his character was neither science fiction, fantasy, nor horror. (Candy lost out to Tracey Walker for his role in Repo Man). Candy also hosted Saturday Night Live for the first and only time in 1983. Reportedly he had been invited to host the show many, many times, but the offers were virtually always retracted at the last minute—which was said to have happened to many prospective hosts over the years.
Candy’s 1984 was quieter, job-wise. He appeared frequently on the Lorne Michaels-created sketch comedy show, The New Show. He was billed as a guest star but was featured in six of the nine episodes that aired. [Lorne Michaels has been the main man behind Saturday Night Live for almost all of its 45+ years of life (and counting). 1984 was a year that he happened to be involuntarily separated from the show, purportedly because the ratings had started sinking. He returned to the helm in 1985.] Candy also founded his own production company that year, Frostbacks Productions.
Candy was offered the role of accountant Louis Tully in 1984’s Ghostbusters. In the DVD commentary of the movie, the film’s director and producer, Ivan Reitman, said Candy had a clear idea of how he thought the character should be played (a dog owner with a German accent). Reitman disagreed, so guess who won. Candy did appear in the Ray Parker, Jr.: Ghostbusters music video in 1984.
In 1985 he joined a host of other Canadian celebrities to perform the song “Tears Are Not Enough” as part of the worldwide effort to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. Some of the other performers included singing superstars Burton Cummings, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Joni Mitchell, Bryan Adams, Geddy Lee, and Neil Young. Reportedly, Young and Mitchell arrived at the studio together in a taxi—no word on whether it was big and yellow. During Young’s solo recording session, the song’s co-writer and producer, David Foster, asked Young to re-record his part because one of the words was flat. Young just said, “That’s my sound, man.” It’s funny because it’s true.
Despite turning down a role in one of the biggest blockbusters of the decade, Candy’s career rebounded in a big way, with roles in Brewster’s Millions, Summer Rental, Volunteers, and more—and that was only 1985. In 1986 he and his family moved to Los Angeles so he could be closer to the Hollywood action, and between 1986 and 1993 he went on to appear in an impressive number of successful and loved movies. Some of the best include Little Shop of Horrors; Spaceballs; Planes, Trains, and Automobiles [affiliate link] (a performance that earned him an American Comedy Awards “Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture-Leading Role” nomination, which he lost to Robin Williams’s efforts in Good Morning, Vietnam); She’s Having a Baby; Uncle Buck; Home Alone (he allegedly did the job for scale—about $400—as a favor to producer/writer John Hughes); JFK; and Cool Runnings.
[In 1991 he accepted a major role in the Dan Aykroyd-directed Nothing But Trouble, thinking it was bound to be a hit with Aykroyd at the helm, but that was not the case. The only good(?) thing that came from it for Candy was a Razzie Award Nomination for Worst Supporting Actress for the scenes he played in drag.]
One of the highlights of Candy’s 1991 happened in his personal life. Still an avid fan, he bought a minority share of the Toronto Argonauts Canadian Football League team. The other owners were Bruce McNall, who owned the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, and Wayne Gretzky, who for a while was the Los Angeles Kings hockey team. Candy loved loved loved being involved with the team, and dedicated much of his time that year to helping them succeed. With his support, the ‘Nauts won the 1991 Grey Cup—the CFL’s equivalent to the NFL’s “big game.” (I don’t want to get sued, now, do I?)
Here’s another Candy/football-related tidbit—picture this: “the” Big American Football Game, 1989. Fourth quarter. Three minutes and twenty seconds left on the clock (which means the game probably won’t go on much longer than another hour and a half). San Francisco 49ers team down 16-13 to the Cincinnati Bengals. 49ers’ offensive tackle Harris Barton is feeling the pressure, and superstar quarterback Joe Montana can’t seem to get him to focus on the game. After several failed attempts, Montana—who knows that Barton enjoys seeing the celebrities who attend the games—points to the stands and says, “Look, there’s John Candy.” Barton looks. “Yeah, it is!” Candy provided enough of a distraction to get Barton out of his own head, and the 49ers went on to win the game 20-16.
Over the same time span that he was acting in film after film, Candy appeared several times in talk shows, including Larry King’s, David Letterman’s, and Johnny Carson’s. He also did his fair share of presenting (e.g., Academy Awards x two) and hosting (e.g., the Montreal International Comedy Festival ’93), and made plenty of “self” appearances (e.g., the original version of the Traveling Wilburys’ “Wilbury Twist” music video. [The Traveling Wilburys was a short-lived band comprised of George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and, until his death in 1988, Roy Orbison.] Candy was also the virtual one-man band responsible for 1989-1992’s cartoon series Camp Candy, and also ventured into radio in 1989, hosting Radio Kandy, a syndicated program combining pop music and sketch-type comedy. He seemed to have a penchant for the Muppets (as most of us do), playing a state trooper in the big Bird vehicle Follow That Bird, and polka master Yosh Shmenge in Sesame Street’s adorable television movie, Put Down the Duckie. He also appeared in three episodes of the Sesame Street television series (one episode each in 1987, 1989, and 1994).
In early 1994 Candy was in Durango, Mexico, filming a comedy titled Wagon’s East! Some sources say he had just finished completing his scenes, others say he wasn’t quite finished, when on March 4, 1994, Candy was found dead in his bed, having suffered a heart attack early that morning. Wagon’s East! was released in August of 1994. The last movie of his to be released was Canadian Bacon, which had been filmed before Wagon’s East! but not released until mid-1995. Candy’s first and only directorial effort, the television movie Hostage for a Day, was also first aired after his death, in late April of 1994.
Candy had been cast as a talking turkey in Disney Pictures’ 1995 animated film Pocahontas. He had completed much of the voice acting work, but after his death, Disney decided to pull the character completely.
In 1995 he was part of a group of actors awarded a Gemini Award’s Earle Grey Award for his contributions to SCTV. The other recipients were Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Nartin Short, Joe Flaherty, Catherine O’Hara, Harold Ramis, and Dave Thomas.
In 2006 the Canadian government issued postage stamps bearing Candy’s image. so his likeness will forevermore be traveling around the world via planes, trains, and automobiles.
It was announced in late 2022 that there was a documentary planned about Candy’s life. Actors Ryan Reynolds and Colin Hanks are spearheading the project, with the approval and help of John Candy’s widow and children.