Who Was John Candy?
Actor and comedian John Candy got his big break when he was offered membership in the Second City comedy troupe in the 1970s. In 1984, he co-starred with Tom Hanks in the film Splash and became a movie star. Audiences loved Candy for his roly-poly good nature and wry humor. A veteran of more than 40 films, Candy died of a heart attack while shooting a film in Mexico in 1994.
Born and Raised in Toronto
Candy was born on October 31, 1950, in Toronto, Canada, and grew up in the city's East York neighborhood. When he was about four years old, Candy lost his father. The future actor/comedian was subsequently raised by his mother, with the help of his aunt and grandparents. Educated in Catholic schools, Candy played football and hockey. He discovered acting in high school, appearing in a number of productions.
In 1969, Candy enrolled at Centennial Community College in Toronto, where he studied journalism and acting. In 1971, he left school to pursue an acting career. He met and befriended future collaborator Dan Aykroyd around this time. Aykroyd encouraged Candy to try out for the Toronto branch of the popular Chicago comedy troupe Second City.
Success With Second City
Candy did so well at his Second City audition that he was invited to join the troupe's Chicago group. For two years, he appeared alongside such fellow comedy stars as John Belushi and Gilda Radner. Candy returned to Toronto in 1974, working with Second City's Toronto group. He helped bring the troupe's skits and sketches to Canadian television in 1977 as SCTV, which also featured Martin Short, Eugene Levy and Harold Ramis.
In 1981, SCTV landed a spot on NBC's late night line-up. Candy was a featured performer by this time. His work on the show featured such impressions as Julia Child, Orson Welles and Luciano Pavarotti. Candy also created numerous memorable characters, including the sketchy celebrity Johnny LaRue and horror film maestro Dr. Tongue. He won Emmy Awards for the show's writing in 1981 and '82.
While on SCTV, Candy made some film appearances. He had small roles in Steven Spielberg's 1979 war comedy 1941, and in The Blues Brothers (1980) with Belushi and Aykroyd. Candy also played a misfit Army recruit in the Bill Murray hit comedy Stripes.
Major Films: From 'Splash' to 'Cool Runnings'
After leaving SCTV in 1983, Candy focused primarily on making films. His movie career is marked by many highs and lows. Candy had a breakthrough with his turn as the sleazy brother of Tom Hanks' character in Splash (1984). The film was directed by Ron Howard and also starred Daryl Hannah, who played the mermaid that Hanks' character falls in love with. After that film, Candy had a string of disappointments, including the films Brewster's Millions and Summer Rental, both released in 1985. His next film, Armed and Dangerous (1986), didn't fare well at the box office either.
Candy's career rebounded in 1987 with the popular comedy Planes, Trains & Automobiles, which also starred Steve Martin. That same year, he had a memorable yet brief appearance in Mel Brooks' Star Wars spoof Spaceballs. In 1988, he starred opposite Aykroyd in The Great Outdoors, which received fairly tepid reviews. While Spaceballs and The Great Outdoors didn't excite critics, Candy went on to score a big hit with the John Hughes comedy Uncle Buck (1989). In 1990, he appeared in a smaller role in the smash Home Alone, starring Macaulay Culkin.
Due to his tall stature and generous size, Candy often played the big guy and provided comic relief. In 1991, however, he had a rare opportunity to play a romantic lead in Chris Columbus' Only the Lonely with Ally Sheedy and Maureen O'Hara. That same year, he demonstrated some dramatic ability with a bit part in Oliver Stone's political thriller JFK.
Returning to more familiar territory, Candy enjoyed another wave of box-office success with 1993's Cool Runnings, which tells the story of the first Jamaican bobsled team's efforts to enter the Olympic Games.
Candy had just completed work on a new comedy western, Wagons East when tragedy struck: He was found dead on location in Durango, Mexico, on March 4, 1994, at the age of 43. It was later reported that the actor had suffered a heart attack in his sleep. Candy had struggled with his weight for much of his career and was also a heavy smoker. He left behind a wife, Rosemary, and two children, Jennifer and Christopher.
In addition to being a veteran of more than 40 films, Candy was an avid sports fan and co-owned a Canadian Football League franchise, the Toronto Argonauts. Additionally, he owned a chain of blues bars and restaurants called House of Blues with Aykroyd and Jim Belushi.
The entertainment world greatly mourned the death of Candy, who was known in the industry for his warmth and generosity and remains widely revered as a unique comedic talent. As a writer for Maclean's stated, Candy "could be as funny as anyone. But what set him apart was a tenderness, a gentle emotional candor that made him instantly credible and lovable."
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