John Candy

John Candy Left Us 25 Years Ago

“I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ‘Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.”
~Del Griffith

Today is 25 years since the passing of John Candy. A legend of comedy and a personal hero for so many who grew up in the 1980s and 90s. Born in Newmarket, Ontario, Candy came to prominence in the Toronto branch of the Second City, which he later appeared on SCTV along with other contemporary comedy standards as Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Rick Moranis, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, and Martin Shot.

It wasn’t long before Candy started his film career, appearing in comedy classics such as Stripes, Splash, Home Alone, Spaceballs, Uncle Buck, Cool Runnings, and more dramatic roles like Only The Lonely and Oliver Stone’s JFK. Perhaps his most renowned role is that of Del Griffith, the shower-curtain ring salesman in John Hughes’ Planes Trains, and Automobiles.

John Candy
SCTV: John Candy (L), Joe Flaherty (C), and Eugene Levy (R).

It marks a quarter century since his passing but family and friends say it feels like he’s still around. “It’s something that can go from generation to generation to generation, so I don’t see that slowing down any time soon, just because of everyone who loved him and the work that he created was timeless,” his daughter Jennifer Candy said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “It’s interesting for us, too, because we’ve been in the center of his life that’s lived on past his passing,” added son Christopher Candy.

Ryan Reynolds even paid tribute to the late actor, sharing a montage of some of Candy’s most memorable roles via a small video on his Twitter account. Reynolds captioned the video, “It’s the 25th anniversary of John Candy’s passing. We cooked up a small tribute to a comedic genius and Canadian hero. If you haven’t seen much of his work, take a look at his films. He was a treasure.” Reynolds thanks Candy’s two children, Chris and Jennifer.

Check it out below:

For someone who brought some much laughter and joy into people’s lives, Candy was, as many comedians are, a person filled with sadness. His melancholic existence was never better articulated than the time Roger Ebert described meeting Candy once in a hotel bar in New York. Candy was sitting by himself, smoking and drinking. Ebert struck up a conversation with Candy as they were both going to be on the same TV show later the next day. Ebert goes on to say:

He was depressed. People loved him, but he didn’t seem to know that, or it wasn’t enough. He was a sweet guy and nobody had a word to say against him, but he was down on himself. All he wanted to do was make people laugh, but sometimes he tried too hard, and he hated himself for doing that in some of his movies. I thought of Del. There is so much truth in the role that it transforms the whole movie. Hughes knew it and captured it again in “Only the Lonely” (1991). And Steve Martin knew it and played straight to it.

This isn’t to throw a damper on the man. Quite the opposite. This is a celebration of someone who felt the need to make others happy before himself. A True Funnyman. Candy brought a sense of effervescent kindness to any and all his characters. Though he sometimes played the heavy schlub such as John Landis’ The Blues Brothers, Candy was often best when portraying the large man with an even larger heart, albeit a bumbling lovingly one.

Personally, I often think about the ending to Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles. There is such an emotional payoff to the ending because it feels so well earned and achingly felt by an audience long before it’s made apparent. Whereas Steve Martin’s Neal Page is given the final narrative payoff (he gets home for the holidays), it’s Candy’s Del that becomes the film’s heart and sole subject. The film ultimately deals in a wonderful Dickensian life lesson: Don’t judge people by their covers. There is such a poignancy to the scene where Neal comes back to the train platform only to find Candy’s Del waiting alone. Often times, the Academy overlooks comedy, but when it came to Candy as Del Griffith, it may have been one of their biggest oversights. Candy infuses Del with a broad but extremely complicated source of loss. This is a man dealing in grief and loneliness. Perhaps, as Roger Ebert gathered first-hand, this is why Plane, Trains and Automobiles is often singled out as Candy’s best performance. It was the one most closely associated with himself. But Del doesn’t ask for pity or even sentiment. He knows who he is. He knows what he has to deal with. Candy the actor, Candy the performer, knew just what to bring to people; Show! Don’t tell. He and Martin elevate the entire movie in those final moments, moving it from classic comedy into the pantheon of Great Movies. Period.

You can check out that final scene below:

On on March 4, 1994, while filming the Western parody Wagons East!, Candy died of a heart attack in Durango, Mexico, He was only 43. His final two films, Wagons East! and Michael Moore’s fiction film Canadian Bacon are dedicated to his memory.

When it comes to John Candy, “Love…is not a big enough word.“ October 31, 1950 – March 4, 1994

Sources: Ryan Reynolds (Twitter), Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Global, CBC, NBC

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