On the day John Candy died, a giant piece of amethyst he brought home for his family from Mexico abruptly shattered. His wife told his two children, Jennifer and Christopher, that was him saying goodbye.
Now, a week before what would have been the legendary actor’s 66th birthday, his adult children, both of whom are in show business, granted The Hollywood Reporter a rare in-depth interview to share new tales about their father, discuss his legacy and, of course, remember the comedy.
John Candy, the international treasure who appeared in 44 films, was first and foremost a family man, but he had a large soft spot for animals and helping others through charity. He fought a lifelong battle with his weight. The role most important to him was as a lawyer in an Oliver Stone picture.
“He was an amazing talent, an amazing force,” his son, Chris, 32, remembers. “He was on this planet to do a lot, and he did do a lot.”
The Passing of an Icon
The 1994 film Wagons East, Candy’s final movie, was his least enjoyable experience on a picture, Chris and his older sister, Jen, 36, agree.
“I don’t know if he was excited to work on it or wasn’t,” Chris says. “Richard Lewis, who worked with him on that movie, told me he was so much fun and so funny, but when he looked at my dad, he looked so tired.”
Candy died of a heart attack in Mexico on March 4, 1994, at the age of 43. Neither Jen nor Chris have any problem talking about that day and the immediate aftermath of their father’s death. They both say that discussing that time is cathartic for them.
“I was 9. It was a Friday,” Chris says. “I remember talking to him the night before he passed away and he said, ‘I love you and goodnight.’ And I will always remember that.”
Adds Jen, “I remember my dad the night before. I was studying for a vocabulary test. I was 14. He had just come home for my 14th birthday, which is Feb. 3. So I was talking to him on the phone, and, I hate this, but I was slightly distant because I was studying. So I was like, ‘Yeah, OK, I love you. I will talk to you later. Have a great night.’ Then I hang up, and I go back to studying.”
Both kids attended Friday mass at their school, St. Martin of Tours, after which they were pulled out of class by Father Donie.
“They wouldn’t tell me what was going on,” Jen says.
Chris breaks in, “I have this one memory of seeing this kid in mass, and he is playing around, and I had this weird energy come over me where I was able to feel older. And then Father Donie walked us down to the rectory. Bob Crane, my dad’s assistant was there. Our mom was there, in tears.”
“And someone says, I don’t remember who, ‘Your dad has passed away,'” Jen says.
“And we just erupted into tears,” Chris adds.
“I cried hysterically for five minutes, and then I stopped. And then I was done crying in public for a while,” Jen says. “It was a whirlwind after that point. That’s when we really knew about paparazzi because you had all the cameras.”
Chris interjects, “We found out that it was a heart attack pretty immediately. I just remember going ‘Why?’ because it doesn’t make any sense when you’re that young. I remember people coming over immediately; Chevy Chase coming over and family coming in that evening from Canada.”
He says their mother was “a rock for all of us. One of the things she taught us is that you have to go with the feelings. People are going to grieve differently.”
“The funeral was on Monday,” recalls Jen. “It was quick because they had a viewing at a local chapel. I went to it. It was horrible. The funeral was a closed casket.”
“I remember when we were ready to take him to [Holy Cross Cemetery], they blocked off [Interstate] 405 from Sunset [Boulevard] all the way to Slauson [Avenue],” says Chris, amazed. “LAPD stopped traffic and escorted us all. I still can’t believe that. Whenever I feel like I lose the importance of him to people, I just remember that happened. They do that for the president.”
John Franklin Candy was born Oct. 31, 1950, in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada to Sidney and Evangeline Candy.
“I always say my dad was born in a pumpkin patch because he was born on Halloween,” says Jen, with an infectious laugh, much like her father’s.
Although he would go on to star in some of the most iconic films of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, in his youth (and pretty much for the rest of his life) Candy wanted to be a football player. But an injury suffered while playing the game in high school meant he had to make other plans, which is why he jumped into acting.
Before long, he became a fan favorite on Second City Television thanks to his uniquely goofy and always enjoyable characters, such as Johnny LaRue. He won Emmys in 1982 and 1983 for his writing on that series after it moved to network TV. Candy would also perform and study at Second City in Chicago.
“He loved Johnny LaRue,” Jen says. “That character was smarmy, but he was lovable. And I think that’s one of the things that was at the core of all of our dad’s characters, a likability.”
Candy also played fan favorite Yosh Shmenge, the clarinetist who, along with accordionist Stan Shmenge (Eugene Levy), made up the The Shmenge Brothers polka band.
“I think that’s what draws people into a lot of those characters, you felt for them,” Chris says. “And that is something he came into the world with, that vulnerability.”
Candy married Rosemary Margaret Hobor in 1979.
“They met on a blind date,” Jen recounts, having heard the story countless times. “They went out on a date and enjoyed each other, and then my dad reached out to Mom asking if she could help him type out a script.”
Rose Candy, a ceramicist and abstract painter who still resides in Los Angeles, is perfectly happy to talk on end about her late husband with family and friends, but not with the media. “It’s just not her thing. My father was the one who was in front of the cameras,” Chris says.
Offscreen, John Candy was as warm and enduring as some of his most beloved characters, his children say, both with huge grins.
“Johnny LaRue was most him, to an extent,” Jen says. “And the reason I say that is Johnny LaRue was a business guy, he was lovable, but Dad was not smarmy. You mix that with Uncle Buck and Del Griffith [from Planes, Trains and Automobiles] and you’ve got my dad. He brought a little bit of himself to all of his characters.”
Candy’s wife and children were his everything, but the actor — who hosted Saturday Night Live in October 1983 and made multiple cameos on the show — had a soft spot for animals, which he was constantly rescuing, according to Jen and Chris.
“My dad loved bringing home animals, and my mom was such a trooper because she is allergic to dogs and cats,” Jen says, laughing as she mimics her father with pets under both arms. “He’d go to shelters and rescue them. We had [on the farm in Queensville, just outside of Newmarket] four Clydesdales: Peaches and Cream, Uncle Buck and Harry Crumb. We had cows. The farm, for him, was creating something where he could just go and escape and not be bothered, and be with his family.”
The Spaceballs and Summer Rental star also felt it was his duty to help his fellow man, which he did through numerous charities.
“He was constantly working with some sort of charity,” Jen says, listing several, including Make-A-Wish and the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. “He liked to make people laugh and feel good. And with certain kinds of charity work, especially with kids, he could do that, and that made him feel good.”
Most Meaningful Role
Of all the characters he played, John Candy put the most work into portraying Dean Andrews Jr., the eccentric, nervous New Orleans lawyer in Oliver Stone’s 1991 drama JFK. Even though they were young, Jen and Chris took note of their father’s focus and dedication to that role and film.
“JFK was my favorite of him for the longest time because he is so good in it,” Jen says. “He worked so hard on that. He had a dialect coach, and he worked night and day on that script. He was so worried about it, getting that accent down.”
She recalls one night in particular the kids were horsing around a little too much while their father was studying his character. “We were having water fights with our cousin while Dad was trying to learn lines, and we did get yelled at because we were being too loud. It was a ‘dad’ yell. He never yelled.”
Although Candy had a great deal of respect for the industry and admiration for those he worked with, he was not a fan of seeing the final product on the big screen.
“He put a lot of effort and love into everything he did, but he didn’t like going to the premieres,” Chris says. “He had a hard time watching the final product. I remember watching dailies with him. He didn’t have a hard time watching himself in that manner.”
Jen adds, “He would send Mom [to screenings] and she would come back and tell him where [the audience] laughed, what they laughed at.”
Looking Like Dad
Jen and Chris are both actors, and Chris is also a musician. They are the spitting image of their father, something that Chris struggled with for years, he admits.
“When I was younger, I had a problem with it,” he says. “But as I have gotten older, I look at myself, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God,'” he says with pride, sitting up taller in his seat. “It would bother me because people would call me ‘John’ all the time on accident. It will still happen now, and I don’t mind at all. I accepted it. We look like our parents. We all do.”
Jen, on the other hand, has always embraced the resemblance, she says.
“Both my brother and I look like my dad at different times,” she explains. “If you look at him when he was younger, that’s Chris. And my dad slightly older, it’s my face. For me, it was being in touch with my feminine side when people would say, ‘You look just like your dad,’ and I was like, ‘Thank you …?’ And then they would say, ‘But you’re much prettier than your dad!’ Sometimes my laugh is exactly like my dad.”
Both have their father’s chuckle.
A Football Team
Candy was not just an actor, he was also a businessman, something his children say always impressed them.
In February 1991, Candy became a minority shareholder of the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts, a dream of his since he was child. The high point of that venture was the Argonauts winning the 1991 Grey Cup over the Calgary Stampeders. However, the team’s popularity began to wane after that season, prompting co-owners and majority shareholders Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky to sell the Argonauts in 1994.
Saddened by that loss, the Splash and Cool Runnings star found solace in his first directing project, Hostage for a Day.
“It may not be the best representation of his work, but he loved the fact that he got to direct Hostage for a Day,” Chris says. “He was really proud of that.”
John Hughes Years
Throughout his career, Candy worked with the biggest comedic names in Hollywood — several of whom were friends from his SCTV days, including Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, Martin Short and, one of his best friends and Shmenge partner, Levy — but he was most addicted to working with late writer and director John Hughes, his children say.
“He loved working with John Hughes,” Chris says. “Those movies really resonated with him.”
Candy appeared in eight films which were either directed, written or produced by Hughes.
Chris recounts a story Hughes shared about a classic scene from the 1987 film Planes, Trains and Automobiles: “They were really overbudget and overschedule, and Paramount was coming down to get everything going. Well, that was the day they were filming the scene with the devil costume. My dad had the idea that it would be funny if Steve [Martin] saw Del as the devil. So [the Paramount execs] finally get on set and Dad is walking around in this devil costume, and they’re like ‘What the hell does this have to do with anything?!'”
Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which has a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, would go on to be a financial and critical success. Hughes and Candy were praised for their work. The film is now a Thanksgiving staple.
“I know there were films he didn’t want to do, but with John Hughes, it was always ‘What’s the next one? You gotta hurry up and write something,’ because they were perfect for each other,” Jen says.
Candy battled weight issues most of his life, which he took seriously, his children say. They both add that cynics who believe their father just didn’t care about his size could not be more wrong.
“He always worked on his weight and his health,” Chris says. “And fortunately, he helped us to figure that out for ourselves. He grew up with heart disease. My sister and I are very well aware of it and take care of ourselves. His father had a heart attack, his brother had a heart attack. It was in the family. He had trainers and would work at whatever the new diet was. I know he did his best.”
Candy was also an avid golfer, his kids say.
“We are fortunate to have more [family history and fitness] information than he was able to,” Chris says. “I don’t think he was aware of the genetic heart disease that was in the family. You wish he had figured it out.”
After his death, Candy’s friends took his children under their wing. Neither Jen nor Chris likes to name drop, but they say several of their father’s former castmates have always been there for them.
“I will say Tino Insana, who has done a lot of voiceover work — he was Uncle Ted in Bobby’s World — was one of my dad’s best friends, and he’s always been there for Chris and me,” Jen says. “He has always given me sound advice.”
Chris adds, “He was there and took us to movies and even came to my tee-ball games. And John Hughes was wonderful. We are fortunate to know some of the people we know.”
Hughes would check in on the pair regularly and even have them over for movie and game nights. He seemed to always have a tale about their father, Jen and Chris say.
“He had this story where the two of them decided to go to dinner,” Chris begins. “Their camps were going to meet in the lobby of this hotel and go in a car. So, there is this one guy in the car and he is kind of nervous, and they both notice. That same guy spills a glass of wine at dinner, and Hughes goes over to my dad and says, ‘Your friend can’t keep it together.’ And my dad goes ‘My friend? I thought it was your friend.’ Turns out, some fan found his way into the car and hopped a ride and couldn’t believe he made it all the way to dinner. They made him leave.”
To Be a Candy
Jen and Chris are both working actors with television and movie roles to their credit, including doing voice work on their father’s cartoon, Camp Candy. And while their name has helped them in some instances get a foot in the door, they never relied on it for their success.
“It took a while for us to even use the name,” Jen says. “I wanted to develop who I was as a person, develop what I wanted to do. We have had people say, ‘Call so and so and have them do this for you,’ and I have said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.'”
Jen hosts Couch Candy, a talk show held monthly at Second City Hollywood. She has interviewed numerous stars who worked with her father.
The Candy name and resemblance can be a double-edged sword when auditioning for projects, Chris explains.
“They [casting directors] always think I’m his brother, so that’s a weird subconscious mindf—,” he says. “And I tell them no, he was my father. One acting coach told us we need to tell them that it’s great they want to chat about him, but we’ll talk about it after the audition. You have to. It’s your job. Still, it comes up all the time.”
Neither Jen nor Chris has ever been asked to “play it like your dad would.” But his work has been pointed to as an example in castings.
“It’s complimentary unless they would want it exactly the same and then I am like, ‘Nah. I’ll do it this way.'”
Chris continues, “On my end, there is no interest in taking part in a reboot of one of his films, but I know the desire is there. Still, not one person who I have met has been like, ‘Oh, let’s put John Candy’s son in something.’ It doesn’t happen. You have to do it the way everyone else does it.”
Not Really Gone
To this day, Jen and Chris are still learning about their father.
“We have been going through a ton of boxes,” Chris says. “When he passed away, his office got all boxed up and through the years, we have slowly gone through it.”
Jen adds, “And who kept everything? Our dad. And not just one version of it, but 20.”
Says Chris, “He’s not really gone because we talk about him so much, and we’ll always open a box and there’s a billion photos of him. So, it’s like, there he is.”
Jen concludes, “As much as he is gone, he is not gone. He is always there.”