TORONTO — Monday marks the 25th anniversary of Canadian comedy star John Candy’s death, but his family and friends say it feels like he’s still around.
With his legacy enduring to this day — through the impact of the sketch-comedy series “SCTV” and revered films including “Splash,” “Uncle Buck” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” — his children say their father is still fresh in the minds of many fans who often regale them with tales of meeting him or watching his movies.
“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 centre of his life that’s lived on past his passing,” added son Christopher Candy.
“And to see all of the people who are still interested in wanting to write emails about him to us or want to do projects about him or whatnot, he’s still very much desirable for people to talk about. He’s still very loved.”
Born in Newmarket, Ont., the jovial actor honed his comedy chops as a member of Toronto’s Second City sketch troupe and then a cast member on “Second City Television.”
His memorable “SCTV” characters included TV personality Johnny LaRue, and clarinetist Yosh Shmenge of the Shmenge Brothers polka duo.
Candy went on to a major career in Hollywood, with other films including “Stripes,” “Summer Rental,” “Home Alone” and “The Great Outdoors.”
Behind the scenes, Candy was able to shut off work and focus on his family, said the siblings, who were born in Toronto and moved with their parents to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. The family still has a farm in Queensville, Ont., and is often in Canada and in touch with the “SCTV” gang.
Jennifer Candy marvels at how much of a multitasker their dad was, juggling his family with his acting career and business ventures, which included running his own production company and becoming co-owner of the Toronto Argonauts.
Through all that, the only thing he neglected was himself, admitted the two, who both followed in their father’s footsteps by becoming actors.
“He was just overworked, he had too much weight on,” said Christopher Candy, 34.
“The interesting thing with him is, he was beginning to turn his life around. I remember right before he passed he was starting to go to a cardiologist and doctors and he was in therapy and was beginning to start working on himself.”
Candy died on March 4, 1994, after suffering a heart attack while shooting the film “Wagons East” in Durango, Mexico. He was 43.
While he died young, he made a huge mark on the lives of his co-workers, who describe him as incredibly warm and authentic with everyone around him despite his massive fame.
“I loved John dearly,” said Eugene Levy, who played the other Shmenge brother on “SCTV” and the villainous scientist in “Splash.”
“We were very, very close friends. I think I worked with John more than anybody else in TV, and on four or five movies. John was a lovely man, first of all, who cared deeply about people. And he was, I think, one of the most gifted comedic actors that honestly has ever been in the business.
“He made such an impact in his movies and people truly loved him. And as an actor, I have to say I think he was kind of underrated…. It always seems like John is still around. That’s how much of an impact he made on your life, you know? You’re still kind of waiting for a phone call.”
Fellow “SCTV” alum Catherine O’Hara said Candy was “just as wonderful and fun and sweet and great as you would imagine he would be,” and got a kick out of fan interactions.
“If they started doing some little bit with him, he would pick up on it and throw something back to them and they would look at him like, ‘Well, I didn’t expect that,'” she said.
“But he would also treat them as an equal,” added O’Hara, who delivered a eulogy at his memorial service in Toronto.
For many years, his children found it too difficult to visit his resting place of Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, Calif.
Now, on March 4, they try to drop by with flowers. They also remember him in other ways throughout the year, sometimes getting together at his favourite restaurant or going to his favourite movie theatre.
Jennifer has also revisited his career through her “Couch Candy” stage series, featuring Q-and-A’s with Second City alumni.
“I honestly can’t believe this much time has passed,” said Christopher Candy, who was eight years old when his father died, while Jennifer had just turned 14.
“I know, 25; it’s like you’ve lived longer without him than you did with him,” added Jennifer, now 39, who recently gave birth to the first Candy grandchild — a four-month-old boy named Finley John William Sullivan.
“But it feels like he’s never left.”
Comedy stars remember John Candy, who died 25 years ago
Canadian comics remember John Candy as a genuine talent whose legacy continues to reverberate among new generations of fans.
Here is what some comedy stars told The Canadian Press about Candy, who died 25 years ago on Monday:
The Toronto actress, who knew Candy through the “SCTV” gang, remembers being on a plane with him rehearsing for an appearance on “The David Steinberg Show” and not being able to get through a line without laughing.
“He was adorable,” Eastwood said. “John was as nice as you think he was, if not nicer, and he just wanted to laugh all the time and have fun. He made me howl.”
The St. John’s-born creator of “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” recalls “yelling” at Candy for five minutes about his use of the term “Newfie” in a Second City show he directed in the 1970s.
She quickly backed down after he showed tremendous empathy.
“I would have yelled much longer but he was just the nicest man, it seemed to me, so I had to go, ‘Well, I mean, it’s not right,’ and he was going, ‘Yeah, it probably isn’t,'” Walsh said.
“He was the most agreeable fellow. He certainly damped down my righteous rage.”
The political satirist from St. John’s said Candy was an influential and beloved part of his generation.
“Everyone watched ‘SCTV’ and John Candy was the big breakout star, and that was in a room of people who all became giant movie and film stars,” Mercer said.
“So everyone is impacted by him. These days, of course, his legacy lives on because ‘SCTV’ is bootlegged the heck out of on YouTube. I think at least a dozen times in my life I’ve spent the night watching John Candy clips, and of course he lives on in ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles,’ which will be a classic as long as there’s an Earth.”
The “Baroness Von Sketch Show” cast member said Candy connected with a lot of people.
“There was something about him that you just want to hug him and be around him and near him,” she said. “I went to go see the ‘SCTV’ panel last summer and they were talking about how he had an entourage … because people just liked to be near him, so they would just follow him around.
“He had that amazing thing of just so funny but so warm and so human, that he drew you in and you just can empathize with him so much.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press