Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I still miss John Candy

The 2016 O Canada Blogathon is an event devoted to Canadian actors and films, hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. For a list of participating bloggers, visit the link at Speakeasy.

I remember being dragged to see Uncle Buck when it first came out. I forget which group of friends I was with; it was probably my high school friends. I have absolutely no idea why I didn't think I would like what was a relatively harmless comedy. My movie tastes were still vague and unformed back then. On the other hand, maybe I wanted to see something else and was outvoted. Possible.

I didn't pay close attention to movie stars back then, either, so I doubt I could've told you who John Candy was. I probably would've recognized him as Tom Hanks' brother in Splash, or Barf in Spaceballs - if you had pointed it out to me. I probably knew TV stars better. (Yes, I know, Candy was on TV too, but I had missed out on SCTV as a kid.)

Point is, I liked Uncle Buck and I liked Candy. It was one of the first times the comedian had a starring vehicle for himself after years of sidekick roles and bit parts, and he got to put a spin on his lovable oaf persona with a lead character that had more of a sardonic edge. Small wonder it became one of his biggest hits.

I remember being sad when Candy died in 1994. By that point, I had seen more of his movies on cable and I got to appreciate him better. He may not have been a superstar on the level of contemporaries like Steve Martin or Bill Murray or Eddie Murphy, but his was always a welcome face in a movie, no matter how big or small.

The Newmarket, Ontario native kicked around Canadian TV during the early days of his acting career until he joined the Toronto branch of the comedy troupe Second City in 1974. The original Second City theater opened in Chicago in 1959 and the Toronto branch opened in 1973. (I remember going to SC when I visited Chicago in 1997. Liked it a lot.) The emphasis was and is on improvisational sketch comedy. 

Candy joined a troupe which included, among others, future comedy legends Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara. In 1976, they launched the TV show SCTV which, like its American cousin Saturday Night Live, revolved around ensemble sketch comedy, often featuring memorable characters, such as Candy's obnoxious TV star Johnny LaRue.

If you grew up in the 80s, you remember the movies he appeared in: Stripes, National Lampoon's Vacation, Little Shop of Horrors, Planes Trains and Automobiles, The Great Outdoors, etc. I guess I liked him because he seemed so easy to relate to. He didn't need to yell and scream; he didn't have a specific shtick; he just seemed to fit in well with whatever role he inhabited. He complimented guys like Martin and Murray and Hanks, and you felt like his characters had heart. Don't take my word for it, though; check out what Eugene Levy had to say about him.

Candy had a small role in the Oliver Stone drama JFK. Had he lived, would he have followed in the footsteps of Martin and Hanks and Robin Williams by pursuing drama further? I think he could've easily done it. I could see him as part of a Paul Thomas Anderson ensemble, for instance - but I wouldn't have wanted him to make it a permanent switch.

Last year, Second City Toronto opened the John Candy Box Theatre, a training ground for up and coming comedians. Among those who helped launch it was Candy's daughter Jen, who 's pursuing a stand-up career herself. Here she is in a TV interview the day after the opening, talking about her father.

I think John Candy would still be active today had he lived: maybe as part of a cable TV show, maybe making indie films, maybe going back to theater. He was too good an actor to go out of demand. I miss him. I'm glad he gave us what he did, while he did.

Films by John Candy:
Little Shop of Horrors


  1. The people who knew him personally and the people, like us, who only knew his work all miss John Candy. Imagine having that sort of impact on people.

    John Candy and Maureen O'Hara promoted "Only the Lonely" on "The Tonight Show" and Maureen told Johnny, "I just looked at him. I looked into those gorgeous eyes and I said 'Yes, I'll be his mom'."

  2. Maureen O'Hara in a modern comedy... might have to take a look at that one day.

  3. To echo what Caftan Woman said, I watched "Only the Lonely" a couple of months ago. John was fab in it, and Maureen O'Hara is hilarious as the overbearing mother.

    I still miss John Candy, too. I watched Eugene Levy's comments with the link you provided, then watched Steve Martin's comments, etc etc. This is a wonderful tribute to him. THANK YOU SO MUCH for adding your tribute to the O Canada blogathon.

  4. Thanks a lot. I pretty much knew from the beginning I wanted to write about him.

  5. Great post, John Candy was one of a kind and seemed like the nicest person. I watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles every Thanksgiving, one of my favorites of his.

  6. Yeah, I'd like to watch that again sometime soon. That was a Thanksgiving staple at the video store I used to work at too.

  7. Love this post and loved him too, so talented and likable. You have to see Only the Lonely. Thanks so much for being part of this blogathon!

  8. Another vote for ONLY THE LONELY! That settles it -onto the list it goes. Probably won't get to it for awhile, though.

  9. I also miss John Candy! My favorite of his movies is Planes Trains and Automobiles, a hilarious but lesser knoewn comedy. You wrote a beautiful tribute to him.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  10. I thought PTA was a big hit? Maybe it's lesser known in Brazil. (I'm guessing you guys don't have Thanksgiving.)


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