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.”
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