8 Surprising Facts About John Candy

George Rose, Getty Images
George Rose, Getty Images / George Rose, Getty Images

It’s difficult for any one actor to win over every member of a filmgoing audience, but comic performer John Candy (1950-1994) might be a rare exception. A perpetual presence in a string of 1980s comedies from National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) to Uncle Buck (1989), the gregarious Candy mixed humor and heart in his roles, making him one of the decade’s most likable onscreen talents. For more on Candy, including a potential role in a Sylvester Stallone movie and his involvement in a Saturday morning cartoon, keep reading.

1. John Candy is an Emmy winner.

John Candy with Joel Grey at the American Comedy Awards.
John Candy with Joel Grey at the American Comedy Awards. / Joan Adlen/Getty Images

Born in Toronto, Canada on October 31, 1950, John Candy was just 4 years old when his father, Sidney, passed away at age 35. Both John and older brother Jim were raised by their mother Evangeline, with help from his aunt and grandparents. As a kid, Candy excelled in football, where his size made him a formidable opponent. Then he discovered acting. After dropping out of Centennial Community College, Candy took the advice of his friend, Dan Aykroyd, and joined the Second City comedy troupe in Chicago in 1971. In 1974, he came back to Toronto to perform with Second City’s Canadian arm. By 1977, the group’s television series, SCTV, became a hit on Canadian television, and Candy got notices for playing everyone from director Orson Welles to Luciano Pavarotti. When SCTV began airing in America in 1981, Candy earned two Emmys for his writing contributions to the show. The success of the series drew the attention of Hollywood, who began casting him in bits parts in films like The Blues Brothers (1980) and Stripes (1981).

2. John Candy was asked to be in Ghostbusters.

By 1983, the year Ghostbusters began shooting, Candy had proven to be a popular supporting player in comedies. It was only natural that producers of a big-budget project involving his friend Dan Aykroyd, who co-wrote the script and played paranormal investigator Ray Stantz, would seek out Candy for a part. The film’s director, Ivan Reitman, sent Candy a treatment and asked if he would be interested in the role of inquisitive neighbor Louis Tully. Reitman was surprised when Candy told him he wasn’t interested.

“He didn’t like the treatment I had sent,” Reitman said in 2014. “He didn’t get it. He said, ‘Well, maybe if I played him as a German guy who had a bunch of German shepherd dogs.’” Reitman didn’t feel the Tully role required that much heavy lifting. The part eventually went to Rick Moranis, Candy’s SCTV co-star.

3. Splash was John Candy’s ticket to Hollywood.

Tom Hanks and John Candy in Splash (1984).
Tom Hanks and John Candy in Splash (1984). / Buena Vista

Splash, the 1984 film in which Candy plays Freddy Bauer, whose brother Allen (Tom Hanks) falls for mermaid Madison (Daryl Hannah), was a hit, and critics were kind to Candy’s turn as the supporting comic relief. (Curiously, Hanks originally auditioned for Freddy Bauer but was moved to the lead role.) The success of the film led to Candy's first starring role in 1985’s Summer Rental, one of three movies (including Brewster’s Millions and Volunteers) that year. Unfortunately, all three failed to meet box office expectations, though Candy eventually rebounded with John Hughes's holiday buddy comedy Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, co-starring Steve Martin.

4. John Candy didn’t like watching himself on camera.

Film premieres were a source of stress for Candy, who disliked seeing himself on screen. According to his son, Chris, his father avoided his own movies whenever he could. “He put a lot of effort and love into everything he did, but he didn’t like going to the premieres,” Chris told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016. “He had a hard time watching the final product.” Instead, Candy would send his wife, Rosemary, to screenings and ask her which parts the audience laughed at.

5. John Candy spent 24 hours straight on the set of Home Alone.

Candy and director and writer John Hughes were frequent collaborators whose joint work included Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) and Uncle Buck (1989). Candy happily agreed to film a cameo role for 1990’s Home Alone, which Hughes had written, playing Gus Polinski, a polka musician who helps Kate McCallister (Catherine O'Hara) get back home to her son Kevin (Macaulay Culkin). With only a day of shooting scheduled, Candy improvised with director Chris Columbus for nearly 24 hours straight. Reportedly, Candy was paid scale—essentially the actor’s version of minimum wage—for the work as a favor to his friend Hughes. O’Hara, Candy's co-star and former SCTV colleague, told Chicago magazine in 2015 that most of the footage was unusable. “[Chris] laughed and said, ‘You’re supposed to be looking for your kid, and you’re just having a good time with these guys in a truck.”

6. John Candy almost made a movie with Sylvester Stallone.

All actors have films that got away from them for one reason or another. Among the more intriguing what-ifs in Candy’s career was Bartholomew vs. Neff, a comedy in which he would have played a neighbor feuding with fellow homeowner Sylvester Stallone. The comedy, which was announced in 1990 and had John Hughes attached as director, was never made.

7. John Candy had his own animated series.

At the height of his popularity in the late 1980s, Candy agreed to lend his name and likeness to Camp Candy, a Saturday morning cartoon that debuted on NBC in the fall of 1989. Candy voiced a camp counselor at a summer getaway for kids and appeared in live-action segments at the beginning and end of each episode. Candy also invited his children, Jen and Chris, to do voiceover work. It ran for three seasons.

8. John Candy co-owned a football franchise.

Though he hadn’t played since he was a kid, Candy still had a love for football. In 1991, he became a minority shareholder in the Toronto Argonauts, a team in the Canadian Football League (CFL). Candy and fellow investor Wayne Gretzky put up 10 percent each of the $5 million purchase price, with Candy using his fame to promote the team.

Thanks in large part to Candy's efforts, attendance went up and so did morale. Candy was thrilled when the Argonauts won the 1991 Grey Cup, the Canadian equivalent of the Super Bowl. The team was eventually sold off by its principal owners in 1994, the same year Candy passed away of a heart attack at age 43.