John Candy was the larger-than-life Canadian comedian who inspired the biggest laughs and had an even bigger heart.
1. He Cared Too Much
Throughout much of the 80s and 90s, John Candy dominated comedy but never lost sight of his humble Canadian beginnings. Audiences adored him, and his fellow comedians respected him. But beneath his funnyman exterior, he struggled with the weight of his success—and his literal weight. Candy’s story is proof that the good ones never last long.
2. He Was Born In A Pumpkin Patch
John Franklin Candy was born to make audiences laugh. Or scream. As his daughter, Jennifer Anne Candy, put it, “I always say my dad was born in a pumpkin patch because he was born on Halloween”. Even though there was nothing auspicious about his birthday, horror struck sooner rather than later in his tragically short life.
3. He Was Deeply Scarred
When Candy was just five years old, he experienced a major setback in life. His working-class Catholic family suffered a terrible loss. His father, Sidney James Candy, had a heart attack at the age of 35 and passed away. It was a saddening time, but John Candy would carry a deep sadness with him for the rest of his life.
4. He Couldn’t Move On
Facing financial hardships, Candy’s mother relocated the family to East York, a working-class neighborhood in Toronto. They moved into a cramped bungalow with Candy’s grandparents and aunt but Candy struggled to move on. The specter of his father loomed large over the family and his unexpected heart attack haunted Candy in his dreams.
Comedy, however, proved to be an escape.
5. He Was An Improv Ingenue
Candy got into acting while attending university. At first, he scored minor roles in small productions such as Class of ‘44. His real acting talents, however, lay in his ability to, well, not act. He found his niche in the Toronto chapter of the improvisational comedy troupe, The Second City. Once he was free to be himself, his star began to shine.
6. He Started A Sketchy Show
The Second City improv troupe took their comedic talents from the stage to the silver screen in 1976. Together with breakout stars such as Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, Candy started up the hit sketch television series, Second City Television (SCTV).
The show (basically the Canadian version of Saturday Night Live) made Candy a household name in the land of maple syrup and bacon. Taking over Hollywood, however, would not be so easy.
7. He Was Making It In Hollywood
Between 1976 and 1981, Candy continued making a name for himself in comedy. He secured minor roles in rib-busting films such as Lost and Found and The Blues Brothers. But his big break came with 1981’s Stripes. His introduction to real Hollywood filmmaking, however, was almost more than his already overloaded heart could handle.
8. He Lost All Of His Hair
On the set of 1981’s Stripes, director Ivan Reitman cut Candy to the quick. In a scene where Candy’s character is supposed to shave his head, Reitman hired real barbers from the real armed services but didn’t tell the cast. When the barbers removed all of Candy’s beloved hair, he actually became despondent.
Thankfully, Candy was never one to hold a grudge.
9. He Randomly Broke Out Into Song
Candy wasn’t just making people laugh in front of the camera. He always had his co-stars in stitches as well. While filming Stripes, Candy invited his castmates back to his place for a spaghetti dinner and to watch a boxing match. He and fellow cast member Conrad Dunn then broke out into song, teaching everyone else the lyrics to “Doo Wah Diddy”.
But he still had to work hard to earn his “stripes”.
Sign up to our newsletter.
History’s most fascinating stories and darkest secrets, delivered to your inbox daily. Making distraction rewarding since 2017.
10. He Was A Little Uncomfortable
Reitman continued to “torture” Candy on the set of 1981’s Stripes. One of the more challenging scenes for Candy saw his character rolling around in the mud with hot girls in bikinis. For the humble Canadian comedian, the highly suggestive and provocative scene proved to be too “uncomfortable”. Eventually, Reitman talked him into it.
However, there was probably someone watching very closely from behind the camera.
11. He Was A One-Woman Man
Most comedians in Candy’s position (many of whom were his friends) became obsessed with women, substances, and the hard partying lifestyle. Candy, however, was a one-woman kind of man. He happily married in 1979 before the height of his fame. Against all of the odds, they remained happily married. That is, until Candy’s tragic demise.
12. He Finally Earned His Stripes
As it turns out, all of the challenges that Candy faced on the set of Stripes had been worth it. Based on the success of his recent film appearances and the growing popularity of SCTV with American audiences, Candy received an opportunity that most comedians would have crawled over glass for. An opportunity that no one—except him—would turn down.
13. He Snubbed SNL
For comedians, there is no bigger platform than Saturday Night Live. So, when the SNL producers approached Candy about leaving SCTV to star in the biggest sketch comedy show of all time, his answer surprised them. Candy turned down multiple offers from SNL producers because he wanted to stay loyal to his Canadian roots.
14. He Rarely Appeared On SNL
Even though he didn’t join the cast of SNL full-time, Candy still made a few appearances. His first appearance came in his breakout year of 1981 but he didn’t get to host the show until 1983. Given how rarely he appeared on SNL despite his growing popularity and fame, it seems likely that the folks over at SNL were harboring a grudge.
15. He Got Burned A Lot
Candy’s fellow comedian and show writer, Bob Odenkirk, gave fans some scandalous behind-the-scenes insights. According to Odenkirk, Candy was the “most-burned potential host” of SNL. Almost every time that the showrunners booked the Canadian comedian to host the sketch comedy show, they would back out at the last minute.
Candy was no stranger to disappointment.
16. He Did Not Bust Ghosts
Candy starred in some of the most successful comedies of the 80s and 90s. But not the most successful one: Ghostbusters. The film’s director, Ivan Reitman, originally wanted Candy for the role of the nerdy character, Louis Tully. According to Reitman, however, “He didn't like the treatment that I had sent. He didn't get it”.
It would have been a very different movie with him in it.
17. He Regretted It
Ghostbusters is a comedy classic—but Candy almost ruined it. He wanted Reitman to make some changes to the character of Louis Tully, explaining, “Well, maybe if I played him as a German guy who had a bunch of German shepherd dogs”. Reitman hated the idea and ultimately passed on Candy for the role—something he regretted until his premature demise.
18. He Was Supportive
Candy did eventually get to bust some ghosts—just not on the big screen. He managed to swallow his pride and show his support for the film that starred many of his best friends. As a consolation prize, he appeared in the music video for Ray Parker Jr's hit single "Ghostbusters" to help promote the soundtrack for the film.
19. He Had His Priorities Right
As passionate as Candy was about acting and comedy, it was never really his first love. In fact, his two kids, Christopher Michael and Jennifer Anne, later revealed that Candy had some unexpected priorities in life. According to them, Candy’s priorities were, in order of importance, “his family, the Argonauts, and his acting career”.
Who exactly are the Argonauts, you ask? Why, the sweetest thing about Candy, of course.
20. He Owned A Team
If Candy wasn’t watching himself on television, then he was likely watching the Canadian football team, the Toronto Argonauts. Maybe the only thing that Candy loved more than comedy was football. Thankfully, his success in comedy allowed him some privileges on the football field.
He co-owned the Toronto Argonauts with fellow Canadian legend, Wayne Gretzky. Their other co-owner, however, loved money more than winning.
21. He Never Got The Credit
As co-owner, Candy led his team, the Toronto Argonauts, to victory. But when the footballers hoisted the Grey Cup for winning the league in 1991, they forgot to thank Candy. The CFL only etched Candy’s and Gretzky’s fellow co-owner’s name (Bruce McNall) into the trophy. It was a mistake they didn’t correct until 2007—more than a decade after Candy passed on.
22. He Was A Star Athlete
Candy’s millions of fans knew that he was a “larger than life” figure. Quite literally. That’s why it’s hard to imagine that Candy was a star athlete during his high school years. By the time he entered high school, he had already developed his famous rotund figure and it made him “self conscious and awkward”. But it worked to his advantage.
23. He Was A Champion
Candy’s friends in high school described him as a “gentle giant," that is, until he stepped onto the football field where he put his “formidable, intimidating figure” to good use. As an offensive tackle, Candy fought his way to the championship game and had dreams of becoming a pro footballer. Then tragedy struck and changed the course of his life.
But his bad news was good news for comedy.
24. He Had A Bad Knee
If he hadn’t become famous as a corpulent comedian, Candy would have become a household name as a pro footballer. Sadly, a knee injury derailed his hopes of NFL or CFL glory and he had to settle for co-owning the Toronto Argonauts instead of playing for them. Being the co-owner of the team, however, came with its perks.
25. He Was The Team’s Janitor
As co-owner of the Argonauts, Candy behaved more like a member of the team than he did a sports executive. He invited the players over to his house for dinner, fretted up and down the sidelines, rushed to the field when a player was injured and even mopped the floors of the locker rooms after the games. Sadly, all of his hard work came to a stunning end.
26. He Was Out In The Cold
Despite the challenges that he faced, Candy never lost his love for football. One former Toronto Argonaut, Michael "Pinball" Clemons, spoke about Candy’s support for the team. He remembered Candy standing with the team in frigid weather during the Grey Cup championship game.
“He's not in the press box,” Clemons said, “he's down on the field with his guys and now all of a sudden, I'm not as cold”. In the end, McNall would leave Candy out in the cold.
27. He Was Never Home Alone
One of Candy’s most memorable roles was as Gus Polinski in the holiday classic, Home Alone. He only had a small cameo appearance alongside his SCTV co-star Catherine O’Hara, but he very nearly stole the show from Macaulay Culkin. Despite being one of Candy’s most memorable performances, however, it was his least rewarding.
28. He Worked For Peanuts
Everyone in Hollywood knew and loved Candy for his patented Canadian generosity—because they could take advantage of it. For his cameo in Home Alone, Candy agreed to getting paid at scale. The megastar walked away from the hit film with a paltry $414 paycheque. That’s less than what some of the extras made. Not like he needed the dough though.
29. He Made Big Bucks For Small Work
Candy might have turned down a big pay day on Home Alone but he hadn’t always been so magnanimous. The Canadian comedian had only a small cameo appearance in 1983’s National Lampoon’s Vacation. But there was nothing small about the check he cashed. For that tiny cameo, Candy earned a cool million dollars.
Where he spent that money might surprise you.
30. He Saved The Movie
Candy was worth every last red cent of that million dollar payday. Audiences hadn’t cared for the ending of the original National Lampoons. So fellow SCTV star Harold Ramis called in Candy to do his famous Canadian security guard character, Wally Wypyzypychwk. The cameo ending practically made the movie. But the fame was getting to his head.
31. He Needed The Cash
Candy’s cameo in National Lampoon's Vacation was so wildly hilarious that it even inspired a theme park. Walley World Water Park opened in London, Ontario a few years after the film’s release. The park’s owners wanted Candy to appear at the park’s opening but, unlike the film’s producers, they couldn’t afford Candy.
He needed the cash for a terrible habit he had picked up.
32. He Made A Splash
In a jaw-dropping revelation on Ron Howard's sensational YouTube series, "Reunited Apart," audiences learned something shocking about their beloved John Candy. Howard recounted the story of the day that Candy, in an uncharacteristic turn of events, arrived late to the set of 1984’s Splash, holding up the entire production. His excuse shocked everyone.
33. He Partied With Jack Nicholson
When Candy finally arrived on set, he begged Ron Howard for forgiveness and confessed the truth. He hadn't slept a wink and he was, admittedly, still inebriated from the previous night. He'd had a chance encounter with none other than the legendary Jack Nicholson at a local bar. Nicholson, who recognized Candy, had plied the Canadian comedian drinks all night.
The drinks, however, had just been the evening’s appetizer.
34. He Only Needed One Take
Candy hadn’t been able to contain himself the previous night, and Nicholson had done little to restrain him. “But I've got to go shoot,” Candy had lamented. Nicholson, cool as a cucumber, responded, “You're going to be [all right], kid. Don't worry about it,” before sending him off to set. Turns out, Nicholson had been right.
Candy nailed his scene that day in a single, brilliant take. He might have had a little help from some white powder.
35. He Learned To Spell
Unfortunately, Candy’s meteoric rise to fame had a secret ingredient. Here’s a hint: it’s white and powdery but it’s definitely not Canadian snow. At the height of his fame, Candy reflected on the wild days that had taken him from Canadian television to Hollywood cinemas: “The next thing I knew, I was in Chicago, where I learned how to drink, stay up into the wee hours, and spell 'd-r-u-g-s.'"
For some of his friends, it spelled “d-e-a-t-h”.
36. He Was Smoky
Candy did everything in excess and often turned to food as a coping mechanism for stress. He also had a far more dangerous, shall we say “smokier” habit. By the time he was a teenager, Candy was already smoking a whole pack of darts every day. Combined with his food and other addictions, Candy was living life in the fast lane.
But he got a wakeup call before he crashed.
37. He Lost His Best Friend
Candy's deep friendship with his comedy idol, John Belushi, blossomed during their early careers at Second City. They enjoyed as many jokes as they did wild nights out. Tragically, in March 1982, however, Belushi succumbed to a fatal overdose. The loss hit Candy profoundly due to their shared struggles with weight and unhealthy habits.
It was also a reminder of his own father’s untimely demise.
38. He Cleaned Up His Act
According to Martin Knelman's biographical work, Laughing on the Outside: The Life of John Candy, Belushi’s passing was a sobering event for Candy. Fellow actor Dan Hennessey revealed that Candy interpreted it as a wake-up call, prompting him to break ties with the substances that were destroying his health and focus on his career.
The damage, sadly, was already done.
39. He Was A Recluse
Following Belushi’s tragic passing, Candy cleaned up his act. But it took him a long time to sober up. The loss of his dear friend sent him into a severe depression. His friend, John Stocker, revealed that Belushi’s passing forced Candy to withdraw from the world and he became a recluse. Thankfully, his sense of humor returned, stronger than ever before.
40. He Was Sweet As Candy
As a Canadian, Candy lived up to the reputation of being a total sweetheart (and not just because his last name was Candy). When he starred alongside Tom Lister Jr in 1985’s Armed and Dangerous, Lister Jr had nothing but nice things to say about the comedian. He called him “the best human being” he had ever met. And he wasn’t kidding.
41. He Didn’t Have A Bad Bone
Brian Grazer, the producer behind Armed and Dangerous made a sensational but also deeply touching revelation about Candy during his appearance on a podcast. Grazer unveiled that Candy's character, Frank Dooley, was supposed to hurl an insult at Meg Ryan's character, Maggie Cavanaugh in the film Armed and Dangerous. But Candy didn’t have a bad bone in his body.
42. He Took A Stand
Candy didn't merely fume in silence; he bravely confronted the film's original director, Mark L Lester. He vehemently expressed his disapproval of the line and flat out refused to refer to Ryan with obscenities—even if only for the camera. Lester, infuriated, resigned on the spot, leaving Grazer no choice but to step in and direct.
It was a Hollywood twist for the ages but, ultimately, Candy’s heart was just too big.
43. He Weighed A Ton
All throughout his life and career, Candy struggled with his weight, and was haunted by the specter of his father’s untimely demise. However, despite his best efforts, Candy just couldn’t keep the weight off. According to People magazine, he hovered around 275 lbs for most of his life but frequently tipped the scales at more than 300 lbs.
That was all despite his best efforts.
44. He Hung Out With Conan O’Brien
In a serendipitous encounter that preceded his rise to stardom, a young Harvard undergraduate named Conan O'Brien (yes, that Conan O’Brien) crossed paths with Candy. During a 1984 visit to Harvard, the campus entrusted O'Brien with the unique responsibility of serving as Candy’s guide. According to O’Brien, however, he served more as Candy’s guard.
45. He Had No Self-Control
At the time, Candy was following a strict Pritkin diet where he only ate whole foods. In a funny twist, O’Brien had the challenging task of trying to keep Candy away from, well, candy. Despite his best efforts, however, he couldn't keep the Canadian comedian away from a famous pastry emporium on campus. To be fair, discipline was never in Candy’s genes. But heart disease was.
46. He Didn’t Like To Exercise
Candy always struggled with his weight—and with the diet and exercise regimens meant to help him control it. Case and point, the film Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Fellow funnyman Steve Martin claimed that Candy brought a ton of exercise equipment with him to the set of the film. However, despite his best intentions, Candy never used any of it.
47. He Couldn’t Stop Eating
Candy managed to outlive his father who passed at 35 years of age. But, as the milestone of 40 approached, he faced a tumultuous battle with his inner demons. Stricken with sudden panic attacks, he resorted to self-medication through excessive eating, triggering a rapid surge in his weight. It all turned sour when his weight became the punchline.
48. He Became The Punchline
For Candy, the tipping point came at the 1992 Canadian Genie Awards. After he agreed to host the awards show, a tasteless joke made him reconsider. The show’s organizers promoted the ceremony with a tagline featuring Candy as host: “We got the biggest star we could find”. Devastated and embarrassed, Candy backed out of hosting the awards show.
He was about to lose a lot more than just a hosting gig.
49. His Champions Became Losers
Throughout his own personal health struggles, Candy could always look to his co-ownership of the Toronto Argonauts for encouragement. But, on the set of his final film, Wagons East, he would receive the most devastating news of his life. After their 1991 championship, the Argonauts began to hemorrhage money. More money than Candy could afford.
50. He Received The Call
Candy was deep in the heart of Mexico filming Wagons East when his world came crashing down. Amid the arid desert landscape and dressed in character with a rugged beard and a grand cowboy hat, he received a call from his fellow Toronto Argonauts co-owner, Bruce McNall. Sadly, it was not good news for the avid football fan.
51. He Lost His Team
Bob Crane Jr, who was on set the day Candy received the call, Candy’s reaction. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say the [color] went out of his [Candy’s] face, but it was close,” Crane Jr said. McNall had phoned Candy to say that he sold the Argonauts right out from under him in an effort to shore up their losses. Evidently, losing his beloved football team was more than his heart could bear.
52. He Had A Bad Feeling
Candy had bad feelings about Wagons East and going to Mexico long before he received that dreadful call. His former SCTV co-star and good friend, Catherine O’Hara, recalled a chilling conversation she had with him shortly before he departed. O’Hara claims that Candy told her he didn’t want to go because he felt “something bad is going to happen there”.
Losing his football team was just the beginning of his bad trip.
53. His Heart Finally Gave Out
After knocking repeatedly, one of Candy’s aides on the set of Wagons East entered his trailer only to make a shocking discovery: Candy’s lifeless body. Devastated from losing his football team and scarred from his years of heavy partying and excessive eating, Candy’s oversized heart finally gave out.
In the end, the famed comedian had likely suffered the same fate as his father; a heart attack. He had a funny way of saying goodbye.
54. He Sent A Sign From Beyond The Grave
Thankfully, Candy had spoken with his family the night before his unexpected demise. But he still wanted to say goodbye—from beyond the grave. The day that he passed away, a massive amethyst he had brought back from Mexico for his family suddenly fractured into pieces. His family—his wife and two surviving children—took it as a sign that he had passed.
55. He Just Wanted To Hide
Acting was not John Candy’s first choice of a career. If it hadn’t been for that childhood knee injury, he probably would have become famous as an offensive tackle. But, in the end, Candy found his calling in comedy and never looked back. “I think I may have become an actor to hide from myself,” he once said. “You can escape into a character”.