As It Happens

John Candy's kids remember the late comic legend on his 66th birthday

Halloween this year marks the 66th birthday of the late, great John Candy. His son Chris and his daughter Jen — both working actors in Los Angeles — share some personal memories of their dad.
John Candy with his son, Chris (Courtesy of Jen Candy)

This story was published on Oct. 31, 2016.

Monday is, of course, Halloween — and for many kids across North America, that means a whole lot of candy. 
For Jen and Chris, growing up in Los Angeles, it was Candy all the time. With a capital 'C'. Even though they're all grown up now, they will forever be the kids of Canadian comic legend John Candy.

Jen and Chris Candy are both actors, like their father John. (Courtesy of Jen Candy)

Tonight, the star of such comedy classics as Uncle Buck, Planes Trains and Automobiles, and Cool Runnings — to say nothing of SCTV — would have celebrated his 66th birthday. But as you likely recall — if you were old enough at the time — John Candy died of a heart attack in 1994, while shooting his last movie in Mexico.
The loss was felt acutely here and around the world. But few felt it more than Jen and Chris Candy.

The siblings spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Los Angeles, California. Here is part of their conversation. 

John and Chris Candy on the set of "Harry Crumb." (Courtesy of Jen Candy)

Carol Off: Chris, do you remember when you first had a sense of what your dad did for a living? 

Chris Candy: Yeah. I think I was maybe five or six. He was working on Harry Crumb, where he played this quirky sleuth. I remember going to set one day in Vancouver where they were filming. And he was dressed up in this incredible blue leather outfit with a bald wig and self-tanner. And he looked like this Eastern European hairdresser. And I just remember looking at this massive man — my father — as this character, going, "OK, this is not normal." It absolutely makes me smile just thinking of him. At that point, I knew there was something unique and interesting happening.

CO: Did you have a favourite character that he did?

CC: A lot of his characters I loved, but I just loved the Schmenge characters [Polka-duo brothers Yosh and Stan Schmenge, with Eugene Levy]. He was just so funny. And such a nerd. I'm a nerd. So I thought that character was so dorky and funny. That one holds a place in my heart. 

CO: Jen, did you have a favourite?

Jen Candy: Oh, boy. Like my brother . . . I do have a soft spot for the Schmenges. But, in SCTV, I always loved Dr. Tongue and Johnny LaRue. I did want to make a sweatshirt that said "Vote for LaRue" during this lovely election time — see how many people got it. 

CO: Was he political himself or just really good at being able to lampoon that politician?

JC: Not so much political at home. I think he just knew that character. He loved Johnny LaRue. He was known amongst his friends in Toronto as "Johnny Toronto." Everyone called him "Johnny Toronto." He's the guy that will do anything. You walk into a bar, everyone knows him. You walk into the local store, everyone knows him there. Everyone knows him on the street. LaRue thinks that he can do anything and everything and everyone will love it.

CO: John Candy brings to mind, of course, Uncle Buck, and Dell Griffith in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. But Jen you have said that one of the roles he worked hardest on creating was a dramatic role in the movie JFK.

JC: He played [attorney] Dean Andrews. I think it was the first dramatic role in a long time that he had been up for. Earlier in his career, he had done some more serious stuff and kind of strayed away from that because he liked the comedy more. So I think he worked really hard because he wanted to get it right. He wanted to be considered as a serious actor at some point. 

[O]ff of Sunset down to Jefferson Boulevard, the LAPD blocked off that section of the southbound highway for the funeral procession. And that was unbelievable.- Chris Candy

CC: He worked pretty hard on that one with a dialect coach, which was kind of out of his realm of preparation for a character. The tone of that project was different. And I was a kid — it wasn't like I was analyzing his work ethic then — but I just know from hearing people talk about it and also just the weight of that character, you can't wing that. You have to do your work or it won't be believable. 

CO: He was such an important person in the lives of a generation. In Canada, of course, we claim him. But this was your dad. When he died very suddenly of a heart attack in 1994, Chris, what do you remember about that time?

CC: It's a devastating experience we went through. You kind of live with it for the rest of your life, the loss of a parent. But you learn a lot, growing up with him gone. But I remember the time. There was a lot of community had come into town — from family to people he worked with. And then you could just tell from what was going on in the news. And what was overwhelming for me  — and still to this day is overwhelming — is we live in Los Angeles and there's the 405 freeway and it goes all the way up and down Los Angeles. And off of Sunset down to Slauson or Jefferson Boulevard, the LAPD blocked off that section of the southbound highway for the funeral procession. And that was unbelievable. Because at the time, you didn't ever see that happen. And even today, when I'm sitting in traffic, going, "I can't believe they blocked this highway off for him!"

I think talking about him with people is my homage to him around this time.- Jen Candy

CO: Jen, are you going to spend Halloween in any special way to commemorate his passing?

JC: Yes and no. The whole month is where I commemorate my dad and his birthday, and Halloween and celebrating. I spend it with my family. So I think this year I'll go hang out with my mom. And Chris, I think he'll be around too. But I think talking about him with people is my homage to him around this time. Because a lot of people love to hear stories and a lot of people love to share their stories. And that's really good. And so you always just say, "Happy Birthday, Dad." That's what I do. 

For more on this story, listen to our full conversation with Jen and Chris Candy.