Few actors were more likeable than the legendary comedian John Candy. The larger-than-life, 6-foot-3 Candy collaborated with some of the greatest actors in the world, including Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, and Eugene Levy, plus many more, and acted in some of the most adored films of the 1980s and 1990s (via History). However, the comic’s amazing career was cut short and came to an unexpected end. When the unimaginable happened, Candy was working on the set of “Wagons East,” a western satire that would be his last movie. On March 4, 1994, Candy, then 43, was discovered dead on site in Durango, Mexico. According to Biography, he passed away in his sleep from a heart attack.
Although the public was shocked by Candy’s abrupt passing, the comic had known it would happen for a long time. The adored comic had been certain that he would experience the same fate since his own father passed away from a heart attack 38 years before, and he did.
Ryan Renyolds remembered Candy as a “absolutely beautiful” performer who “walked the tightrope between hilarious and heartbreaking” on the 26th anniversary of his death. The actor is fondly remembered for many things, including his pitch-perfect slapstick, his scene-stealing presence, and his generous philanthropy. Reynolds said in the tweet, “His films mean so lot to me.
Fans were stunned when John Candy passed away. Candy was a kindhearted animal lover who gave generously to several causes.
Born in Newmarket, Ontario in Canada, Candy was a talented high-school football player until he was injured. He pivoted from Canadian football to comedy and joined the Second City improv theatre in Toronto at 19.
He became a regular performer and writer for SCTV, the group’s television show, in 1977. And shortly after that, he was sent to Chicago to officially train with the troupe’s heavyweights. Then, Candy’s career exploded.
He went on to appear and star in treasured cult hits like The Blues Brothers (1980), Stripes (1981), and genuine blockbusters Planes, Trains And Automobiles (1987), Home Alone (1990), and JFK (1991).
More the pity that Wagons East, a critical and box office flop, would be Candy’s final performance (Canadian Bacon, another box office dud, was released a year later). He’d joined Richard Lewis and the rest of the cast in Durango, Mexico out of contractual obligation, after a different movie he’d planned with John Hughes fell through. He was also strapped for cash, owing nearly $1 million for his stake as co-owner of Canadian Football League Team the Toronto Argonauts.
But the talented and well-liked Candy had struggled throughout his life to control his health, according to an interview with his children in The Hollywood Reporter. Candy was a heavy smoker, and even dabbled in drugs, but he tried to get his weight under control, following crash diets, joining gyms, and hiring trainers, his children said.
Candy once admitted that his drug habit began in earnest when he moved to Chicago to perform at Second City. There, he joined the likes of Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and John Belushi, all of who were heavy drug users.
“The next thing I knew, I was in Chicago, where I learned how to drink, stay up real late, and spell ‘d-r-u-g-s,’” said Candy.
John Belushi’s fatal drug overdose made Candy quit drugs for a time. But he continued to smoke cigarettes and used food to quell his anxiety. When that didn’t work, panic and anxiety set in. Inner turmoil followed him to the set of his final film in Durango, Mexico — and hastened his demise.
Heart disease ran in Candy’s family, too.
According to O’Hara, he contacted her on his way to Mexico to film Wagons East saying he felt something terrible was going to happen in Mexico.
“We are fortunate to have more [family history and fitness] information than he was able to,” John Candy’s son, Chris Candy, said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t think he was aware of the genetic heart disease that was in the family. You wish he had figured it out.”
The night before he died, Candy reached out to several people. He called his co-stars and his children, who had no idea it would be the last time they would ever hear their father’s voice.
“I was nine. It was a Friday,” his son Chris recalled. “I remember talking to him the night before he passed away and he said, ‘I love you and goodnight.’ And I will always remember that.”
After a late-night meal of lasagne, he turned in for the night and sadly would never wake up.
He may not have been aware of his genetic susceptibility to heart disease, but before heading off to Mexico to make his final film in 1993, Candy was aware of an unsettling feeling, possibly a premonition of sorts, that something wasn’t quite right. He told his friend and colleague actress Catherine O’Hara before he left that he was afraid to go to Mexico because he thought something bad was going to happen there (via Reel Reviews). He had spent the majority of the year, all but three weeks, away from his wife and two children and reportedly vowed that “Wagon’s East” would be his final film. As it turned out, it was. When John Candy died, the world lost a comedic treasure, a beloved actor who was just as kind, generous and well-liked off-screen as he was in his many classic movie roles.
His sudden demise came as a shock to the broader Hollywood community, but Candy had long feared he’d meet this very end. Both his father and brother had already suffered heart attacks, his father fatally so.
Candy was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, survived by his wife Rosemary and children Christopher and Jennifer Candy. Jennifer would follow in her father’s footsteps and go on to host SCTV’s, Couch Candy.