Obituary: John Candy

John Candy, actor, director, writer: born Newmarket, Ontario 31 October 1950; married 1979 Rosemary Hobor (one son, one daughter); died Durango, Mexico 4 March 1994.

UNCLE BUCK is probably the best of John Candy's half-dozen star vehicles and the best despite the rather simple-minded humour endemic to the films written or directed by John Hughes. Candy is Uncle Buck, called in to look after his brother's children when his wife is called away because of her father's illness. He is accepted faute de mieux, and as he tries to prepare breakfast for his sassy older niece she makes it clear that she will not be friends at any price.

This was the sort of situation in comedy which Candy excelled at: too kind and well-meaning to fight back, though sensible enough to offer a few barbed comments before the inevitable ending - when the girl would discover that within the slob there was a heart of gold.

Candy was a big man, with a bulk which made him an unlikely movie star. In the Silent era no one was going to take Fatty Arbuckle seriously. In the Thirties, Charles Laughton commanded stardom by sheer depth of his talent. As Robert Morley once remarked, he 'put a lot of courage and hope into us fatties' - who included, in the 1940s, Laird Cregar and Sydney Greenstreet - two more fine talents usually typecast in sinister roles. In the same era, William Bendix was equally convincing as a lovable cabdriver or a ruthless villain.

Candy's sheer affability prevented him from being cast as a rogue. Even when threatening his niece's boyfriend with an axe in Uncle Buck there was a twinkle in his eye. Physically he was a contradiction: good-looking despite the fat and with a deep authoritarian voice - unlike such predecessors as Oliver Hardy or Lou Costello.

He was not a natural comic talent, like Tom Hanks, whose brother he played in Splash (1984), the film in which most people first noticed him (in fact, the 16th in which he appeared) or a clown, like Steve Martin, with whom he co-

starred in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). Candy was in fact a versatile and energetic actor whose figure trapped him in comic roles.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles was another of Hughes's projects - Candy had played a park-keeper for him in National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) - with Martin and Candy cast as a modern Laurel and Hardy, a 'take' on The Odd Couple, with Martin in Lemmon-like hat and overcoat and Candy a Neanderthal man in a series of preposterous loud shirts. In Martin's case they're unwilling fellow-travellers; Candy is both too innocent and obtuse to realise that he is not wanted, even as he drags Martin from one disaster to the other. Eventually Martin realises that inside the huge frame is a lonely soul - and he asks him home for Christmas.

To an extent Uncle Buck was a rehash of this formula. Both films were big successes, as was another of Hughes's, The Great Outdoors (1988) - written by him but directed by Howard Deutch. The contrasting types this time were Candy and Dan Aykroyd, playing his obnoxious brother-in-law.

Aykroyd and he had been friends since their teenage days in Toronto. It was Aykroyd who encouraged Candy to audition in 1972 for the Second City troupe in Chicago, which led to the Second City television series in 1977-80. He had already made his movie debut in a Canadian film starring Anthony Newley and Stephanie Powers, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (1976), in which he and Lawrence Dane played bumbling detectives - which sufficiently amused audiences for the two of them to make a sequel the following year, Find the Lady. Another colleague from Candy's Second City days, Paul Flaherty, directed Who's Harry Crumb? (1989), one of the proliferating throw-anything-at-the audience comedies, in this case a private eye spoof. As well as playing the lead, Candy exec-produced, so could only blame himself when the public stayed away in droves.

By this time, both as supporting player and star, Candy had been in a number of failures. He was also realistic enough to realise that he wasn't a natural star, even if he could carry a film. He had also popped up in several guest appearances - as, for instance, a moronic television announcer in Little Shop of Horrors (1986) - and from Uncle Buck, his biggest success, to his premature death he accepted both large roles and small.

Hughes took Macaulay Culkin, Candy's nephew in Uncle Buck, and put him into Home Alone (1990), an even more popular film, if not exactly for Candy, who only appeared for a minute or so, as a musician dressed up as a yellow bird. The director was Chris Columbus, who went on to fashion a vehicle for Candy, Only the Lonely (1991), playing a Chicago cop with an Oedipus complex. Maureen O'Hara returned to the screen after two decades to play the fearsome Irish mother. Candy recognised 'the tendency to go over the top and give a real sappy, maudlin performance' - and emphatically didn't do so.

That year he did a guest appearance, a glib adversary in dark shades of Kevin Costner, the District Attorney, in JFK, and was a writer of soap operas who becomes embroiled in his own situations in Tom Mankiewicz's Delirious, which went straight to video in Britain. A further weak one was Once Upon a Crime (1992), with Candy as a compulsive gambler tramping through France and Italy with James Belushi, Cybill Shepherd and Sean Young.

Candy took billing after the West Indian actors playing the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team in Cool Runnings (1993). He played their coach, a broken down stumblebum who hadn't drawn a sober breath since wrecking his own Olympic chances by cheating years before. The scene in which Candy realises that one of the team is being told about this brings both him and us close to heartbreak. In what is good popular entertainment, on a higher level than John Hughes's films, the laughs go to the team. The laughs have not been written for Candy; but in an outstanding performance he shows why we care about him - because within that huge frame he was vulnerable with a very personal integrity, as when he eats humble pie in pleading with the committee to reinstate the team.

He had completed another film, Canadian Bacon, and it is as yet unclear whether the film he was making in Mexico when he died - a comic Western, Wagons East, on which he had been working for two months - will be finished. So we may have one or at best two new chances to appreciate one of the most likeable talents to emerge from the Saturday Night Live

generation.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel