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John Candy at 70: Remembering the ‘preposterously loveable’ star whose life was cut short

The star of Cool Runnings and Planes, Trains and Automobiles would have celebrated his 70th birthday a few weeks ago. Geoffrey Macnab explores what is behind his enduring popularity 

Thursday 03 December 2020 14:09 GMT
John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles
John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Rex Features)

It was the early 1990s. The two actors had just appeared in Oliver Stone’s JFK. They were on a private jet back to LA and were excitedly discussing their future plans. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to do some live Shakespeare together, they asked. The idea filled them with enthusiasm. Gary Oldman could play the tragic heroes like Macbeth while his travelling companion, John Candy, would be very well cast as Falstaff.  

This story appears in Nick de Semlyen’s book Wild and Crazy Guys, about Hollywood screen comedy of the Eighties and Nineties. The pair never did get to do their Shakespeare season. Oldman is back in awards contention this year for his performance as the hard-drinking Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz in David Fincher’s Mank, but his friend Candy has now been dead for more than 25 years. The larger-than-life Canadian star had a massive heart attack in the spring of 1994 when he was only 43 years old. A few weeks ago, 31 October would have marked his 70th birthday.

Like countless other comedians and clowns, Candy had a hankering to be taken seriously. He used to keep notes of the directors he hoped to work with, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola prominent among them. Instead, he was the fat guy in a lot of very silly movies, the comic actor relying, as de Semlyen put it, on his “man-child charm and butterball physique”.  

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