John CandyLast Sunday would have been the 60th birthday of comedic actor John Candy, who died of a heart attack at the age of 43 while filming the movie 'Wagons East.' A lovable big lug who specialized in playing bumbling, goodhearted losers, Candy co-starred with Steve Martin in one of the greatest mismatched-duo road comedies ever, 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' a film we can't help flashing back to with the release of the similarly themed 'Due Date.'

Candy, who was known to be as benevolent off screen as on, first came to prominence as a member of Toronto's Second City comedy troupe, which would eventually spawn the renowned 'Second City Television' (SCTV) show in the late 1970s. Due to SCTV's popularity -- it was picked up by NBC in 1981 – Candy was already somewhat of a name before his movie career took off. The show generated some of his best comedic creations, such as shady TV host Johnny LaRue and upbeat clarinetist Yosh Schmenge, half of the Schmenge Brothers (with Eugene Levy), who eventually became the subjects of an HBO mockumentary, 1985's 'The Last Polka.'
Candy appeared in several low-budget films before contributing small but memorable roles in Steven Spielberg's '1941' and 'The Blues Brothers.' He scored as mild-mannered recruit Dewey "Ox" Oxberger in 1981's 'Stripes,' who joins the Army to become a "lean, mean fightin' machine." Originally up for the role of Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) in 'Ghostbusters,' Candy reportedly backed out due to "creative differences," specifically his take on how the character should be played. (It's interesting to imagine how the big man would have done it...)

In what many consider his true 'breakout' role, Candy was fabulously funny as the blowhard playboy brother of Tom Hanks' character in 'Splash,' a movie that proved a huge boost for both actors' careers. He played a variety of working class shlumps and other affable types through the '80s, often providing a bright, warm presence in otherwise undistinguished movies.

His first starring role came in 1985 with Carl Reiner's 'Summer Rental,' as a beleaguered air traffic controller who takes his family on a Florida vacation where everything naturally goes very wrong. He shone as Richard Pryor's well-meaning pal in 'Brewster's Millions' and made the most out of the small role of Barf the mawg, the half-man, half-dog ("I'm my own best friend") sidekick of Bill Pullman's character In Mel Brooks' 'Star Wars' parody 'Spaceballs.'


In 1987 Candy absolutely nailed what is generally considered his best role, the annoyingly long-winded but bighearted slob Del Griffith in John Hughes' 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles.' Del, a shower curtain ring salesman (and all that implies), shares a long, disastrous trip home for Thanksgiving with the tightly wound Neal Page (Steve Martin). Their frustrations boil over in a Wichita motel -- where they have to share bed -- and Neal unleashes a long, cruelly funny rant about Del's deficiencies, during which Candy's face all but crumbles. In reply, he quietly shames Neal with a little speech of his own.

Candy continued to star in movies written, produced and/or directed by Hughes, co-starring with Dan Aykroyd in the dopey 'The Great Outdoors,' a much lesser mismatched-duo romp; and becoming hapless bachelor 'Uncle Buck' -- one of his most popular incarnations -- to Gaby Hoffmann and Macaulay Culkin; before putting in a nicely low-key performance as a helpful polka bandleader (echoes of Schmenge) in the Chris Columbus-helmed 'Home Alone.'

A rare opportunity to stretch came in the Hughes/Columbus romcom 'Only the Lonely,' in which Candy portrayed a cheerful Chicago cop who lives with his domineering mother (Maureen O'Hara). Grappling with his awful, clinging mom while navigating a budding romance with a shy young woman (Ally Sheedy), Candy had never been sweeter or more poignant, despite the movie's somewhat farfetched premise.

He proved even more versatile as a shifty Southern lawyer in Oliver Stone's 'JFK,' which gave a tantalizing glimpse of a possible future in dramatic roles. But it was never to be. His last solid role was as Irv Blitzer, coach of the Jamaican bobsled team that went to the Olympics, in the underdog sports comedy 'Cool Runnings' (1993). His last two films, Michael's Moore's extremely broad satire 'Canadian Bacon' and bad Western comedy 'Wagons East,' were both released after his death. We can only wonder what sorts of movies and roles he might have done in the subsequent 16 years, but we'll have to make do with memories like this:

categories Features, Cinematical