Only the lovely: looking back on the generosity of John Candy
John Candy was only 43 when he died in 1994, but he had already become one of Canada’s most beloved comics, actors and really good guys. His legendary warmth and philanthropy were on full display in this 1992 Toronto Star photo, when Candy attended a ceremony at St. Michael’s Hospital to launch a fundraising drive. “He would give of his time willingly,” says writer Paul Myers, “a fact made bittersweet because time turned out to be a tragically limited commodity.”
(Read other Snapshots: Remembering Doug Henning, superstar illusionist turned politician and How Ivan Reitman helped change the face of comedy.)
Myers, who has written books on the Kids in the Hall and the musicians Todd Rundgren and Long John Baldry, is currently working on a biography of Candy. “In the course of hours and hours of interviews I’ve been doing,” he says, “I have yet to find one person who didn’t describe him as a lovable, generous and kind man.”
Candy’s nephew and “SCTV” bit player Donald Cowper agrees. He remembers when Candy, at the height of his fame, visited Cowper’s high school and speak about the history of comedy. The students could hardly contain their excitement. “Kids piled outside the auditorium, pressing to get in,” Cowper says. “He was supposed to be there for 45 minutes. But he stayed for hours, and then took a bunch of us out to dinner. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Explaining the root of Candy’s sweetness, Myers cites the influence of both his family and schooling. “When John was five years old, his father died suddenly, and he became the protective nurturer to his mother and aunt,” he says. “You can’t help but think that being raised by two women somehow inspired a sense of fairness and justice that led him to become the so-called gentle giant that we all witnessed.” Myers says this trait was reinforced by Candy’s high school counsellor, Ted Schmidt, “a self-described ‘social justice Catholic.’”
Throughout his all-too-brief life, Candy contributed his star power to a wide range of charitable endeavours, from local hospitals to global famine relief, as well as lending a helping hand to friends and colleagues along the way.
Myers recalls one example of Candy’s legendary largesse. “When he realized that his co-star on ‘Only the Lonely,’ the great Hollywood actress Maureen O’Hara, had a tiny trailer that he felt was beneath her, Candy offered her his own much larger trailer, forcing the producers to treat the legendary actress with the respect that Candy felt she was due,” Myers says. “Few actors in Hollywood would have done that for another actor, but John Candy never lost that humility and Canadian sense of justice.”