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Comic Actor John Candy Dies at Mexico Filming Site : Entertainment: Star of 'SCTV' and 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles' was 43. He reportedly suffered a heart attack.

March 05, 1994|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

John Candy, the hefty comic who rose to fame in a series of slapstick films that brought smiles to the faces of studio financiers and shrieks of delight from his audiences, died Friday in Mexico, where he was filming.

The star of "Uncle Buck," "Planes, Trains & Automobiles," "Stripes" and many other films was 43.

Hector Partida, a spokesman for the government of Durango state, 400 miles northwest of Mexico City, said Candy was stricken in his sleep and was found dead in his trailer when paramedics arrived.

"It happened very quickly; it was a massive heart attack," Partida said. "Even the first-aid crew, when they got there, found him dead."

The production of "Wagons East," in which Candy was playing the drunken wagon master of an 1860s prairie schooner heading the wrong way, was suspended.

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound TV and movie veteran had won two Emmys. In addition to battling a weight problem most of his life, Candy was reported to be a heavy smoker.

At his death, Candy was diversifying his multitude of talents and most recently completed the Fox television movie comedy, "Hostage for a Day," his directorial debut.

He was trying, friends said, to move beyond the knockabout, satiric style that had first endeared him to TV and then movie audiences.

In the film "Only the Lonely," he had assumed a more serious role as a Chicago policeman who falls in love and must choose between his girlfriend and breaking a mother's bonds.

"I think I have the ability and I'd like to exercise that and stretch, if you will, to take other roles on," Candy said in a 1991 interview.

But his death probably will limit an assessment of his career to those early pictures in which he fumbled, stumbled and usually fell while trying in vain to be of some use to somebody.

Wrote Mike McGrady of New York Newsday in 1986:

"Sincere, intense, well-intentioned, naive, he is constantly digging and redigging his own grave. His appeal is phenomenal.

"He has been in more turkeys than stuffing mix, yet everyone seems to love him. . . . Given a role with meat to it . . . John Candy reveals himself to be an accomplished comic actor."

The shy, genial actor and writer, who was legendary for his spontaneous wit and ability as a teller of tales, until recently had avoided interviews.

He attributed that in part to still being self-conscious despite his fame.

"I was a real heavy kid," he said in an interview with The Times three years ago. "I didn't go out on a lot of dates; Saturday nights I stayed home and watched Carol Burnett with my parents."

An only child who entertained himself with comic books and horror films, Candy said he completely understood the angst felt by Danny Muldoon, the policeman in "Only the Lonely," as he fought to untie the apron strings his mother had knotted about him.

It was, he said, a much more difficult challenge than if the roles had involved lovers rather than loving combatants.

Candy's last big hit was 1993's "Cool Runnings," about the Jamaican bobsled team. Before that he had been in the 1990 blockbuster, "Home Alone," which set box-office records.

Unlike many stars who surround themselves with a retinue of loyalists while making pictures, Candy was known to mingle freely with his co-workers, from grips to carpenters to fellow actors.

He sometimes gave each of the women working on his pictures roses on Valentine's Day or remembered his crew with candy or small gifts at other times.

John Franklin Candy was born in Toronto. His father died a few years after his birth on Oct. 31, 1950, and he was raised by his mother, his aunt and his grandparents. He attended Roman Catholic schools and competed in football and hockey, but admitted to not being particularly skillful in either sport.

He remained interested in athletics, and after gaining wealth as an entertainer, he became a co-owner of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts with Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall and Kings star Wayne Gretzky.

As a boy he was fascinated with films, particularly those of George Burns and Gracie Allen, Abbott and Costello, and the Three Stooges. "Lassie" and "Howdy Doody" were among his childhood TV favorites.

He gravitated toward acting and began to appear in local stage productions while studying journalism and theater at Centennial College in Toronto.

He worked at odd jobs, selling sporting goods and paper supplies while dabbling in children's stage productions and underground theater.

In 1971 he met another struggling Canadian actor--Dan Aykroyd--who was sorting mail for the Canadian postal service. At Aykroyd's urging he auditioned for the Chicago Second City troupe, where the future stars of "Saturday Night Live" were hanging out.

With John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray and Aykroyd he established the ties that would lead to SCTV (Second City Television) in Toronto, and their half-hour skits were soon picked up in syndication by NBC and sent to 45 American cities.

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