John Candy's "Cool Runnings" Co-Stars Remark on His "Sadness and Anger"
The people who worked with him on the 1993 comedy say that the late actor was generous to a fault.
Three decades have passed since the release of Disney's Cool Runnings. Released in 1993, the sports comedy is loosely based on the real-life Jamaican bobsled team, who traded their tropical home for the icy challenges of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada. While the team was made up of younger actors and even newcomers, at the heart of this heartwarming tale is the late, great comedian John Candy, who played Irving "Irv" Blitzer, a coach with a past as colorful as his methods.
In a recent look back at the film with The Independent on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, director Jon Turteltaub and cast members remembered Candy, who died shortly after Cool Runnings came out, for both the generosity and humor he was famous for, as well as a deeper sadness the beloved actor often hid from audiences. Read on for a look behind the laughs and at a comment Candy made that castmate Malik Yoba says has stuck with him for 30 years.
Castmates say Candy's smile hid a secret sadness.
Through his roles in classics including Spaceballs, Home Alone, and Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Candy was famous for playing humble, genuine characters whose goofiness often gave way to reveal a warm humanity. According to the 1998 biography Laughing on the Outside by Martin Knelman, this reflected the real-life qualities of the actor, who befriended castmates and below-the-line crew members alike.
The production of Cool Runnings was no exception, according to Yoba, who played sledder Yul Brenner. Remembering Candy as "a classy guy," Yoba told The Independent that the late actor arranged cast dinners and even made his co-stars mix CDs with hand-picked songs he thought reflected each character.
However, that generosity masked a deep well of insecurity and sadness, according to Turteltaub. "I know he had fears about his career and how he was perceived by people," he told the outlet. "His whole life, John hated not being liked. He was afraid of it on a personal and professional level."
Turteltaub went on to note that the actor was unable to turn down autograph requests out of guilt. "John had trouble doing that because he felt like a bad person if he didn't. That eats away at a person," the filmmaker said.
A sad revelation stuck with his castmate.
Candy's sadness may have been rooted in his tragic childhood. According to his biography, the actor was haunted by the loss of his father, Sidney Candy, who died of a heart attack at the age of 35, before his son turned five. In a 1993 interview with Larry King to promote Cool Runnings, Candy's jovial facade briefly broke to give a glimpse of his melancholy early life. When asked if he ever went bobsledding, Candy replied that he had only watched other children do it. "I was very depressed and sad," he told the host, per Laughing on the Outside.
Turteltaub told The Independent that he noticed that Candy was not always as happy-go-lucky as he seemed. "It's a bit clichéd that the funny guy might not be the happy guy, but there's a little truth to that," he said. "John Candy was a fun, happy person, but if you got really deep, there was a lot of sadness and anger under there."
Meanwhile, Yoba said he was struck by one particularly depressing revelation that stays with him to this day. "He was 42 [during the filming of Cool Runnings] and had never taken a vacation in his professional career," he told The Independent. "He said it was because he was afraid he'd never work again. That always stuck with me."
He fought a lifelong battle with his body and mind.
While working almost nonstop, Candy struggled with health issues, including smoking, obesity, and panic attacks, according to his biography. By his early thirties, his older brother Jim had survived a serious heart attack, leading Candy to turn his attention to his health. Although he reportedly feared losing fans if he departed from the lovably large characters he was known for, he did attempt to reduce his body size for the sake of his health, spending a month at the weight-loss retreat the Pritikin Center after the release of Splash in 1984.
This focus was evident when he arrived on the Cool Runnings set, per Yoba. "At that time, he was probably the biggest he had ever been in his life and I recall he had a trainer on set with him and he was really struggling to lose weight," he said of Candy. "He was very insecure about his place in the Hollywood ecosystem. Most people would never imagine that would be the case for the great John Candy–but it was."
Cool Runnings put his career back on track.
Cool Runnings became a surprise commercial and critical hit, ultimately grossing $154.9 million worldwide against a budget of about $15 million. And after a short period of decline, Candy's career appeared to be back on track. He was soon off to film his next movie, the comedy Wagons East, and had been personally asked by Steven Spielberg to appear in his remake of the Little Rascals series, per Laughing on the Outside.
Candy died from a heart attack shortly after Cool Runnings was released.
Sadly, Candy's worst health fears came to fruition just months after Cool Runnings hit theaters and became a classic. On March 4, 1994, filming Wagons East on location in Mexico, Candy died in his sleep of a heart attack at the age of 43, according to The New York Times. Like his father before him, he left behind his wife and two children. The actor had been married to Rosemary Hobor for 15 years, and their kids Chris and Jennifer both grew up to follow in his footsteps as actors.
Now, his grown children remember him as someone who tried to spread joy, despite his personal struggles. "He liked to make people laugh and feel good," Jennifer told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016.
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