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October 1994 Issue [Readings]

John Candy’s Biggest Fan Says Farewell

From “A Final Farewell: A Personal Meeting with John Candy,” by Lyle, in the June/July issue of Big-Ad, a magazine “for full-framed men,” published in San Francisco.

Friday, March 4, 1994, the day John Candy died, will forever be a black day. For many of us, especially the community of large men, the death was a great shock. John Candy was an important man; through the many films he made he helped spread a positive image of large men. He showed us all that being fat shouldn’t stop you from living your life or fulfilling your dreams.

As for me, I lost an actor whom I’d come to love and admire. I take solace, however, in the memory of having met this wonderful man. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity—however brief—to shake his hand, look him in the eyes, and say, “Hello.”

I remember the day well. A friend of mine owns a movie theater here in Los Angeles. John was coming to view some film footage from a movie in which he was appearing. It was a private screening for John and a couple of producers. Knowing how much I liked John Candy, my friend invited me to come to the theater. Since no outsiders were allowed, he told me to stand behind the concession stand and act like I worked there. The producers arrived first, and we were introduced. They were nice enough, but meeting them was not the reason I drove halfway across town to pose as a concession attendant.

After a few minutes of anticipation the moment arrived. I saw a long, black Mercedes pull up outside. Immediately I knew it must be him: this was the kind of luxury only a chubby could appreciate. Peering out from behind the concession stand, I couldn’t quite make out who was behind the wheel, but my instincts turned out to be right. After a few moments, John Candy got out of his big, luxury chubmobile. He locked up his car and came lumbering in, greeting everyone with a smile and a handshake.

Living in L.A., I’ve had the opportunity to meet several “stars.” Most of the time the real thing doesn’t match that unreachable image we see on the big screen; somehow their personas diminish in person. But that wasn’t the case this time. John Candy seemed just like the many warm and lovable characters we’ve seen him play through the years. He was neatly dressed—nothing too restricting, but certainly not sloppy or unkempt. He had a full, kind face, and his joy and happiness filled the room.

It was time for the screening. But just as he was making his way into the theater, John did what any chubby would do: he decided to make a trip to the concession stand. After all, what’s a movie without popcorn? Imagine my surprise to see that big, happy face coming to greet me—the face that hung on my bedroom wall every time I got my hands on a new picture or poster from his latest movie.

Now, believe me, I’m not one to get star-struck—far from it. But this was different. This was John Candy! I tried to keep my composure as he drew near. Seizing the opportunity, my friend who owned the theater—my best buddy in the whole world—ran over and introduced us. John greeted me with a smile and a “pleased to meet you.” Then he extended his pudgy hand, and I mine. His soft, warm flesh encircled mine, gently but firmly—the kind of hand a young child yearns to hold as he walks alongside a big, friendly giant and looks up at his kind face and deep eyes; the kind of hand that offers security and warmth within its soft, padded grasp.

As I shook his hand, I looked deep into his eyes, studying every line and crease of his familiar face. I felt as if I’d known him my whole life; I felt close to him, as if he were a friend or an uncle. John got down to the business at hand. He gazed at the menu like a kid in a candy store, that childlike face beaming with delight as he scanned the candy counter, struggling with the decision of which soda to choose.

“Hmmm. Orange Crush or Welch’s grape? I’ll take a grape.” Chuckling. “Guess I’m just a big kid.”

“I guess you are,” I said with a smile.

His attention was diverted to the candy bars. As his mouth watered with anticipation, I watched closely, again studying his face, hands, body—every move memorized, every twitch recorded. He leaned in closer over the counter—close enough for me to smell his hair and gaze directly into his eyes. I’m sure he noticed my stare. And for a moment I thought I noticed him inch in a bit closer, glancing out of the corner of his eye. So subtle. I’m still not sure if it really happened or if, in my excitement, I merely imagined it. In any case, John made his selection in earnest. I happily served him his candy and popcorn, paying particular attention to that brief moment when our hands touched as I passed him his drink. And then off he waddled into the theater, the two producers following with a special padded chair to support his extra girth.

A short while after the movie started, I decided to take a peek through the curtain to see what they were watching. There was John, sitting in his chair in the aisle. I watched him for a moment, his genuine smile and big, hearty laugh—nothing was forced. As I approached him, I imagined myself as a younger boy, crawling up onto his knee to watch the film.

I leaned in close. “Another soda, Mr. Candy?”

“Yes, thank you,” he said, his voice resonating with the pleasure of an elated child.

I obliged his request. Later, as the group filed out of the theater, John gave me a friendly wave. The warmth I felt gave me the urge to just give him a big hug and squeeze him tight. There was so much I wanted to say, but I didn’t know where to begin. Soon it was too late. He walked past with a smile and a nod.

He got into his expensive Mercedes; I got into my beat-up heap—each of us reentering his own world. In an instant the moment had passed, not unlike his life: there one moment; the next, gone forever.

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October 1994

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