John Candy’s Last Phone Call Was to Richard Lewis

John Candy’s Last Phone Call Was to Richard Lewis

It’s been exactly 30 years since the world lost one the most talented, effortlessly charismatic comic actors of all-time: the great John Candy. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was near impossible to not wholeheartedly love Candy — from the sketch comedy genius of SCTV, to his Saturday morning cartoon show Camp Candy, to the innumerable roles in classic comedies like Uncle Buck, Spaceballs and Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Hell, Candy somehow even made selling tickets to Canadian football games delightful. 

Interestingly, Candy’s tragic death, at the age of 43, is inextricably linked to another beloved comedian, who coincidentally passed away just last week: Richard Lewis.

Back in 1994, Candy reluctantly agreed to star in the Western spoof Wagons East, which co-starred Lewis as a doctor who relocates to the Wild West, but then changes his mind and opts to travel back home. With Candy playing the drunken, grizzled wagon master, Wagons East could have been great. It wasn’t.

Famously, Candy died during production, forcing the filmmakers to hastily alter their plans with last-minute rewrites and body doubles. Oh, and for one scene they just decided to awkwardly cut and paste some footage of Candy from earlier in the movie. 

While the making of Wagons East was no doubt troubled, a silver lining in all this was Candy’s relationship with Lewis. As recounted in the book Laughing on the Outside: The Life of John Candy, the night before Candy died of a heart attack in his sleep, after making a “late pasta dinner for his assistants,” his final phone call was to Lewis. 

That day’s shooting had been especially productive; Lewis told an interviewer at the time that everyone was “jumping up and down” with happiness on set. “It was a wonderful moment, and it turned into one of the worst experiences of my life,” he explained. Candy rang his co-stars, Lewis and Robert Picardo, around midnight to tell them “how pleased he was” about the scene they had just shot. “He was like a little kid who had had a great day at camp,” Picardo told People Magazine. “He wanted to thank us.” 

Candy’s admiration for Lewis (who also starred with Candy in the Eugene Levy-directed caper Once Upon a Crime) was clearly reciprocated by the stand-up comic. After finding out that Candy had died just hours after their conversation, Lewis “ran into a field and fell to the ground,” then “began to weep.” Lewis told The Santa Maria Times in 1995: “I lost a best friend, and that was a toughie.” Lewis noted that “the movie didn’t do any business, but I could care less about that. That pales in comparison to being involved in such a tragedy.” 

Candy’s death seemingly had a big impact on Lewis, inspiring him to take an entire year off to “reflect” on his life and career path, which ultimately led to him focusing less on stand-up and more on creative big swings like his acclaimed dramatic turn in the Showtime movie Drunks

Which, we can all agree, was better than Wagons East.

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