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John Candy: Read PEOPLE’s Cover Story About His Death 30 Years Later — ‘None of Us Believed It Would Happen’

The 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' actor died in 1994 at age 43

<p>DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock </p> John Candy

DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

John Candy

Monday marks 30 years since John Candy died at age 43 on March 4, 1994. The Canada native — who was survived by his wife (and high school sweetheart) Rosemary and their two children, Jennifer and Christopher — was a member of the famed Second City comedy troupe before finding wider fame on its spinoff television series SCTV and in movies like Stripes and Splash.

Suddenly, he went from “macaroni and cheese to macaroni and lobster," he joked to PEOPLE in 1981.

Candy became a leading man himself, starring in comedies like Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Steve Martin, Uncle Buck with Macaulay Culkin, and Delirious with Mariel Hemingway. He died while making the 1994 comedy Wagons East, which was released shortly after he passed away.

Read on for an excerpt of PEOPLE’s cover story about his death.

Rarely before had he called his costars after hours — not because he was unfriendly, but because John Candy, who seemed to pop up in nearly every other movie during the past 10 years, was at bottom a shy and self-conscious man.

<p>Paramount/Getty Images</p> Steve Martin and John Candy in 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'

Paramount/Getty Images

Steve Martin and John Candy in 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'

Still, just after midnight on March 4, he couldn't help himself, and he reached for the phone. Hours earlier, he had finished shooting his final scene in Wagons East, a comedy he had been filming since January near the tiny village of Chupaderos, Mexico, just outside Durango.

Playing a drunken wagon train leader desperate to win a job — and a last chance for redemption — from two businessmen, played by Richard Lewis and Robert Picardo, he had managed to mix his own brand of slapstick blundering with a heart-wrenching sense of humility and pain.

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People who witnessed the take — including Candy himself — felt that he had turned in the performance of his career. So elated was the genial actor that after cooking a late-night spaghetti dinner for his assistants, he put in calls to Lewis and Picardo, and for a few minutes the actors reveled in their own and each other's accomplishments.

<p>Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images</p> John Candy in 1983

Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

John Candy in 1983

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“He was like a little kid who had had a great day at camp,'' says Picardo. ''He wanted to thank us.'”

With that, Candy hung up, soon turned out the light and went to sleep. He never woke up.

The next morning, when Lewis and Picardo arrived on the set, they had not yet stepped from their car when an ashen-faced production assistant broke the news: At about 6 a.m. the 43-year-old Candy had suffered a heart attack and died in his sleep.

Picardo slumped down in his seat. Lewis ran into a field and fell to the ground. ''And then,'' says Picardo, “we both began to weep.”

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John Candy on the cover of PEOPLE
John Candy on the cover of PEOPLE

Candy's family was stunned. “'None of us believed it would happen,” says Frank Hober, 56, the elder brother of Candy's wife, Rosemary. “The whole family is in turmoil.”

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, colleagues who considered the star of such hits as 1987's Planes, Trains and Automobiles and last year's Cool Runnings a fixture in their community reeled in shock.

“Are you sure he's dead? Did you get it right?” demanded comedian Paul Rodriguez. “He looked so healthy.”

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Read the original article on People.