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Steve Martin, Laurie Metcalf and More Remember ‘Sweetheart’ John Candy 30 Years After His Death (Exclusive)

The actor died on March 4, 1994 while filming the comedy 'Wagons East'

<p>Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic;  Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty ; Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic</p> Steve Martin, John Candy and Laurie Metcalf

Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic; Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty ; Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Steve Martin, John Candy and Laurie Metcalf

John Candy was always quick with a joke as well as a helping hand.

The Canada native, who died of cardiac arrest 30 years ago today at age 43, is remembered by friends and colleagues who say the Spaceballs and Splash star was “just as lovely as you’d want him to be,” to quote his former SCTV and Home Alone costar Catherine O’Hara.

“John’s comedy lives on, but my memory of him has the words ‘kindness’ and ‘sweetness’ in the headlines,” Candy’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles costar Steve Martin tells PEOPLE.

Those two qualities are what Laurie Metcalf also remembers about Candy, who was survived by wife Rosemary and their two children, Christopher and Jennifer.

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

Paramount/Getty

Steve Martin and Jon Candy in 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles'

The Roseanne actress was relatively new to film when she made the 1989 family comedy Uncle Buck, starring Candy as a big-hearted man-child who babysits his brother’s three kids when a family emergency arises.

Metcalf had a supporting role as nosy divorcée Marcie Dahlgren-Frost, who shamelessly flirts with Buck. “I hadn't done hardly any movies. It was out of my comfort zone,” she says.

In one of the movie’s highlights, the very forward Frost gets a reluctant Buck to dance with her. But in real life, it was Metcalf who was nervous to dance with Candy.

“What I found helpful at the time was to drill the scene over and over,” Metcalf says. “And I'm sure that it was the last thing he wanted to do, having appeared in probably every frame of that movie, was to spend time doing something over and over again before it was even shot.”

“But he was so  patient and generous with me, and that's what we did. We just worked on it together and had a lot of fun,” she continues. “And I think that for me sums up how big-hearted he was and what a sweetheart he was.”

“He just taught me a lot about being a great scene partner,” Metcalf says of Candy, who was skilled at improv thanks to his days in Canada’s Second City Comedy troupe as well as its spinoff television show SCTV.

Related: Catherine O’Hara Recalls Her ‘Crush’ on Friend John Candy: ‘He Was Always Really Lovely’ (Exclusive)

“I was scared to death to improv with him because it's scary to me to begin with, but then to be faced with possibly doing it with a master? No,” she says. “So, I very cautiously stuck to the script. And I think he picked that up about me too. He was good at reading people and knowing what would make them comfortable.”

While Metcalf steered clear of improv, Richard Lewis, who costarred with Candy in 1992’s Once Upon a Crime as well as the 1994 comedy Wagons East, actively encouraged Candy to show off his skills. (The actor and comedian spoke to PEOPLE just weeks before he died on Feb. 27.)

<p>Dirck Halstead/Getty </p> The cast of 'Once Upon a Crime,' including John Candy and Richard Lewis

Dirck Halstead/Getty

The cast of 'Once Upon a Crime,' including John Candy and Richard Lewis

“When I would hang out with him, I would say, ‘Listen, John, let me just make believe I'm a writer at SCTV, and let me just come up with [a scenario], and you do the voice, and you do the improv.’ And he said, ‘Fine,’” recalls Lewis.

“I would do things like, ‘I need a root canal, and my dentist is out. And lo and behold, Montgomery Clift is my dentist, and he's doing the root canal, but he's very sad because he's upset that Marilyn Monroe passed away.’ I'd go, ‘Action!’ and he would do Monty Clift depressed that Marilyn died, and he's doing a root canal,” says Lewis. “I was in comedy heaven.”

While Candy loved making others crack up, he also appreciated hearing some good humor, too.

"When you were with John, he did something very few brilliantly funny and famous people do: He laughed at other people's jokes,” says John Turtletaub, who directed Candy in the 1993 sports comedy Cool Runnings. “That's actually a big deal. He made people feel welcome. He made people feel wanted.”

<p>Buena Vista Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection</p> 'Cool Runnings' director Jon Turtletaub and John Candy

Buena Vista Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

'Cool Runnings' director Jon Turtletaub and John Candy

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It wasn’t just famous folks Candy humored. As Catherine O’Hara recently told PEOPLE, he’d frequently engage with fans, too, using the two rules of improvisational comedy: “yes, and…” as well as “no, but…”

“People always say ‘yes, and…’ but ‘no, but…’ is just as important,” she explains. “ ‘Are you the doctor?’ ‘No, but I played one in commercials.’ He was the king of that."

<p>TriStar/courtesy Everett Collection</p> Richard Lewis and John Candy in 'Wagons East!'

TriStar/courtesy Everett Collection

Richard Lewis and John Candy in 'Wagons East!'

“You’d be on the street with him, in a mall, and somebody would come up and just want to do a comedy bit with him, and he would always pick up on it right away and give something back and see their eyes light up, like, ‘Oh, I’m doing a bit with John Candy,’ ” she recalls.

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Lewis says fans were often awestruck. “It was like walking with the Pope in Rome when I was walking down the street with him,” he says. “People couldn’t believe they were in his presence. He really had that kind of swagger.”

<p>Courtesy Everett Collection</p> The cast of 'SCTV' including Catherine O'Hara and John Candy

Courtesy Everett Collection

The cast of 'SCTV' including Catherine O'Hara and John Candy

But his swagger wasn’t egotistical. As O’Hara says, he was simply kind.

“It's so nice to be able to not have to make up any bull, because people loved him,” she says. “And when people ask, ‘What was he like?’ they want to hear what they think he'd be like. And it's so lovely to be able to validate their guesses.”

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