James Caan, a rugged guy with curly hair who was most remembered for playing the hot-headed Sonny Corleone in The Godfather and for playing a dying football player in the classic weeper Brian’s Song as well as the casino owner in Las Vegas on television, has passed away. He was 82.
He passed away on Wednesday, according to his manager Matt DelPiano. The reason wasn’t stated.
“Jimmy was among the best. In addition to being among the finest performers our industry has ever seen, he was also witty, dependable, loving, and popular, according to DelPiano. Before anything else, our connection was always one of friendship. I’m honoured to have worked with him for all these years and will miss him sincerely.
I enjoyed working with him, tweeted Caan’s Misery director Rob Reiner. And the only Jew I knew who could rope a calf as well as anyone else.
James Caan was a grinny, beautiful actor with an athlete’s swagger and a muscular body. He was a football player at Michigan State University and a practical joker on set. Despite his drug use, temper tantrums, and small run-ins with the authorities, he was able to maintain a long career.
Francis Ford Coppola has been a fan of Caan ever since he chose him for the starring role in Rain People in the 1960s. He was selected for a prominent part in The Godfather as Sonny, Vito Corleone’s eldest son and top enforcer in the Mafia.
One of the most shocking movie moments in history saw Sonny Corleone, a violent and careless guy who committed several murders, meet his own demise. Corleone pauses at a toll booth on his route to another job and notices that it is unnervingly deserted of customers. Before he can run away, he is killed by what seems like an endless barrage of machine gun fire. Cann once said that for decades later, random people would come up to him on the street and lightheartedly advise him to avoid toll roads.
In an otherwise tense production, James Caan formed bonds with Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and other cast members. He made it an effort to make everyone laugh by sometimes lowering his trousers and “mooning” an actor or staff person.
Francis Ford Coppola worried his 1972 film would be a failure, but it was a huge critical and financial success, earning Caan, Duvall, and Al Pacino nods for best supporting actor at the Oscars.
The 1971 television film Brian’s Song, an emotional drama about Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who had passed away from cancer the year before at age 26, gave Caan his big break as a television star. Caan and co-star Billy Dee Williams, who portrayed Piccolo’s teammate and best friend Gale Sayers, were both nominated for Best Actor Emmys for their roles in one of the most well-known and heartbreaking TV movies in history.
James Caan was one of Hollywood’s busiest performers after Brian’s Song and The Godfather, playing in such films as Hide in Plain Sight (which he also directed), Funny Lady (with Barbra Streisand), The Killer Elite, and Neil Simon’s Chapter Two, among others. He also had a fleeting cameo in The Godfather, Part II’s flashback scene.
But Caan’s taste in movies started to change in the early 1980s. His sister Barbara’s death from leukaemia in 1981, which had until that point served as a compass for his profession, saddened him. He had also started to deal with drug addiction.
He reclaimed his status as a major star in 1990’s Misery, starring with Kathy Bates.
James Caan, in high demand once more, featured alongside Bette Midler in For the Boys in 1991 as a member of a song-and-dance team entertaining American soldiers throughout World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In the comedy Honeymoon in Vegas the year after, he performed as a mock Sonny Corleone.
Flesh and Bone, Bottle Rocket, and Mickey Blue Eyes were some of the later movies. He made a name for himself by portraying Walter, Will Ferrell’s stone-faced, workaholic father in the movie Elf.
With four marriages and divorces under his belt, Caan had Tara as well as the boys Scott, Alexander, James, and Jacob.