The Godfather star James Caan dies aged 82 | james caan

James Caan, the American actor renowned for his role as Sonny Corleone in the mafia epic The Godfather, as well as a string of key films in the 1970s, has died aged 82.

The news was released by his Twitter account on Thursday. to statement read: “It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6. The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”

Notorious for a hell-raising party lifestyle, Caan cut a swathe through Hollywood in the 1970s and early 80s, before abruptly quitting acting and for what the actor described a “pretty scary period” disappearing from public view, before engineering a comeback in the late 1980s, winning acclaim for films such as Misery, The Yards and Elf.

Caan was born in 1940 in the Bronx, New York City, the son of a kosher butcher. Keen not to follow his father into the meat trade, Caan initially aimed for a career as a football player, but got interested in acting after studying at Hofstra University in New York state – where he met future collaborator Francis Ford Coppola. Caan then joined the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre; his first significant acting credit was a small role in the 1961 Broadway production of Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole, a second world war play by William Goldman and his brother James.

After a string of minor film and TV appearances, Caan achieved leading man status in 1965 in Howard Hawks’ stock car racing drama Red Line 7000, following it up with a role alongside John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in Hawks’ 1966 western El Dorado. Caan was cast by a then-little-regarded Robert Altman in the 1967 space film Countdown, but his first significant association with the Hollywood new wave came with the 1969 film The Rain People, directed by Coppola, in which Caan played a hitchhiking former college football star who is picked up by Shirley Knight’s dissatisfied middle class housewife.

Caan, right, as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, with Al Pacino. Photograph: Allstar/PARAMOUNT PICTURES

After playing the lead in a disappointing 1970 adaptation of John Updike’s celebrated novel Rabbit, Run, Caan achieved a major breakthrough with Coppola’s The Godfather. Caan originally auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone that eventually went to Al Pacino, and was favored by the studio executives, but after Coppola insisted on Pacino, Caan was given another plum role, Corleone’s older brother Sonny. Caan received his only Oscar nomination, for best supporting actor, for the film, and his work by him remains notable for Sonny’s thick death scene, for which Caan said he was fitted with over 140 “squibs”, or explosive blood pellets, to simulate gunshot wounds.

Caan then went on to star in string of high-profile films in the 1970s that bracketed him firmly in the new generation of American acting talent, including The Gambler (directed by Karel Reisz), buddy cop comedy Freebie and the Bean alongside Alan Arkin, and dystopian sci-fi stoppable Rollerball. He also appeared in more traditional vehicles, such as the Barbra Streisand musical Funny Lady and the second world war epic A Bridge Too Far. Caan also became famous for the roles he turned down, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Apocalypse Now, and Kramer Vs Kramer.

Thief, released in 1981 and directed by Michael Mann, in which Caan played a safecracker who takes on the mob, boded well for his ability to reinvent himself for the new decade, but Caan’s career would swiftly derail. Affected by him’s death of his sister as well as his copious drug use, he’s Caan’s career imploded after he walked out of the Robert Ludlum thriller The Holcroft Covenant (he was replaced by Michael Caine). Caan would not appear in another Hollywood film until 1987, when Coppola cast him in his Vietnam war drama Gardens of Stone. He followed it up with the popular Alien Nation but fully re-established himself with the Stephen King adaptation Misery, directed by Rob Reiner, in which Caan played the bedbound author subject to the attentions of obsessive nurse/fan Kathy Bates.

Caan, right, with Kathy Bates in Misery
Caan, right, with Kathy Bates in Misery. Photograph: Allstar/COLUMBIA

Caan worked steadily thereafter, often trading on his abrasive manner and hard-living reputation. He appeared in comedies, such as Honeymoon in Vegas, Bulletproof and Mickey Blue Eyes, Hollywood thrillers, including Flesh and Bone, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead and Eraser, and occasional prestige dramas, including The Yards, a sprawling crime epic directed by James Gray, and Lars von Trier’s Brechtian parable Dogville. Caan also had a role in the successful animation Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and in the fondly-remembered Christmas comedy Elf, as Will Ferrell’s businessman father. In 2018 he appeared in Carol Morley’s Martin Amis adaptation Out of Blue, as the father of murder victim Jennifer Rockwell.

Caan was married four times: between 1961 and 1966 to Dee Jay Mathis, to Sheila Marie Ryan from 1975-76, to Ingrid Hajek from 1990-94, and to Linda Stokes from 1995 to 2017. He had five children, one of whom, Scott followed him into acting, appearing in Gone in 60 Seconds, Ocean’s Eleven and the Hawaii Five-0 reboot.

Tributes have started to arrive from Hollywood, including Rob Reiner, who directed Caan in Misery. “I was so saddened to hear about Jimmy leaving us,” he wrote in a statement. “I loved working with him. Besides being a talented instinctive actor, he was the only Jew I knew who could rope a calf with the best of them. Sending my love to his family from him.”

Coppola shared a statement with Deadline that read: “Jimmy was someone who stretched through my life longer and closer than any motion picture figure I’ve ever known. From those beginning times working on The Rain People, throughout all the milestones of my life. His films of him and the many great roles he played will never be forgotten. Old friend from Sunnyside, collaborator and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.”

James Caan and Barbra Streisand in Funny Lady
James Caan and Barbra Streisand in Funny Lady Photographer: Ronald Grant

His Funny Lady co-star Barbra Streisand tweeted a picture of the pair together and wrote: “I’m so sorry to hear about Jimmy. He was so talented.”

In a statement, Pacino shared: “Jimmy was my fictional brother and my lifelong friend. It’s hard to believe that he won’t be in the world any more because he was so alive and daring. A great actor, a brilliant director and my dear friend. I’m gonna miss him.” De Niro also said the following: “I’m very very sad to hear about Jimmy’s passing from him.”

Adam Sandler, who starred with Caan in both Bulletproof and That’s My Boy wrote the following: “Loved him very much. Always wanted to be like him. So happy I got to know him. Never ever stopped laughing when I was around that man. His movies of him were best of the best. We all will miss him terribly. Thinking of his family from him and sending my love. ”

Actor and long-time friend Gary Sinise has shared his condolences. “Very sad to hear the news that James Caan has died,” he tweeted. “Heartbroken for his family & his friends. Wonderful to know him & call him a pal.”

Related Posts

George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *