Godfather star James Caan dies aged 82 | James Can

James Caan, the American actor best known for his role as Sonny Corleone in the mafia epic The Godfather and for a number of major films in the 1970s, has died at the age of 82.

The news was released by his Twitter account on Thursday. A statement read:

“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of Jimmy on the evening of July 6th. The family appreciates the love and sincere condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy at this difficult time.”

Notorious for one hell of a party lifestyle, Caan made his way through Hollywood in the 1970s and early ’80s before abruptly quitting acting and disappearing from public view for what the actor described as a “pretty scary time” before breaking out Ende planning a comeback In the 1980s he gained recognition 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. Not wanting to follow his father into the meat trade, Caan initially aimed to be a football player, but became interested in acting after graduating from Hofstra University in upstate New York – where he met future collaborator Francis Ford Coppola. Caan then joined the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater; his first major acting credit was a small role in the 1961 Broadway production of Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole, a World War II play by William Goldman and his brother James.

After a series of minor film and television appearances, Caan achieved leading man status in Howard Hawks’ stock car racing series Red Line 7000 in 1965, followed by a role opposite John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in Hawks’ 1966 western El Dorado a then-little-known Robert Altman in the 1967 space film Countdown, but his first significant connection with the new Hollywood wave came in the 1969 film The Rain People, directed by Coppola and in which Caan played a hitchhiking former college soccer star who is picked up by Shirley Knight’s disaffected middle-class housewife.

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

After starring in a disappointing 1970 adaptation of John Updike’s famous novel Rabbit, Run, Caan had his big break with Coppola’s The Godfather. Caan originally auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone, which eventually went to Al Pacino, and was favored by studio executives, but after Coppola insisted on Pacino, Caan was given another plum role, Corleone’s older brother, Sonny. Caan earned his only Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the film, and his work remains notable for Sonny’s gruesome death scene, for which Caan said he was equipped with over 140 “squibs,” or explosive blood pellets, to simulate gunshot wounds.

Caan then starred in a slew of high-profile films throughout the 1970s that firmly placed him in the new generation of American acting talent, including The Gambler (directed by Karel Reisz), the buddy-cop comedy Freebie and the Bean opposite Alan Arkin. and dystopian sci-fi parable Rollerball. He has also appeared in more traditional vehicles such as the Barbra Streisand musical Funny Lady and the WWII 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.

Released in 1981 and directed by Michael Mann, Thief, 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 quickly derail. Struck by the death of his sister and his heavy drug use, Caan’s career imploded after his departure from 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 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 bedridden author subjected to the attention of obsessive nurse/fan Kathy Bates.

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

Caan worked steadily thereafter, often taking advantage of his aggressive nature and persistent reputation. He has appeared in comedies such as Honeymoon in Vegas, Bulletproof and Mickey Blue Eyes, Hollywood thrillers such as Flesh and Bone, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead and Eraser, and occasional prestige dramas including The Yards, a sprawling crime thriller – Epic directed by James Gray and Lars von Trier’s Brechtian Parable Dogville. Caan also had a role in the hit animated series Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and 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: to Dee Jay Mathis from 1961 to 1966, to Sheila Marie Ryan from 1975 to 1976, to Ingrid Hajek from 1990 to 1994, 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 Hawaii Five-0.

Tributes from social media have begun, including Rob Reiner, who directed Caan in Misery. “I’m so sorry to hear the news,” he tweeted. “I loved working with him. And the only Jew I knew who could rope with the best of them. All the best for the family.”

So does Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn tweeted: “Rest in Peace James Caan. There are so many of his films that I love,” along with a collection of posters.

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