James Caan, the American actor known for his role as Sonny Corleone in the mafia epic The Godfather, as well as a series of key films in the 1970s, has died at the age of 82.
The news was released on his Twitter account on Thursday. A statement read†
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of Jimmy’s passing 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 his infernal party lifestyle, Caan carved his way through Hollywood in the 1970s and early 1980s, before abruptly retiring from acting and for what the actor described as a “pretty scary period” that was out of sight from the public eye. the public disappeared, before making a comeback at the end of the last century. Eighties, crowned with films like Misery, The Yards and Elf.
Caan was born in 1940 in the Bronx, New York City, to a kosher butcher. Not wanting to follow his father into the meat trade, Caan initially pursued a career as a football player, but became interested in acting after studying at Hofstra University in upstate New York – where he met future collaborator Francis Ford Coppola. Caan then joined the Theater’s Neighborhood Playhouse School; his first major acting credit was a small part 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 string of small film and TV appearances, Caan achieved leading man status in Howard Hawks’ stock car racing drama Red Line 7000 in 1965, followed by a role alongside John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in Hawks’ 1966 western El Dorado. Caan was cast by a then-little-rated 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 university. soccer star who is picked up by Shirley Knight’s disgruntled middle-class housewife.
After starring in a disappointing 1970s adaptation of John Updike’s famous novel Rabbit, Run, Caan had a big break with Coppola’s The Godfather. Caan originally auditioned for the part of Michael Corleone which eventually went to Al Pacino, and was favored by the studio executives, but after Coppola insisted on Pacino, Caan landed another plum role, Corleone’s older brother Sonny. Caan received his only Oscar 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 more than 140 “squibs,” or explosive blood pellets, to simulate gunshot wounds. .
Caan went on to star in a string of high profile films in the 1970s that put 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. parable Rollerball. He also appeared in more traditional vehicles, such as the Barbra Streisand musical Funny Lady and the World War II 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 safe-cracker who took on the mafia, boded well for his ability to reinvent himself for the new decade, but Caan’s career was soon to derail. Affected by his sister’s death and his profuse drug use, Caan’s career collapsed after he left the Robert Ludlum thriller The Holcroft Covenant (he was replaced by Michael Caine). Caan wouldn’t 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 made a full recovery with the Stephen King adaptation Misery, directed by Rob Reiner, in which Caan played the bedridden author, brought to the attention of obsessive nurse/fan Kathy Bates.
Caan worked steadily thereafter, often acting on his abrasive manner and hard-living 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 prestigious 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 hit 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.
Social media tributes are coming, including Rob Reiner, who directed Caan in Misery. “Sorry to hear the news,” he said tweeted† “I loved working with him. And the only Jew I knew who could calve rope with the best of them. Love for the family.”
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn too tweeted: “Rest in peace James Caan. There are so many movies of his that I love,” along with a collection of posters.