'Godfather' actor James Caan dead at 82

Iconic actor also starred as terrorized writer in 'Misery,' father of Will Farrell's 'Elf'
James Caan in 2016
Posted at 1:43 PM, Jul 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-07 17:31:21-04

James Caan, who portrayed the hot-headed, ill-fated mobster Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather," has died at the age of 82, his family announced Thursday on Twitter.

"It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6," a tweet on Caan's official Twitter handle said. "The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time."

A cause of death was not provided.

Caan was nominated for an Oscar for his role as the heir to the Corleone mafia family in director Francis Ford Coppola's epic adaptation of Mario Puzo's novel. "The Godfather," released in 1972, is regarded as one of the greatest movies ever made and is considered – well – the godfather of the gangster genre. It went on to win three Oscars, including best picture, and was nominated for seven more, including Caan's best supporting actor nod.

James Caan, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and John Cazale from 'The Godfather'
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows, from left, James Caan as Sonny Corleone, Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, Al Pacino as Michael Corleone and John Cazale as Fredo Corleone from the 1972 film "The Godfather."

Caan's other movies include 1981's "Thief," a neo-noir thriller from writer-director Michael Mann about an ex-convict who is reluctantly tasked with pulling off one more heist – this one planned for Palm Beach – to escape his life of crime, 1988's "Alien Nation," 1990's "Misery," director Rob Reiner's adaptation of the Stephen King novel about a writer who is terrorized and held against his will after a crash, 1992's "Honeymoon in Vegas" and the 2003 Christmas comedy "Elf," in which he plays the birth father to Will Farrell's titular character.

Born in New York in 1940, Caan played football at Michigan State University before transferring to Hofstra University, where he befriended Coppola and developed a hankering for acting.

Caan later studied at New York City's famed Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre and went on to appear in off-Broadway productions before making his Broadway debut in "Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole."

He made his film debut in writer-director Billy Wilder's "Irma la Douce" in 1963 and would later team with Coppola for the first time in 1969's "The Rain People."

Caan was nominated for an Emmy Award in the 1970 television movie "Brian's Song." The ABC movie was based on the real-life story of Brian Piccolo, a Chicago Bears running back who died of cancer that same year.

"Brian's Song" chronicles Piccolo's friendship with teammate Gale Sayers, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams. Caan's portrayal as Piccolo earned him rave reviews, leading to his first and only Emmy nomination.

Caan briefly reprised his Oscar-nominated role in Coppola's 1974 sequel "The Godfather Part II."

James Caan and Barbara Streisand at 'Funny Girl' news conference in 1975
Co-stars James Caan and Barbra Streisand appear at a news conference for their film "Funny Lady" on March 11, 1975, in New York.

In recent years, Caan could be seen on television in such shows as NBC's "Las Vegas," Starz's "Magic City" and the short-lived ABC sitcom "Back in the Game."

Caan appeared in almost 100 movies over the course of his career. His other credits include 1975's "Funny Lady" and "Rollerball," 1987's "Gardens of Stone," 1995's "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead," 1999's "Mickey Blue Eyes," 2000's "The Yards" and 2012's "That's My Boy."

His final film role was in last year's romantic comedy "Queen Bees."