James Caan, the iconic actor known for playing wise guy Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, has died. He was 82.
Caan’s family shared the tragic news on Twitter Thursday afternoon.
James Caan dies
No cause of death was announced.
“It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6,” the Caan family wrote. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
Caan was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Vito Corleone’s doomed, hotheaded eldest son in 1972’s The Godfather. He returned as Sonny in a brief cameo at the end of The Godfather: Part II.
Al Pacino, who played Sonny’s little brother Michael Corleone in The Godfather movies, paid tribute to his “fictional brother.”
“Jimmy was my fictional brother and my lifelong friend,” Pacino wrote. “It’s hard to believe that he won’t be in the world anymore because he was so alive and daring. A great actor, a brilliant director and my dear friend. I loved him, gonna miss him,” he wrote.
Iconic, versatile actor
The son of a New York City butcher, Caan developed an interest in acting while attending Hofstra University, where he met The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. Caan’s starring role in Coppola’s 1969 movie The Rain People proved to be the start of a legendary partnership.
“Jimmy was someone who stretched through my life longer and closer than any motion picture figure I’ve ever known,” Coppola said. “From those earlier times working together on ‘The Rain People’ and throughout all the milestones of my life, his films and the many great roles he played will never be forgotten. He will always be my old friend from Sunnyside, my collaborator and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known.”
Caan’s other notable roles include the cancer-stricken Chicago Bears pro Brian Piccolo in the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song and a novelist kidnapped by a crazy, obsessed fan (Kathy Bates) in 1990’s Misery. Later in his career, the versatile actor had a lighter role in 2003’s Elf as the father of an orphaned man-child (Will Ferrell) raised by Santa’s elves.
But it was The Godfather that secured Caan’s place in movie history. The actor reflected on what made the movie so special in a March interview marking its 50th anniversary.
“There’s something that doesn’t get dated and that’s the truth,” he told Variety. ‘The Godfather’ has a lot of truth to it, a lot of sincerity to it and a lot of art. The cast was great and we all had a lot of fun making it. Having fun and liking the people you’re working with is a very important ingredient, which I found out after 130 movies or whatever.”