In Memoriam

Veteran Actor James Caan, Star of ‘Godfather,' ‘Elf' Dies at 82

The beloved actor was also well known for roles in "Misery," and NBC's "Las Vegas" television show

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Veteran actor James Caan, known for his tough guy roles in movies including "The Godfather," died Wednesday at the age of 82.

Caan's family announced his passing on his Twitter account. No cause was given.

"It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6," according to a family statement posted to Twitter.

"The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time."

The Bronx-native was born to parents Sophie and Arthur Caan, Jewish immigrants from Germany.

A man of many talents, Caan studied economics and played football at Michigan State University before he turned his attention to acting. Caan made his screen debut in 1963 as a sailor in “Irma la Douce,” and worked on several films before landing his career-making role as Sonny Corleone in the 1972 classic, “The Godfather.”

Caan bonded with Brando, Robert Duvall and other cast members and made it a point to get everyone laughing during an otherwise tense production, sometimes dropping his pants and “mooning” a fellow actor or crew member. Despite Coppola’s fears he had made a flop, the film release was an enormous critical and commercial success and brought supporting actor Oscar nominations for Caan, Duvall and Al Pacino.

Caan was already a star on television, breaking through in the 1971 TV movie “Brian’s Song,” an emotional drama about Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who had died of cancer the year before at age 26. It was among the most popular and wrenching TV movies in history and Caan and co-star Billy Dee Williams, who played Piccolo’s teammate and best friend Gale Sayers, were nominated for best actor Emmys.

Al Pacino And Marlon Brando In 'The Godfather'
Archive Photos
Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, James Caan, and John Cazale in a publicity portrait for "The Godfather" in 1972.
Photo by Paramount/Getty Images

After “Brian’s Song” and “The Godfather,” he was one of Hollywood’s busiest actors, appearing in “Hide in Plain Sight” (which he also directed), “Funny Lady” (opposite Barbra Streisand), “The Killer Elite” and Neil Simon’s “Chapter Two,” among others. He also made a brief appearance in a flashback sequence in “The Godfather, Part II.”

But by the early 1980s he began to sour on films. He had begun to struggle with drug use and was devastated by the 1981 leukemia death of his sister, Barbara, who until then had been a guiding force in his career.

He returned to full-fledged stardom opposite Kathy Bates in “Misery” in 1990.

Once again in demand, Caan starred in “For the Boys” with Bette Midler in 1991 as part of a song-and-dance team entertaining U.S. soldiers during World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. The following year he played a tongue-in-cheek version of Sonny Corleone in the comedy “Honeymoon in Vegas."

Other later films included “Flesh and Bone,” “Bottle Rocket” and “Mickey Blue Eyes.” He introduced himself to a new generation playing Walter, the workaholic, stone-faced father of Buddy’s Will Ferrell in “Elf.”

During his long Hollywood career, Caan was nominated for several prestigious awards, including four Golden Globes, an Emmy, and an Oscar.

Married and divorced four times, Caan had a daughter, Tara, and sons Scott, Alexander, James and Jacob.

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