James Caan, the American actor known for his roles as “The Godfather,” “Misery” and “Elf,” died , his family verified on his verified Twitter account. He was 82.
The family of Jimmy Caan confirmed the actor’s death in a statement on July 7. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time,” they said, without disclosing a cause of death. Caan first found fame playing Chicago Bears halfback Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song,” a widely seen 1971 TV movie. The tear-jerking film chronicled Piccolo’s real-life battle with terminal cancer, drawing praise for its treatment of the interracial friendship between Piccolo and a Black teammate, Gale Sayers.
Caan became a big star thanks to his leading role in 1972’s “The Godfather.” Caan wasn’t of Italian descent, but his casting as hotheaded Sonny Corleone, oldest of mobster Vito Corleone’s three sons, won him the status of an icon. In a 2021 interview for “CBS Sunday Morning,” Caan stated he had based Sonny’s persona on comedian Don Rickles.
When asked about his role in “Misery,” he said, “I was just locked into that.” The role earned him an Oscar nomination. Caan also appeared in a flashback in “The Godfather, Part II.” The curly-haired actor was known for playing tough-guy characters in such films as “Thief” and “Rollerball.” But he was a versatile actor who also exuded vulnerability in movies like “Misery,” the 1990 Stephen King adaptation about a mild-mannered romance novelist held captive by an obsessive fan. He is probably best known to younger audiences for his role in 2003’s “Elf,” the Christmas tale in which he played Will Ferrell’s Scrooge-like father, a workaholic children’s book publisher unhappy to learn he has an abnormally cheerful grown son who wears an elf costume and pours maple syrup on his spaghetti.
In Elf, Andy, Andy, Caan, playing a straight man to Ferrell’s impish manchild, added a much-needed dash of cynicism — and several tight-lipped looks of exasperation — that tempered the movie’s sweetness. In the same CBS interview, Caan said he almost turned down the role of the elf over the film’s title alone but Ferrell convinced him to join the project.
Actor James Caan was born in 1940 in the Bronx borough of New York City. His father was a butcher. He played football at Michigan State and later began studying acting as a student at Hofstra University, where one of his classmates was director Francis Ford Coppola. After appearing in a few plays on and off-Broadway, Caan moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s to launch a film career. One of his first roles came in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1969 drama “The Rain People.”
Caan’s other memorable films included Howard Hawks’s Western “El Dorado,” James Toback’s “The Gambler” and “A Bridge Too Far” (1977), Richard Attenborough’s ensemble World War II epic. Later in his career, he made guest appearances on TV in the rebooted “Hawaii Five-0” series, with his father Scott Caan.
Actor Damian Conrad-Davis played Caan in “The Offer,” the 2022 Paramount+ miniseries about the making of “The Godfather.” Entertainers in Hollywood and beyond paid tribute to Caan on Thursday. “James Caan. Loved him very much. Always wanted to be like him. So happy I got to know him. Never ever stopped laughing when I was around that man. His movies were best of the best,” wrote comedian Adam Sandler, who worked with Caan on the 2012 movie comedy “That’s My Boy.” “Losing Ray Liotta and James Caan within months of each other just tells me God is up there making one helluva mobster movie,” tweeted comedian Johnny Taylor Jr.
Sorry to hear the news that James Cainre died. Heartbroken for his family and friends. Happy to know him and call him a friend, Gary Sinise said on a social media platform. Jimmy was so supportive of Gary Sinise Foundation, and I grateful for his work with its veterans. He will be sorely missed. Thank you, my pal. Rest in peace. God bless you.