James Caan, a veteran movie actor known for his work on films such as “The Godfather,” “Misery” and “Elf,” has died, his family said in a statement on his verified Twitter account. He was 82 years old. “It is with great sadness that we inform you of Jimmy’s passing on the evening of July 6,” the statement read. “The family appreciates the outpouring of love and deepest condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”
- Advertisement -
Who was James Caan?
James Caan first rose to fame playing Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song,” a widely seen 1971 television movie. The heartbreaking film chronicles Piccolo’s real-life battle with terminal cancer and received praise for its treatment of the interracial friendship between Piccolo and a black teammate, Gale Sayers. His next film, 1972’s “The Godfather,” made Caan a star. Although he was not Italian, Caan played hot-headed Sonny Corleone, the eldest of mobster Vito Corleone’s three sons, who is memorably gunned down by rival gangsters at a toll booth.
In a 2021 interview for “CBS Sunday Morning,” James Caan said that he based Sonny’s persona on the late comedian Don Rickles. “It wasn’t imitating Don Rickles. It was having that drive, that thing, you know? I was just focused on it,” he said of his performance. The role earned him an Oscar nomination. Caan also appeared in a flashback in “The Godfather, Part II”.
Caan was perhaps best known for playing tough characters in movies like “Thief” and “Rollerball.” But he was a versatile actor who played a variety of roles, including “Misery,” Stephen King’s 1990 adaptation about a mild-mannered romance novelist terrorized by an obsessive female fan. He’s probably best known to younger audiences for his role in “Elf,” the Christmas tale in which he played Will Ferrell’s Scrooge-like father, a children’s book publisher disgusted to learn he has an exuberant son who wears a costume. leprechaun and pours maple syrup on his spaghetti. In the same CBS interview, Caan said that he almost turned down the role just because of the film’s title, but Ferrell convinced him to join the project.