James Caan, Versatile Actor Of 'Godfather' And 'Misery' Fame, Dies At 82

Zinger Key Points
  • Caan initially sought the role of Michael in "The Godfather," but that went to Al Pacino.
  • Caan's last film was "Queen Bees" in 2021.
James Caan, Versatile Actor Of 'Godfather' And 'Misery' Fame, Dies At 82

Actor James Caan, who displayed his skill in comic and dramatic roles in a series of hit movies through the 1970s and early 1980s, has died at the age of 82.

Caan’s family announced his death on the actor’s Twitter TWTR page, writing, “It is with great sadness that we inform you of the passing of Jimmy on the evening of July 6. The family appreciates the outpouring of love and heartfelt condolences and asks that you continue to respect their privacy during this difficult time.”

Caan's Rise To Prominence: Born in the Bronx, New York, on March 26, 1940, Caan attended Michigan State University but later transferred to Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Although he never completed his college studies, he made an invaluable connection with an aspiring filmmaker classmate named Francis Ford Coppola.

Caan studied at New York City's Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre and began appearing in off-Broadway and Broadway productions before heading to Hollywood, where he snagged small roles in television series including “The Untouchables” and “Death Valley Days.” His first prominent role was as a hoodlum who tormented Olivia de Havilland in the 1964 “Lady in a Cage,” and this led to more prominent roles including Howard Hawks’ “El Dorado” opposite John Wayne and Robert Mitchum and Coppola’s 1969 drama “The Rain People.”

But Caan never broke into the A-list ranks until he was signed to play Sonny Corleone, the hot-tempered Mafia scion in Coppola’s 1972 “The Godfather.” Caan initially sought the role of Michael that went to Al Pacino, but his visceral performance as Sonny brought his physical and emotional power into full view, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

For the rest of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, Caan was one of the busiest stars in Hollywood, equally at home with comedy ("Cinderella Liberty," “Freebie and the Bean,” “Harry and Walter Go To New York,” “Chapter Two”), action (“Rollerball,” "The Killer Elite," “A Bridge Too Far,” “Thief”), musicals (“Funny Lady”) and Westerns (“Comes a Horseman”). He also directed himself in the 1980 “Hide in Plain Sight.”

Later Career: During the mid-1980s, Caan’s career began to wane following a series of unsuccessful films and health related issues including depression and a cocaine addiction. Coppola cast him in the 1987 “Gardens of Stone” as a comeback vehicle, although he gained more popularity as the victim of Kathy Bates’ sadistic hospitality in “Misery” (1990).

While Caan never regained the level of his 1970s stardom, for the remainder of his career he was a much-in-demand actor in films and television, albeit in supporting and guest roles; he worked with his son Scott Caan on the latter’s 1995 film debut “A Boy Called Hate.”  

Caan's last role was in the 2021 romantic comedy “Queen Bees” and he was scheduled to reteam with Coppola on the film “Megalopolis.”

See Also: Analysis: Why Did 'Minions: The Rise Of Gru' Break Box Office Records While 'Lightyear' Fizzled?

Photo: James Caan as Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather," courtesy Paramount.

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