Sad news was received yesterday. The death of James Caan. His manager reported his death with no additional information at the moment, he was 82.
He left behind an incredible catalogue of work including The Godfather, Brian’s Song, Funny Lady, Rollerball, Thief, Misery and Elf, just to name a few of the 137 appearances listed on the IMDb. He was working right up to his death, as he is listed on a few more productions that are yet to be released.
Caan was born in The Bronx, New York, in 1940. His family were Jewish immigrants from Germany. He grew up in Sunnyside, Queens and attended school there. He wanted to be a football player but never made any teams.
He later attended New York’s Neighbourhood Playhouse School for the Theatre, where he studied for 5 years. Cann recalls:
“I just fell in love with acting, of course all my improvs ended in violence.”
His first TV appearance was in 1961 in the series, Naked City. He would then go on to star in shows like Play of the Week, Dr Kildare, The Untouchables, Death Valley Days and Ben Casey.
He was then cast in a Howard Hawks production Red Line 7000 which wasn’t a huge success. Hawkes liked Caan and went on to cast him in El Dorado, supporting John Wayne and Robert Mitchum.
His first critical success came in the TV movie Brian’s Song playing a dying football player alongside Billy Dee Williams. Originally, he turned down the role four times, until he read the script. His performance earned him an early Emmy nomination.
In 1969, he was cast in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People and was then cast by Coppola as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. Originally, Caan was cast as the star of the movie, Michael. Coppola and Caan both demanded the role went to Al Pacino.
On the set of The Godfather Caan would hang around with Carmine Persico, a notorious Mafioso and would later become the head of the Colombo crime family. As Caan was relatively unknown at the time government agents mistook him for an up and coming mobster.
His role in The Godfather earned him an Oscar nomination. It also put him on the map and he went on to have an amazing career as a leading man in movies like Slither (1973), Cinderella Liberty, The Gambler and Freebie and the Bean.
Other movies he starred in were The Godfather Part II, Funny Lady, Rollerball, The Killer Elite, A Bridge To Far, Mel Brook’s Silent Movie, and Michael Mann’s Thief.
In later years he starred in the 80’s action thriller Alien Nation, which did very well and even got a TV spin off series. In the 1990’s he starred in Stephen King’s Misery where he played a writer with the worst “biggest” fan ever.
He never stopped working, appearing in movies like For The Boys alongside Bette Midler, Honeymoon in Vegas, Eraser with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bulletproof and Mickey Blue Eyes.
He was also known for playing Buddy the Elf’s naughty father in Elf, directed by Jon Favreau.
Outside of movies, he was known for coaching children’s sports. He was a 6th Dan Master of Gosokuryu Karate and would do rodeo circuits as a steer roper. He described himself as the:
“…only Jewish cowboy from New York on the professional rodeo cowboy circuit.”
He was a huge Trump supporter and considered himself has “ultra conservative”, one of the rarest things in Hollywood. As an actor, he’s left a huge body of work and he will be missed. What was your favourite James Caan role?
To finish with one of his quotes:
My acting technique is to look up at God just before the camera rolls and say, ‘Give me a break.’
James Caan: 1940-2022. Rest In Peace.