James Edmund Caan was an athletic Bronx youngster, the son of German-Jewish immigrants, who grew up to portray tough movie characters like sailors, football players, and gangsters. He was one of the most famous film performers of his day.
According to a tweet from his official Twitter account, he died on July 6. There was no other information provided.
Caan is most recognized for his explosive performances as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather and as a dying professional football player in the made-for-TV film Brian’s Song (for which he received Oscar and Emmy nods, respectively). In Misery, he played a renowned novelist who Kathy Bates kidnaped. He was a heartbroken Vietnam vet guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Gardens of Stone. In Elf, he portrayed a struggling children’s book publisher who also happens to be the main character’s father.
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 erupted into Hollywood like a comet, acting in pictures by some of the era’s most recognized auteurs, including Howard Hawks (El Dorado), Robert Altman (Countdown), and Francis Ford Coppola (The Rain People). His surge of early achievement led to a time of personal and professional hardship. Caan married and divorced multiple times, had on-set fights, and openly battled drug misuse and depression.
He rejected films that would become essential for other performers, such as Kramer vs. Kramer, Apocalypse Now, M*A*S*H, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, instead opting for failures.
In 1991, he told The New York Times, “There are photos I produced that I still haven’t seen.” “I was sad when I made these. ‘What am I doing here?’ I kept wondering in the midst of several of these photos. It’s as if you’re trapped in a corridor and can’t get out.”
Misfortune aided in turning things around. The former athlete spent most of the 1990 film strapped to a bed, and Caan also served as the film’s emotional anchor. His acting repertoire was vast; he appeared in comedies like Funny Lady and For The Boys and dark, severe pictures like Dogville by Danish director Lars von Trier.
Caan worked continuously to the end of his life, appearing in animated appearances on Family Guy and The Simpsons as grandparents, colonels, and, eventually, himself.